Tactical shift was key to Whitecaps' latest comeback

Jay DeMerit of the Vancouver Whitecaps

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VANCOUVER, B.C. — When a team is behind late in a match, the natural change is to bring on another attacking player. The common tactic is to sub in a striker, or a midfielder that can swing momentum with their speed or energy while taking off a defender.

So it probably seemed a tad strange on Wednesday when the Whitecaps used their final substitution to bring on center back Jay DeMerit — who hadn’t played for seven matches — in place of right back Wes Knight as they trailed the San Jose Earthquakes 1-0 with less than 10 minutes to play. The change left three center backs on the pitch for the ‘Caps, with DeMerit joining Mouloud Akloul and Greg Janicki on the back line.

The somewhat surprising tactical move could be attributed to the fact that Vancouver head coach Teitur Thordarson wanted his best players on the field for the remainder of the match, and on that day he felt that those players were his defenders. And it paid off, as the 'Caps got a late equalizer.

“Defensively we are playing quite well,” said Thordarson after the match. “But we didn’t create so many chances in the first half and we didn’t manage to put them under pressure as we wanted to do. That resulted in that we dropped a little bit lower.”

Looking to drive his team forward for an equalizer, he turned to his captain for leadership on the backline in the final moments and moved his most versatile player — Alain Rochat — forward into the attack. The result was a switch from a traditional 4-4-2 to more of a 3-5-2, a formation once en vogue, but little seen recently in MLS.

“We made a change by playing three at the back and we moved Alain up to the midfield,” explained Thordarson. “I think that changed [the game] quite a lot. We started to control the game a little bit. In the second half, especially in the second part of the second half, is when we really seemed to start taking risks.”

The switch also allowed Rochat to move back into position to connect with midfielder Davide Chiumiento, who had swapped from left to right midfield before scoring the tying goal in the 91st minute.

“They play well together,” said Thordarson of his Swiss connection. “They bring each other into good positions. Davide especially is good at bringing Alain forward so that he can join into the attack and Alain is fantastically good at playing good balls forward to Davide and also to the strikers.”

Rochat’s versatility is a weapon that the ‘Caps will surely turn to for the rest of the season whenever they’re in need of a spark. This was the second time that he has been pushed forward from his left back spot late in a match, with the other occasion also resulting in a dramatic comeback, a 3-3 draw against Sporting Kansas City that saw two stoppage-time goals from Camilo.

“We definitely don’t make things easy on ourselves,” said Thordarson. "It seems a habit to make things exciting. But we put pressure on them, and that finally gave us a goal.”

The 'Caps are back in action on Saturday (7:30 pm ET, Direct Kick, MatchDay Live) in New England against the Revolution.