Welcome back to the wacky world of tactics. After a truly dominant preseason that saw the team score a total of 32 goals over the course of just 6 games, conceding only a single goal against the New York Cosmos, I’ve realized that I have unleashed something truly horrifying upon the world of MLS. But, we persevere.
Prior to the first game of the season, Komi-san sprained her wrist while lifting weights. The weights that would dare hurt our god have been yeeted into Lake Michigan, but with Komi out it means that I had a chance to show off an interesting character archetype: the Target Forward. Yes, Ryuko Matoi would start the first game of the season for Jiggly’s All-Stars. So I decided to pick a formation that I thought would best exemplify a cross-heavy attack here: a 4-2-3-1.
The 4-2-3-1 is one of the most common formations in all of soccer because it uses all three of the classical midfield tropes. A standard four-man back line provides the defense, two central midfielders that can be either holding midfielders or general 8s or both (we’ll get into that in a different similar formation), two wingers, a 10, and a lone striker. That striker could honestly be a true 9 as well like Komi, but for the strategy I’m using here it’s going to be very apparent that I just want crosses served right in to Ryuko’s big meaty forehead. As you can see, I started Chika and Seira as our fullbacks as they’re going to be pushing forward more than Violet would. Our DPs Mai-san and Zero Two are also obvious starts, but the reason Ichigo is here is because we’re going with a much more attacking focus. Taiga is more defensive and Vignette is made redundant with the presence of Mai-san. On the wings, Rui is left out because while I do want lots of crosses into the box, you still kinda want that outside of the box threat from Megumin’s shooting. Plus, you will see that there are no purely defensive players on the pitch. In fact, here’s the strategy I’ve set for them:
High tempo, high intensity soccer here. Everything is reliant on just getting the ball into the box for Ryuko to muscle her way into a goal. A high defensive line necessitates players who can play with the ball at their feet, which explains Darkness’ absence in the XI. For those wondering why it’s needed: When you pull the defensive line closer towards the midfield, it makes those players more available for backpasses if the ball needs to be re-cycled. There’s more that can be said, but let’s see how the match plays out first.
Our first game of the season is against the LA Galaxy. That’s cute, they’re playing with what looks to be a very standard 4-4-2. I’m sure this’ll be a close game.
So, things went south for LA very quickly because of course they did. The Power of Anime is obviously stronger than the reigning (2014) champions of MLS. It was over the moment Ashley Cole fouled Megumin in the box in the 5th minute. The surprising bit is that for all that sound and fury about getting crosses into the box for Ryuko, Miss Matoi was only able to get one goal off a volley before she was taken off at half-time (because I like to keep my players fresh). Replacing the physical Ryuko, Ami Kawashima scored the next two goals. The first off of a corner kick, the second on the volley after Seira blew past Sebastian Lletget and Robbie Rogers on the right side, leaving Megumin, Ami, and Tohru all marked by just one poor Jeff Larentowicz in the center of the box. Let’s all pour one out for Big Red.
Before we get into some interesting analytics, I want to introduce you to our new friend: The Heat-map.
This fun guy looks like a doppler radar and the more rain in the area, the more there were players in the area. This heat-map up above is of every player on the Fire, along with the average position of each player. You can see that most of the time was spent up in that transition zone between the middle third and the attacking third. Clearly, this shows that the ball hung out around where our #10, Zero Two, was setting up shop. Let’s figure out some clear boundaries for where our defensive line ended up staying throughout the match as well as where our general “line of engagement” was sticking around.
In order to get a reference of the defensive line, I decided to focus on the center backs (Mako and Momo) and the sort of wall where they stopped moving forward too much. We see that there is coverage behind them, but they stick pretty much just behind the midfield line. Those dots that are on their are their “average positions” which only further shows how far up these girls are. That’s to be expected not only due to the strategy, but also the fact that the Fire are in complete control of this game, despite the only 53% of possession.
The Line of Engagement was harder to find. I tried to use the same sort of way I did the defensive line by choosing players towards the center of the pitch that don’t move around as much (Zero Two, Ryuko, and Ami). Instead of a wall, I just got this weird shape in the center of the pitch. It’s possible that we can call any of this a “line”, but there does show how little these players move to the wide spaces. That’s good, since our goal is to see a lot of crosses to Ryuko, and later Ami, in the box. So let’s look at those crosses.
Right there is a chart of all of the crosses attempted throughout the game. In total, that’s 57 attempted crosses. For reference (or I guess, comparison?) LA only managed to put out 6 crosses in this game. So, I think I can safely say that while our plan to have Ryuko score everything off of the cross may not have completely worked, our plan to attempt it certainly worked out. Even if you take out our whopping 20 corner kicks, that’s still 37 attempted crosses. But let’s see what actually got through.
That is all 20 of the “received crosses”, meaning that the pass was completed in some way. So, the biggest find here is that most of these are from corner kicks. Pretty obvious since there were 20 corner kicks throughout the game, but let’s use some detective skills here. With both Mako and Momo getting 3 received crosses each, the only reason they’d up so far is due to set-pieces. As for our plan to get the ball to Ryuko, it did work to some extent. In her 45 minutes on the pitch, she accounted for 4 of these crosses received, two of them to her head.
So, I think I’ve gotten a bit off track with what a 4-2-3-1 is and focused a bit more on the specific strategy side. The main beauty of a 4-2-3-1 is its versatility to allow different types of players play their own games. That’s why it’s so widely used in the soccer world today. It gives players simple roles position-ally that can still be complicated a bit to allow for specialization. This week we saw it in a more attacking form, but next week we’re going to pull our players back and see how it works as a more defensive form. Hopefully Komi will be available, but until then we’ll see what happens.