Talking Tactics: Breaking down playoff teams, Pt. 2

Formations, personnel will make or break each team's hopes

Last week, in part one of this two-part series, we looked at the four
seeded teams — those which finished first and second in their
respective conferences [READ HERE] — and broke down how they each arrange themselves tactically. This week, we handle the rest: the wild cards, the underdogs.

FC Dallas: Forming systems to fit players

FCD manager
Schellas Hyndman created a system around his top midfielders. Daniel
Hernandez, tough and smart but limited in range, assumed a role as a
holding man in the 4-1-4-1. Dax McCarty, a ‘tweener not 100 percent
suited for creator nor enforcement arm, found his stride as a link
between Hernandez and creative force David Ferreira.

The
problem with all that is: What happens when the key cogs aren’t
available? McCarty recently returned after a lengthy injury absence. And
Hernandez returned two weekends ago after missing a month. The system works –
that MLS record 19-game unbeaten streak provides plenty of evidence. But
this pair’s ability to shake off the rust—and Kevin Hartman’s ability
to get healthy and back in goal—will tell the tale for the Red Stripes.

Seattle: The personnel master stroke

The
Sounders have surged thanks to the brilliance of addition by
subtraction. Manager Sigi Schmid finally gave up trying to make two
similar players, Fredy Montero and Freddie Ljungberg, mesh on the field.

No
coincidence then that the Sounders have been rising since Ljungberg’s
midseason trade to Chicago. Seattle earned 15 points in their first 15
games. Without Ljungberg, the rejuvenated Sounders cranked out 33 points
in 15 games since.

The attacking oomph in Seattle’s 4-4-2 comes
from Montero, tough target man Blaise Nkufo and two zippy wingers, Steve
Zakuani and Sanna Nyassi. Meanwhile, the midfield, formerly a bit of
wandering work in progress, has found balance. Osvaldo Alonso now
partners with two-way man Nathan Sturgis, providing extra cover for
wingers who aren’t at their best on defense.

Colorado: Mastroeni adding to the midfield might

Something not mentioned much this year around DSG Park: Pablo Mastroeni has become an offensive juggernaut!

OK,
not exactly. But his two goals and three assists represent the
veteran’s most production since 2001. Mastroeni’s ability to insert
himself into offensive positions is about one thing: the Rapids’
offseason acquisition of Jeff Larentowicz.

The Rapids always had
plenty of striking power in Conor Casey and Omar Cummings. But
Larentowicz’s ability to cover vast swaths fortified the central areas
behind them, thus emboldening Mastroeni to push forward.

The
midseason pickup of Brian Mullan gives Gary Smith another way to attack
teams. Mullan is more of a conventional two-way right-sided man. Or,
Cummings can set up wide as he has occasionally this year.

San Jose: Wondrous Wondo

Chris
Wondolowski certainly looks like a striker. Heck, he won the Golden Boot by one goal over Edson Buddle. Those nine game-winners are strengthening his case for
MVP, which arrived late but with a mighty force.

But “Wondo”
hasn’t lined up at forward lately. He’s out wide in the midfield. Yallop
can allow Wondolowski a little more freedom in an otherwise vanilla
4-4-2 because he has two central midfielders, Sam Cronin and Khari
Stephenson, comfortably staying at home.

So with Geovanni working
so effectively beneath target man Ryan Johnson, and with Wondolowski
popping up in different spots, the Earthquakes aren’t just a playoff
team—they are a dangerous one.

Chris Wondolowski: MVP?

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