On Wednesday, my friend and colleague Matt Weisgarber wrote about the possibility of a two forward formation for Columbus Crew SC. While he explained the pros and cons of switching how the Black & Gold line up, he ultimately decided, "It is of the belief of this author that the reward of playing two forwards greatly outweighs the risk. [He] would like the see the Crew SC line up in [a 3-5-2]."
I am here to tell you why this is an awful (not Afful) idea and Matt is relieved of his Massive Report duties. I'm kidding. Matt makes some good points, but I am going to explain why I don't believe a change in formation is a good idea for Crew SC.
First, let's talk about formations. In the modern game formations are very fluid. Just because a coach lists a 4-4-2 or a 4-5-1 on the team sheet doesn't mean that's how the team will be on the field. Players move, they roam, they get into different positions and the formation can easily shift from a 4-3-2-1 to a 4-3-3 without the coach having to state it.
Currently Columbus lines up in a variation of a 4-4-1-1, putting it simply. Because of the players on the roster, this formation allows for the most fluidity on the field.
Let's start with Federico Higuain, who plays underneath striker Kei Kamara. Crew SC's No. 10 is the best player on the pitch for Columbus and sometimes for either team. He plays his game and makes others better while doing it. His role isn't defined by the system, but rather by how he plays. He's that good.
In the current formation, his tendency to roam, sometimes going as far back as the defensive line, is compensated by others. Rarely do you see holes in the Crew SC attack because Higuain isn't in his "position." Both Ethan Finlay and Justin Meram do a great job of coming centrally and filling the space because both have forward experience.
If you say you want two forwards, you lose what Higuain brings. Even in a 4-4-2 diamond, he can't play the same way. If he's out of position, is Jack McInerny going to drop in a cover? If he does, what's the point of playing with a second true forward? The wide midfielders would still be an option, but their job becomes helping to control the center of the midfield, as you lose either Tony Tchani or Wil Trapp.
Matt suggested a 4-4-2 with a flatter midfield with Finlay operating slightly underneath Kamara. This moves Trapp out wide and makes Tchani and Higuain the center midfielders.
The problem as I see it is you lose Trapp in the middle of the park. We saw him operate on the outside in his brief U.S. National Team appearance and it wasn't pretty. Having spoken with him about it, I can tell you he wasn't comfortable there and nor should he be; the kid was born a deep-lying playmaker.
Also, while Higuain does drift away from goal, his best position is in the attacking third. This is where he's dangerous with the potential to score and to find a teammate. If he's pulled back into the midfield and told to play a more defined position, the team loses a lot of his skills and becomes less dangerous.
A 3-5-2 formation was also suggested, which makes sense as we've seen the Black & Gold use this in U.S. Open Cup play.
This formation is not unlike how Crew SC are aligned while attacking currently when Trapp drops back as the wing backs go forward. Typically Finlay, Higuain, or Meram become that second forward on the back side as the attack builds.
My question with this is why make a change at all? If you are already capable of attacking in this style, why risk yourself defensively by going to only three in the back all the time?
Currently the outside backs provide the width of the formation while attacking. They overlap the midfield when they get forward, but they also get back. While the right back position has been in flux for most of the season, Columbus has recently used Chad Barson there to provide a bit more defensive cover, while still having a player capable of going forward.
While Matt suggested Waylon Francis as the left midfielder in this position, I believe head coach Gregg Berhalter would continue to rely on either Justin Meram or Kristinn Steindorsson out wide. While neither has produced much statistically, both have been good in possession and helped to create attacks when on the field. While Francis is a solid crosser seen by his assist numbers, his short passing game and ability to create is limited, he is a defender after all.
My final point has to do with Kamara. While throwing a second forward on the field could lead to more offense, it also could hinder what Kamara can do. Currently, the striker has the space up top because there isn't anyone else around him all the time. He's able to make his movements and pull off defenders and let his teammates play off him. If you bring in someone else, especially McInerney who isn't used to playing with him, you could risk messing up what is already a career year for Kamara.
While Crew SC fans aren't happy with some recent results, blowing everything this team has built over the last season and a half while sitting in third place in the Eastern Conference with one of the best offensive attacks in the league seems rather silly. The acquisition of McInerney gives Columbus a bit more diversity in the attack, but it doesn't mean everything needs to change.
Now if you're the Chicago Fire, you can blow that whole thing out of the water.