For as long as the game of soccer has been around, the age-old question of what comes first has been argued: the formation or the players. Toronto FC’s new boys general manager Kevin Payne and coach Ryan Nelson have a lot of decisions to make but answering that question should be at the top of their list.
The formation and style of play is a direct result of the attitude towards the game of the coach and his executive team. If the coach is offensive minded his formation will show that and therefore vice versa. It might even depend on what position on the pitch the coach used to play. If he played wing back then he might want to utilize a formation and style of play that asks the ball to continuously go out and wide and find speedy wingers to fill that role.
No matter what the coach believes in and what he decides as his formation he has to fit players into those roles. When a coach starts with a formation his hardest task is find players from his squad to set into those positions. Just ask previous coach Aron Winter how hard that task is. He came with the idea of playing an Ajax formation with a diamond in the middle and two attacking midfielders out wide. His downfall was the lack of skilled wing players and that battering ram up front.
If a team or coach decides on playing its’ best eleven on the pitch no matter what position they play, the coach must find a formation to play with based on the skills of the players themselves. If the squad is heavy in midfield players then the coach might decide to play six across the middle. If a fast, smart and technically gifted central back is on the team then the coach might decide to play with a sweeper and stopper. The squad formation that is based on the players must rely heavily on the talent of each individual to understand what needs to be done on any given day against any given team. This way a style play can be changed in regards to the team you are playing against or the circumstances of the game itself.
Nelson is a new coach without any experience. He is coming to TFC as a player from another league. Last season was disappointing and he understands the lack of depth and talent on the squad. The team needs a new direction and a new way of playing and thinking. With all this in mind, the choice is clear in what direction the club needs to go in. Nelson has to dictate the formation and then go out and find players. Those players might be on the squad or not. Payne has already stated that the squad will be increased by four or five players.
Nelson, an international defender, lead New Zealand to the last World Cup with a hard-nosed defensive pressuring all over the pitch style. That is exactly how he will shape TFC. His formation will be based on the idea of limiting the oppositions scoring chances and winning all the battles in the middle. The squad itself is heavy on central midfielders so the opportunity is there for Nelson to go out and pick his desired formation.
TFC play a preseason game tonight the Walt Disney World Pro Soccer Classic against Orlando City SC. Unfortunately we won’t see Nelson’s true ideas at play. Preseason games are full of trialists and bench players trying to make an impression. It’s a way for veterans to get into full fitness and usually doesn’t show exactly how the squad will line-up for the start of the season.
At least for TFC and Nelson, in my mind, the question has been answered. The formation must come first and then the players must fit that formation and style of play.
Shahab Khan is a Soccer and MLS Columnist with Rant Sports focusing on the Toronto FC
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