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Talking Tactics: Breaking down playoff teams, Pt. 2

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.

[inline_node:316243]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!

[inline_node:313385]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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