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Jay Heaps Needs to Change the Revolution's Formation

When the going gets tough, change how you approach the game.

Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

To be blunt, the New England Revolution are currently playing as a shell of the team that made it to MLS Cup last year. Sure, excuses such as Jermaine Jones’ injury, unjust refereeing decisions, and a dose of bad luck can be tossed around, but the root of the problem lies at a far more fundamental level than any of that.

Dating back to the Open Cup fallout against the Charlotte Independence, a third division side, Jay Heaps’ team has lost five straight games. Call it whatever you want, things need to be changed and positive results aren’t going to occur out of sheer will or perseverance. The going is tough right now and something needs to give.

That something is how the Revs approach the game tactically from the onset. Ever since Heaps took charge in 2011, his teams have largely trotted onto the field in a dynamic 4-2-3-1 formation. In that set up, the back line takes up a relatively deep line, the midfield is tasked with an enormous amount of running, and the lone striker sometimes ends up on an island as he tirelessly pesters the opposition’s defenders.

To be fair, the formation has a lot more complexities than that, but at the core it relies on applying high pressure and leaves the heart of defense ripe for the picking by way of a swift counter attack. So, as the Revs have fallen victim to every cliche of the 4-2-3-1 over the recent weeks, it’s time to trot out a 4-1-3-2 formation much like the U.S. National Team opts for nowadays.

Outside positional changes, the formation addresses the aura of confusion that seems to engulf Revs players on the field nowadays. It simplifies every player’s role and provides far more rigidity and shape than has been apparent in recent weeks. For a position by position breakdown, check out the commentary below (excluding the goalkeeper).

1.) Center Backs: Not much changes for Jose Goncalves and Andrew Farrell, who one has to presume would be the starting center backs. They would continue to play off of each other’s strengths, maintain a close link at all times, and organize those around them.

2.) Outside Backs: It’s difficult to discern, but one reason the Revs have been ripped apart by counter attacks in recent weeks is that Chris Tierney and London Woodberry have provided width really high up the field. As they’ve been sucked higher and higher, they’ve left loads of space behind them for strikers to run into. In the 4-1-3-2 they still provide service, but have to stay deeper.

3.) Holding Mid: Rather than having a double-pivot in the heart of midfield that shields the back-line, there would be one holding midfielder whose sole job is to circulate possession and put out fires before they start. This would likely be Scott Caldwell for now, as he has the brains to handle the job himself and not get drawn out of position.

4.) Attack Mid: Picture a midfielder driving at the heart of defense, picking out forward passes, and dribbling out of tight spaces. That’s what the attacking midfielder does in a 4-1-3-2, and Lee Nguyen has the prime skill set to do all of those things. Rather than playing almost as a second striker with few options ahead of him, Nguyen would start deeper and be a creative force.

5.) Wide Midfielders: Instead of staying pinned to the touchline, these wide midfielders tuck in some to help with possession, give space on the overlap, and help alleviate the defensive responsibilities facing the two central midfielders. Kelyn Rowe and Teal Bunbury both have the work rate and brains to work these spots, while Jermaine Jones is a more than ideal candidate to play here upon his return from injury (this is how Jürgen Klinsmann used him in the 2014 World Cup in Brazil).

6.) Strikers: As mentioned at the beginning of this article, Charlie Davies has found himself isolated at times, with no reward for his tireless running. To fix that issue, give the man a partner in Juan Agudelo. Both are on the fringes of the USMNT (Davies not so much as Agudelo, at least for now), and would always have someone to combine with. One drops low for possession, the other runs the channels, and both make runs into the box.

In all, this type of tactical overhaul would be considered monumental for Heaps, as the Revs manager has seldom swayed from his preferred 4-2-3-1 formation. But things aren’t going well right now in New England and you can only try the same thing repeatedly so many times.

The 4-1-3-2 doesn’t even need to be a permanent solution, but its simplicity and sureness is just what the team needs to get out of its current funk. There would be a player dedicated to stop the bleeding on defense (Caldwell), a creative force that pulls the strings (Nguyen), and two wide players who act as modified wingers.

You can think these ideas are brilliant, you can’t despise this theory, but at the bare minimum it’s something different.