Veljko Paunovic-CLB-CHI-10-1-16

Each week, Sam Polak breaks down the top coaching moves in MLS from the previous week. Here are his top five from Week 22.



5. Vieira counters Marsch's change


New York City FC took down the rival New York Red Bulls3-2 Sunday night and Patrick Vieira showed he was the first coach to at least have some answers as to how to defend the Red Bulls' new formation.


Jesse March’s side had scored an impressive 12 goals in the three matches previous to Sunday night and were held under three for the first time since July 19.


The Red Bulls offense creates a lot of different situations to deal with defensively. But Vieira was certainly onto something by using his wingers and outside backs in concert to defend Marsch’s wingbacks and whichever of the remaining four Red Bulls (whether it’s one of the three midfielders or Bradley Wright-Phillips from up top) drifted out wide.


In doing this, Vieira had up to seven players to balance over into the middle and weak side of the field – the three other defenders, potentially all three central midfielders, and even the far side winger. The fluid movement and freedom of the Red Bulls attack still created a lot of problems, but NYCFC’s communication and willingness to use numbers to crowd specific parts of the field may be a good foundation for how the rest of the league is going to adapt to their potent offense.


4. Carl Robinson continuing to pull the right strings


Opting for an unexpected attacking and untested starting XI, Vancouver Whitecaps FC head coach Carl Robinson made the best coaching decision last week. His personnel decisions this week were also a difference-maker as his side earned a 2-2 draw against the Colorado Rapids.


Robinson brought on Brek Shea and Cristian Techera in the 63rd minute down 2-1 and thanks to the performance of these two players in particular the match ended in a draw.


Techera’s delivery off a set piece found Fredy Montero for the game-tying goal. But what’s more, these two players were involved in another three quality opportunities that could have gotten the Whitecaps three points on the road in the especially demanding Denver altitude.


Shea nearly tucked in a goal in the 67th minute, but was flagged for offside. Techera had another cross that Montero knocked off the post. And in the 85th minute, Techera had a quality opportunity to put one past Tim Howard that was ultimately deflected out for a corner.


The Whitecaps coaching staff has pulled the right strings the past two games managing the coming out parties of Yordy Reyna and Bernie Ibini while still finding time for the likes of Shea and Techera. It will be interesting see on how they balance playing time for all their talent through the final third of the season.


3. Curtin’s possession in the defensive third


Earning just seven points in July, the Philadelphia Union started their August campaign off on the right foot with a victory over FC Dallas— handing Oscar Pareja’s side their second loss in a row and just their fifth all season.


The Union got the 3-1 win in large part due to calmly playing out of their own defensive third once winning the ball back from an Dallas attack, a plan definitely put in place by Philadelphia’s coaching staff.


Consider the situation below where Dallas had committed several players forward to try and earn the match’s first goal:



It would have been easy and understandable to just knock the ball away optimistically for CJ Sapong once the attack was thwarted, given all the red jerseys still within striking distance of John McCarthy’s goal. The Union however, remained calm on and off the ball as they looked to regain their offensive organization and then found a way to build out of their own defensive third with controlled possession. The sequence above ultimately led to the great combination play from Ilsinho and Sapong and Philadelphia’s first goal.


Moments like this happened a number of times as the match unfolded. This approach by the coaching staff and execution of the players allowed the Union to pick the right passes to start their offensive possessions and made a major impact against the formidable Dallas defense.


2. Chris Leitch’s defensive decisions


San Jose Earthquakes head coach Chris Leitch landed himself on this week’s list for the first time since taking over the Earthquakes at the end of June. The defensive scheme developed by Leitch and his coaching staff was crucial in their side’s 2-1 takedown of Columbus Crew SC.


Tying Real Salt Lake2-2 last weekend, Berhalter’s Black & Gold scored their two goals via combination play out wide and off a counterattack. San Jose set up to stop both those types of attacks.


When Columbus was out wide with the aim to find ways to combine and progress forward, San Jose almost always had a numerical advantage.  Below we see the Quakes defending with three against two Columbus players on the left side.

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It was more of the same on the right side as well from San Jose. Further, Leitch’s side was committed to not surrendering goals off the counter. This was most evident off of corner kicks. Any time the Earthquakes had one of their 14 corner kicks, they were not going to get caught out or become too focused on the attack. We saw this time and time again through all 90 minutes, with no moment more indicative of this mentality than Tommy Thompson’s effort below as he covered for his teammates working to recover.



1. Veljko Paunovic outclasses New England


The Chicago Fire have had the New England Revolution’s number this year, winning all three contests. Coming into their third matchup on Saturday, Chicago had a collective goal advantage of 5-1.


The Fire nearly mirrored that result in just this weekend’s match alone, taking Jay Heaps’ Revs down 4-1. The convincing performance stemmed from Veljko Paunovic’s tactical setup.


Scoring within the first 10 minutes of a game can be a fluke – one team may just start off slow, or get lucky early, etc. Other times a team can score early because they have a superior strategy and it does not take long for that to show itself. Matt Polster’s goal in the 8th minute was definitely an example of the latter.


Against an already defensively narrow New England, Paunovic set his team up to overload one side of the field

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Above, six Chicago players on the right side of the field completely consumed New England’s shape in addition to eight New England players’ attention while a lone Chicago player is wide open on the opposite side.


Two minutes later the Chicago Fire created the same situation, but on the other wing.



A long diagonal ball found Polster 1v1 against Kelyn Rowe before the rest of New England could adequately support their left back, and Polster did what he was supposed to in attacking a vulnerable Revs defensive shape.


Moreover, Chicago’s third goal unfolded in a remarkably similar fashion. The Fire created another 1v1 out wide. This time with Patrick Doody though, who instead of finding a way to shoot like Polster, delivered a great service after beating his defender to a streaking Michael de Leeuw.