VANCOUVER, B.C. – The Vancouver Whitecaps have played a pretty set system in Carl Robinson's four seasons in charge.
Built on a solid defensive footing, it's been a flat back four, with a two-man defensive midfield shield, fast wingers, and usually a lone striker up top. Goals have come by committee, with a counter-attacking style proving effective as the 'Caps don't worry too much about possession stats.
There were times last season when Robinson looked to steer away from that tried-and-tested system. There was a successful springtime dalliance away from his favored 4-2-3-1 set-up with a central midfield heavy 4-1-4-1 lineup and a couple of less-than-successful attempts at three at the back.
The latter has been something that has interested Robinson for a while. To make it work, he's felt he's needed the right pieces in place. That time seems now, with the 'Caps coach giving several recent indications that a new Whitecaps system is in the works – and that there may be more than one.
"I've been pretty consistent, because we've been successful," Robinson told reporters from training this week. "I like the idea of playing three [at the back]. I believe I've got personnel now to play three. We'll look at playing three in certain games. That will stick if we win games and if we don't, we know we can play a back four.
"But we'll certainly have a look at things. I'm excited to challenge myself and my coaches to get the best out of those players in a different system, because I certainly know that they want to try different things, so we'll certainly look at it."
A switch would certainly open up some exciting lineup options for Vancouver and create a few interesting personnel battles, not least of which would be just who would comprise that back three.
While you might expect it to be three center backs, left back Marcel De Jong (pictured above) is another option, and he's excited by the prospect a new formation means for both the team and his own game.
"When I played in Holland we played a couple of times with three at the back," de Jong told reporters. "I used to love the system as well because it gets more players in the midfield, in their half, so that's good for us. I don't mind it at all."
A switch to three at the back would also mean a new wingback role for last season's standout rookie right back Jake Nerwinski, and it's a prospect he's excited by, having played a 3-5-2 formation at times at UConn.
"I am comfortable with that," Nerwinski said. "I think that benefits me a lot. I like to go forward. I like to push forward and I like to run. I'm fit enough to do that. It would definitely be a new challenge, but I'm definitely excited by it."
But it won't just be the Whitecaps defensive side that may see different formation options; the attack may also see a few changing looks depending on the opposition in front of them.
"We'll play with two strikers sometimes this year," Robinson said. "And we'll play with one with two behind, and we'll play with two up front with one behind. It just gives us different options."