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Formation Dreaming Part 1: 3-5-2

Atlanta’s alternative formation options reviewed

MLS: D.C. United at Atlanta United FC Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

Formations are the batting order of soccer, there’s a lot of importance put on them but they really don’t matter. This is a point that is made basically to cliche by everyone from bloggers to TV analysts to coaches and players. It is also a point that has been made about Atlanta United. The team, at least nominally, lines up in a kind of 4-3-3 that usually looks something like this:

Or is it a 4-2-3-1? I mean, Martinez plays as a lone striker, and the team pushes everyone forward except for Larentowicz, Parkhurst, and LGP when they have the ball, so does it matter anyway?

Maybe the lineup tweets are more meta than anything else and the team is making a commentary about the fleeting nature of truth and objectivity. Or maybe, over the course over 90 minutes the lineup changes quite a bit depending on the situation in the match and whether or not Atlanta United has the ball. At times in possession, the team plays a sort of 3-4-3 as Josh Bagriansky pointed out, and there have even been occasions where Tata Martino pulls Michael Parkhurst for a midfielder in order to give the team more of an attacking presence late in matches.

All that said, and since the lineup is fairly meaningless anyway and the team’s shape changes throughout the game, let’s take a look at how United would lineup in a different formation. Let’s say Jeff Larentowicz get’s that yellow card next time out against Dallas and is suspended for the match against New England. This might be where you see Bobby Boswell get a start - he’s a savvy veteran and I think Walkes has seen time on the wing and has been subbed in recent matches for a reason, he might not be ready to take on starting in central defense just yet and Tata elects to go with a 3-5-2. Here’s what it might look like:

This formation will get killed in the comments, but hear me out:

  • Tito gets some rest - there are 8 games coming up in three weeks, he’ll need a little time off.
  • Larry is suspended anyway in this example so the team will have to figure something else out to keep possession. This allows Carmona to shield the defense while Yamil does his thing winning the ball back all over the field and still lets the wingbacks give cover to the back three when the Revs win possession.
  • Tell me you aren’t interested in Vazquez going full-force-physical CONCACAF on New England while Joesf plays off of him and tears apart their disjointed backline, it’d be beautiful.
  • Yes, Gressel is at right back (MR is right back, don’t tell me it stands for midfield right), a great man once said “anyone can play left back” it applies to right back too. I think he gives a better option than Mears who slows things down a bit too much for the Five Stripes.

Why it is good

What do you mean, there’s five midfielders in there - can’t you see that five midfielders are going to bust apart four defenders all day? No, but really (the five isn’t really five midfielders) - it’s a more defensive lineup with three center backs and a pair of wingbacks. Teams that deploy this can easily stop counter attacks and in possession the midfield/wingback combo offers plenty of ways Atlanta can carve apart teams while holding possession. Also, New England already plays like six forwards at a time so it won’t be that difficult to get through them while they’re pretending to defend.

Why it is bad

Working a new center back into an unfamiliar lineup and somewhat different style of play could be a disaster. Boswell isn’t the youngest or fastest guy and when the team has to man mark he could be a liability against a player like Diego Fagundez or Lee Nguyen. Gressel at right wingback might not be pretty also, if he gets caught too far forward when the Revs counter, look out. Finally, Yamil has played centrally and at left wing, he hasn’t played much on the right side of the midfield and it could throw things off between him and Miguel and it almost seems criminal to put him so far away from Garza on the pitch.

Get the conversation going in the comments, who would you want to see in a 3-5-2? Is there another option for when Larentowicz is out? What if New England plays six forwards against United?