Paul Arriola, Ben Olsen - D.C. United - embrace after a victory
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Polak: Breaking down the top coaching moves of Week 29

Each week, Sam Polak breaks down the top coaching moves in MLS. Here are his top five from Week 28:

5. No Almiron, no problem for Tata

After earning the No. 1 spot in last week’s list, Atlanta United head coach Tata Martino found himself on the top coaching moves countdown once more for Week 29. This time as a result of seamlessly integrating a sub early in the game without upsetting the momentum his team had already established.

After Miguel Almiron needed to come off with an injury just 17 minutes in, it would have been easy to bring on the wrong player or overcomplicate things to accommodate for the loss of such an influential piece of the team.

Tata Martino could have brought on Kevin Kratz, a player who had started for Atlanta in the No. 10 playmaking role back on June 10. Atlanta could have just as easily gone to a different formation to try and compensate for the loss of Almiron. The Five Stripes also could have tried to have Hector Villalba or Yamil Asad slide in centrally from the outside to play center attacking mid and then brought on a sub to step in as a winger.

However, Tata Martino kept it straightforward. He simply brought on Julian Gressel to take over for Almiron in the same position. And Gressel, who has shown himself to be a solid player for Atlanta, was instrumental in the side’s win.

He got the assist on the second goal, essentially putting the game out of reach. But moreover, his communication and organization created the opportunity for Villalba to score. Below you can see Gressel pointing out to Villalba who he should mark if Atlanta were to win the ball back— and this positioning ultimately led to Villalba’s brilliant opportunity on goal.

Now, it is worth discussing if Almiron was logging too many minutes in the first place and if perhaps his injury could have been avoided all together. However, it is not up for debate that Tata Martino’s move to make a simple substitution in the face of so many potential choices played a major role in Atlanta's win over the Montreal Impact.

4. Biello’s defensive organization vs. TFC

The Impact’s impressive display of offensive firepower saw them go on to beat Toronto FC 5-3 in their midweek clash. However, head coach Mauro Biello and the Impact coaching staff landed on this week’s countdown because of their defensive approach to the game.

In the last matchup between these Canadian sides, on August 27, Toronto came out ahead of Montreal, 3-1. This game was decided by two factors: TFC’s dangerous set pieces when within striking distance of goal and the Reds’ knack for escaping Montreal defenders efforts to mark them during crosses.

Biello and his staff corrected both of these issues Wednesday. The Impact, through the first 76 minutes (as they ended up taking their foot off the gas in the final 13), did not allow themselves to fall victim to what TFC previously had been able to exploit.

Montreal did not concede a free kick that was close enough for a direct effort at goal until the 74th minute -- when it was already 5-1.  And similarly, their focus on defending crosses, whether it was denying the ability to get the service off in the first place or diligent marking in the box, kept Montreal in command of this game.

One example of Montreal’s quality marking can be seen below. Biello made sure his side would not be outnumbered and that his players were all reading the play in order to be first to the ball (which is exactly what happened in the image below) in case of a delivery.

Moreover, the chart below shows how much Toronto struggled to find success with crosses throughout the entirety of the match. Red crosses are unsuccessful, while green crosses are successful.

3. Revs coaching staff rebound after losing Heaps

The New England Revolution became the second team during Week 29 to beat Toronto FC after they went on to earn three points in their 2-1 win on Saturday. And much like Montreal, the Revolution did this by correcting their missteps from their previous matchup with TFC.

The Revs lost 2-0 to Toronto on June 23 in large part because of how the Reds were able to manipulate the Revolution’s outside backs. Consider the sequence below from that game.

Whenever a Toronto midfielder like Victor Vazquez above was able to force the Revs outside back (in this case right back London Woodberry) to have to step to him, that meant a Toronto winger could overlap unmarked — just as Justin Morrow did, nearly earning an assist with his pass to Jozy Alitdore.

Under the guidance of Revolution interim head coach Tom Soehn this time round, New England was able to mostly avoid this type of situation.

At nearly the exact same point in this weekend’s game with nearly an identical play unfolding in the sequence above, the Revs used more discipline in their midfield and better spacing from their outside backs to avoid the right back (in this instance, Benjamin Angoua) having to defend 1-v-2. Keeping this situation and others like it as a 2-v-2, allowed the Revs to keep their outside backs at home more often and hold a potent TFC offense scoreless through 84 minutes.

2. Columbus control the pace against the Red Bulls

Columbus Crew SC head coach Gregg Berhalter’s assessment at half time was a crucial piece of his side’s success over the weekend as the Black & Gold won 3-2 against the New York Red Bulls.

Crew SC went into the half tied, 1-1. New York’s formation has caused a lot of problems for opponents, though it seems teams have started to figure out ways to combat it. Berhalter’s solution, after seeing how the match unfolded through the first 45, was different than most tactical adjustments other teams have made to date. The Columbus head coach went on to say the following ahead of the second half: “We have to mix up playing quickly behind them and then being patient.”

Berhalter’s decision not necessarily to adjust his team’s shape but to instead look to control the pace of the game was a unique approach that gave his side the edge. Within the first five minutes of the second, we see that exact type of patience in possession that almost led to a goal:

To follow up on this, Crew SC’s two goals came from quick passes in behind the Red Bulls’ defense— also just as Berhalter wanted.

But without being able to mix and match these different tempos, Columbus would not have been able to come away with the win. It was asking his team to do both, to have that added dimension of unpredictability, that was the key to getting the three points.

1. D.C. offer a glimpse of 2018

D.C. United took down the San Jose Earthquakes by a score of 4-0 thanks to D.C. head coach Ben Olsen and his staff’s gameplan. Interviewed at the start of the match, Olsen shared how he wanted his team to approach the contest saying, “We need goals…[we want to] get our outside backs forward, create plus-1s all over the field, and then see what our final product looks like on the night.”

And although it took the United until the second half to break the 0-0 deadlock, they stayed true to Olsen’s plan and eventually opened up the scoring just as the D.C. coaching staff had wanted.

Their first goal stemmed from left back Chris Korb joining the attack in the final third and ended on the right with a great final ball to Patrick Mullins. What’s more, Paul Arriola had an extra second to play that final ball as right back Nick DeLeon threatened an overlapping run that forced San Jose’s defense to hesitate on closing the ball down.

That goal was ultimately all D.C. United needed to get the three points; however, they went on to stick to the plan and continued to find the back of the net another three times as a result.


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