The Colorado Rapids, currently sitting in first place in the Western Conference with the most points in MLS, have a new formation and a new focus on possession to thank for their success.
In the past several games the Rapids have played with an unbalanced midfield, slotting three players into the center and having only one wing. In their most recent game, a 3-1 victory against the Kansas City Wizards, Mark Chung, Pablo Mastroeni and rookie Jordan Cila were the central players, with Chris Henderson adopting the wide role.
"Jordan we want to see on the park and he's really finding a good niche playing centrally between the central midfielders and the strikers," said Rapids head coach Tim Hankinson. "We also like the freedom of Chung playing through the center playing inside playing outside. We didn't show in the first part of the season that we were able to bring him into the game from a wide position, so were letting him get his feet on the ball.
"Also, with Pablo coming back after injury, he's finally got 90 minutes in (against Kansas City), but I think that if he played there with less help it would have stressed him more. We're kind of looking at each game and saying 'where do we want Henderson to play?' "
Hankinson maintained that controlling the ball in the center of the pitch allowed the Rapids to control the game.
"There are times when you want to balance [midfield], but if you noticed, because we played three in the center of the park, [Kansas City] had to tuck in [Diego] Gutierrez, they had to tuck in [Nick] Garcia, so all their midfielders were central," said Hankinson. "I think that that prevented them from winning balls and counter-attacking."
Chung, who has thrived in his more central role, agrees that controlling the midfield opens up the game for the Rapids, and allows more of an offensive flow.
"It's all movement off the ball. ... You'll find [forward] John Spencer on the side or [forward] Pedro [Peguero] on the side or Henderson switching over there," said Chung. "There's all kinds of movement and it is difficult for teams to defend us because we're all over the place."
The new formation has added a new, more attacking dimension to a Rapids team that was primarily known for its prowess in defending.
"At the beginning of the year we didn't possess the ball well and in the last five games we've made it an issue to posses the ball better," said Mastroeni. "Anytime we can control the middle of the field we have a better chance to get Spencer and Pedro good looks at the goal, which is something they weren't getting at the beginning of the year."
Geoffrey Urland is a contributor to MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.