Talking Tactics: Vancouver's new attack taking shape

Tactics: Vancouver

Photo Credit: 
Courtesy of Vancouver Whitecaps FC

CASA GRANDE, Ariz. – Wondering how Vancouver head coach Martin Rennie plans to get that wealth of attacking options on the field, what the Whitecaps 2.0 setup may look like? Well, get in line.

The answers are beginning to reveal themselves, if only slowly, starting with Monday’s extended scrimmage against Seattle at Grande Sports World.

After the Cascadia rivals calmed down and stopped launching themselves dangerously at one another, the Whitecaps’ first preseason test under Rennie provided an initial peek at how he plans to use veterans Eric Hassli, Sébastien Le Toux, Davide Chiumiento, Camilo Sanvezzo, newcomer Lee Nguyen, 2011 No. 1 SuperDraft pick Omar Salgado and 2012 No. 2 pick Darren Mattocks.

Oh, and throw Atiba Harris in there, even if he’ll end up as the most defensive-minded of the offensive diamond.

Rennie’s arrangement was fairly fluid, but it was mostly a 4-2-3-1. Initially, Hassli was the advanced attacker, which was always going to be the only “sure thing” about the manager’s array of choices in the final third.

WATCH: Full highlights, postgame reactions

Le Toux played out wide on the left, although he and Camilo (operating behind Hassli) interchanged liberally. When Le Toux found himself out wide, opposite of right-sided starter Harris, the formation looked more like a 4-4-2. Credit that to Harris’ tendencies and to Le Toux’s determination to faithfully track back.

It paid off in Camilo’s early goal (off a Harris feed), but as offensive chances were sparse from there during the starters’ 45 minutes, opportunities to study the arrangement in action were similarly sparse.

“Maybe our possession could have been little bit better when we did win the ball back,” Rennie acknowledged to reporters afterward. “That would have given us maybe more opportunities to get forward.”

(Also credit Seattle for the dearth of Whitecaps offensive forays. Osvaldo Alonso’s peerless tackling was already in top form, and a fully recovered Jhon Kennedy Hurtado was a cop on the beat along Seattle’s back line. As such, the Whitecaps central pairing of veteran John Thorrington and newcomer Jun Marques Davidson were stretched to control the middle.) 

For the second 45 minutes, Salgado operated as a highly positioned target, with Chiumiento closely connected behind him in a truer 4-2-3-1. Mattocks on the right and Nguyen on the left (although sometimes switching flanks) remained wide and weren’t always asked to track all the way back, as trialist Floyd Franks and Gershon Koffie screened the defense in unison.

Koffie had a nice afternoon, looking comfortable even against a highly capable Seattle second team.

Mattocks never looked wholly comfortable in his role. He clearly has the first step, already looking quick and savvy with that one, and seems to have the ideas. But the touted rookie needed a lot of on-field coaching on when to track and when to remain up high, when to push players inside or outside, etc.  

And a couple of picked off passes provided clear demonstration that Mattocks still has an adjustment period ahead with the overall speed of professional play – none of which should surprise anyone.

Nguyen had his moments. His first instincts seems to be “dribble and take on defenders,” which could be well-suited for the 4-2-3-1. At times, however, teammates looked frustrated after making hard, but unrewarded runs.