In a media call held on Jan. 12, New England Revolution head coach Bruce Arena was asked about replacing Tajon Buchanan. He said, “Certainly, we’re thinking about that. Obviously, in preseason we’ll utilize a few different formations and different personnel to see how we can make our team as good, if not better, in the attack than we were last year.”
Arena doesn’t particularly like to talk about formations, but we have to explore the possibilities since he brought it up. Let’s take a look.
The Frontrunner: The 4-4-2 Diamond
The Revs switched to a 4-4-2 during the 2021 season to get their three Designated Players on the field. It worked during the regular season as the team collected their first-ever Supporters’ Shield while setting a new single-season points record.
The playoffs showcased some of the issues with this formation as Matt Polster was overwhelmed in the center while playing against NYCFC. The system also wasn’t great for Buchanan, who does well in wide areas.
That said, the 4-4-2 could return in 2022. If it does, I expect it to be more narrow than the one we saw last season. Polster would sit in the middle with Carles Gil in front of him. Sebastian Lletget would start on one side but the other is currently unknown. Arnor Traustason or Tommy McNamara are options, but it could go to someone else. Perhaps Samuel Bastien?
A Possibility: 5-3-2
The new year could mean a new formation.
A three-man backline would help fill in the gaps left behind when DeJuan Jones and Brandon Bye bomb forward to help out in the attack. Another center back would also be helpful to Polster as he attempts to control the middle. Last year we often saw Henry Kessler or Andrew Farrell step into the midfield to put pressure on an opponent.
Omar Gonzalez could be the one who pairs with Kessler and Farrell. The 33-year-old is a known commodity to Arena and he can still win physical battles. Second-year Revs player Jon Bell is a speedier option who also knows how to win a header.
Maybe, but probably not: 4-5-1
The 4-5-1, or some version of it, has become very popular in the soccer world. The Revs used it in 2021 when Adam Buksa and Gustavo Bou weren’t connecting. The two attackers have found their chemistry, so I can’t imagine that Arena will go back to playing a single striker.
That said, there are rumors that Buksa could head to Europe. In my opinion, the Polish international will be in New England at the start of the season.
If Buksa does head to Europe, Arena doesn’t have many other options at striker since Justin Rennicks and Edward Kizza haven’t earned a lot of minutes. This could mean that Bou is left alone up top.
Even if that ends up being the case, I just don’t see the Revs going with the 4-5-1 since it requires speedy outside midfielders. Maybe Ema Boateng and Traustason start on the wings? Maybe Jones makes a move to the midfield? I’m just not sure if the Revs have the right personnel for this system.
Update: This article originally stated that a 3-5-2 was an option for the Revs. Sean Donahue of Revolution Recap pointed out that the formation would more likely look like a 5-3-2. The article has been changed to reflect this.