Relive the Armchair Analyst's Weekly Q&A!Posted by Major League Soccer (MLS) on Wednesday, March 9, 2016
Welcome to the Wednesday Q&A series, where we focus on one particular topic – today's being the acquisition of Jermaine Jones by the Colorado Rapids – and ask you to react, share, and discuss in the comments section. However, feel free to ask about anything game-related (MLS, USL, NASL, USMNT, CanMNT, etc.) over the next several hours.
Colorado Rapids fans haven't been particularly happy since late in the 2013 season. Over the last two-and-a-half years, they've seen what was a promising, playoff-quality core slowly and meticulously disassembled and replaced with a collection of veterans possessed of overlapping instead of complementary skillsets. And as a result they've missed the MLS playoffs each of the last two years, and are expected to do so again in 2016.
The arrival of Jermaine Jones, who was announced as a new acquisition today and will make his debut next month, doesn't really change that. The Western Conference is a bloodbath and the Rapids probably aren't going to be above the red line when it's all said and done.
But while Jones's arrival doesn't get them over the hurdle, it does probably get them closer. And it will definitely change the shape of the team, because Jones -- with his propensity to roam touchline to touchline and endline to endline, all the while resisting any sort of structure -- changes everything any time he sets foot on the pitch.
This is what the Rapids looked like in their 1-0 loss to the San Jose Earthquakes this past weekend, trotting out in a 4-2-3-1:
My gripe with this look for the Rapids is the same as it has been for the last two years: This formation puts too much of the chance-creation burden onto the shoulders of Dillon Powers, who is not a natural No. 10. Powers is much better when playing deeper, and using his vision to spread the field rather than attempting to play the last ball or score goals.
Jones's arrival should flip that midfield triangle and allow the wingers to play higher, resulting in a 4-3-3:
There are a few of important things to note here. First is that I've added a few arrows to the graphic in order to give a better idea of the function of each player. In this version of the 4-3-3 both the wingers (Shkelzen Gashi and Marco Pappa) are inverted, which means it's imperative for the fullbacks to get forward and provide attacking width in the final third.
Second is that Powers is still in central midfield, and is still probably the main chance creator of that triumvirate, even if Jones will surely have a higher usage rate. This is a fine trade-off, though, because with the addition of Jones, the creative burden will no longer fall exclusively to Powers. There will be a distribution of duties in terms of getting the ball into the final third, and Jones will provide the kind of passing that Azira simply can't.
With both Jones and Powers feeding the front line, the likes of Doyle and Gashi will get the ball earlier and in better spots, and have more room to create an attacking partnership.
Third and final is the line connecting Cronin to Jones, which is the most important tactical/strategic/personnel note on the field. Jones is a fascinating and frustrating and extraordinarily gifted player, and he'll make game-breaking plays on both sides of the ball. But he'll also get himself into trouble in possession, or run himself out of plays defensively, and he needs a partner. We've seen it with the national team and we've seen it throughout his club career.
In New England, it became Scott Caldwell's job to stay connected to Jones and provide that coverage. Here, it will almost certainly fall to Cronin -- he'll have to shadow Jones all over the field while, at the same time, Powers rotates deep to protect the defense (another reason to drop Powers out of that pure No. 10 role).
It's a delicate balance, but it's one that has to be struck if the Rapids are going to climb above the red line and stay there.
Ok folks, I'm here for a few hours. Let's talk soccer!