Long known for fielding a rigid 4-4-2 formation during his time as D.C. United's head coach, Ben Olsen made some moves for this week's game against the New England Revolution. United came out in a 4-1-4-1 against the Revs - a look seen a few times in 2015 - and the final result was a thoroughly impressive 2-0 win over a New England team that had won three of their last four games.
The change, which Olsen said after the game was necessary to get his best players on the field, including starting Fabian Espindola, Alvaro Saborio, and Luciano Acosta together for the first time. Most players were in their natural positions, but several were given slightly different roles than they would have had in the 4-4-2.
"I don't caught up too much in formations. It's still about moving to the next level, and wanting the ball, trapping, passing and moving," Olsen said in his weekly chat with reporters. "But there were some minor tweaks to what we did."
Those tweaks resulted in what could be argued was United's best performance to date in 2016. Earlier wins over the Vancouver Whitecaps and the Revolution resulted in bigger scorelines, but even though United were ultimately out-possessed for 90 minutes, they seemed to be in control for most of the game, creating their fair share of opportunities while limiting New England to just one good chance. United did hold a strong possession edge in the first half, before the 2-0 scoreline allowed them to focus on defensive solidity instead.
The biggest tweak in a role seemed to revolve around Marcelo Sarvas, who was asked to sit deeper in the formation to protect the back four, and to shuttle the ball forward thoughtfully when United were able to regain possession.
"My role was to close the space when we don't have the ball, steal the ball, and get it forward," Marcelo told B&RU on Tuesday. [Nick DeLeon] and [Acosta] were in front of me, two players that can hold the ball, and then can create."
"When we have the ball, I can fill the space that's natural to me to build up from the back, and put the guys in front of me in a good situation. For me, it is a good transition when you can have the ball. It's a lot of runs, but also you play with the ball, you enjoy more of the game. "
Those minor tweaks were apparent early on in the game against the Revolution, and before 30 minutes were on the clock United had the two-goal cushion that it would finish the game with.
"We changed a little bit the way we played, and suddenly, we came out with confidence, to keep the ball, to keep possession," added Marcelo. "Especially in the first half, when we had the two goals, we controlled the game."
The biggest change involved asking Espindola to play as a left winger. Espindola did spend a brief amount of time in the 2014 preseason in a wide role, but since then has been deployed as a forward. Despite the lack of familiarity with the position, Olsen thought Espindola did just fine, adapting to that role to help out left back Taylor Kemp.
"Fabi has to dig into an area that he hasn't always dug into, Olsen said after practice on Tuesday. "And that's going from box to box and defending, and dealing with situations. I thought he did a fantastic job of it."
And while the new formation might the way forward for Olsen, the game on Friday against Real Salt Lake will likely see two changes in the back line. For as well as Kofi Opare filled in while Steve Birnbaum was on international duty - four shutouts in five games in all competitions - Birnbaum is still favored.
In addition, Bobby Boswell returns after being suspended for the game against the Revolution. So while the other nine players may remain the same, the heart of the defense will likely have a completely different look than when Opare and Jalen Robinson shut New England down for 90 minutes.
Such selection dilemmas is something that is more than welcomed for Olsen.
"I see us as having four very capable center backs. I think that's a healthy thing," said Olsen. "A luxury of riches right now. That's what you want as a coach."
"You want a deep team, because just as quick as you can get healthy, you can go down two guys, suspension or injury. Throughout the course of the season, you need as many capable bodies as possible. That's an area right now we have a lot."