In Canada, the 4-4-2 is making a big comeback By Steven Sandor Posted on July 3, 2012 1 0 798 Share on Facebook Share on Twitter At the start of the 2012 season, two of Canada’s four major teams, FC Edmonton and Toronto FC, were deeply devoted to the 4-3-3. When TFC changed coaches in the second week of June, the 4-3-3 was jettisoned in favour of the 4-4-2, and TFC’s results have improved, even though the club is clearly in “rebuild for 2013” mode. This past weekend, FCE — mired in a skid which saw it win just three of its first 12 NASL matches of the season, switched to a 4-4-2. And, while the Eddies had to settle for a 0-0 draw with the Puerto Rico Islanders, FCE bossed the possession and held a large territorial advantage — and didn’t look all that uncomfortable after going down a man. Toronto FC is a much bigger club than second-division FC Edmonton but, relatively speaking, FCE’s decision to go 4-4-2 is more stunning than the Reds’ change. Toronto FC made the tactical switch after a coaching change; Paul Mariner brought in his own way of thinking. TFC goes through coaches like rabbits have babies, so new coaching philosophies and ways of playing come and go in the nation’s largest city like the stocks on Bay Street go up and down. But, FC Edmonton is a team that was born using a Dutch philosophy — and was married to the 4-3-3 from day one. Where the 4-3-3 was just a new flavour for TFC, it was the raison d’etre of FCE. Yes, last year, as a stop-gap, FCE played a few home matches with one striker because of the extra-small pitch size of its old home stadium, Foote Field. But, for the most part, the club has been a Dutch Total Football devotee. But it was the team’s Dutch coach, Harry Sinkgraven — and is Dutch assistant, Hans Schrijver — who greenlighted the change. Now, the reasons behind the changes were different. Mariner brought in a different philosophy, and enduring the worst start to a season in MLS history under former coach Aron Winter made it easy for him to change things over. For Sinkgraven, the reasons were different. In a diamond-in-the-middle 4-4-2, the attacking midfielder is often given a free role behind the striker, and should have the ball at his feet more than any other attacker. In Shaun Saiko, FC Edmonton has a legitimate NASL MVP candidate, with five goals and four assists so far this campaign. But, in the 4-3-3, Saiko was often asked to play in an outside forward position, meaning it was easier for opposing managers to mark him out of the game. In a 4-4-2, he has the ball a lot more, and freedom to distribute as he sees fit. As well, it bolsters Edmonton’s numbers in the midfield, an area where the team was often getting overrun in its losses. The 4-4-2 with the diamond midfield is likely the easiest system to introduce. The three supporting midfielders have clearly defined roles and positioning, while the attacking mid can go and support the attack and is given the ability to freelance. It’s a back-to-basics system that allows you to accentuate the abilities of special midfield talent. And that’s the thing about tactics. As much as you want to say that one system is out of date, or another system can’t work, or that everyone is playing 4-2-3-1 nowadays, a good manager understands that tactics need to be proactive, not reactionary. You create a game plan that emphasizes your team’s strengths, and minimizes its weaknesses. So, to say any tactical system is outdated is short-sighted. Maybe the only system that can’t be resurrected was the famous Hungarian 4-2-4, which often operated more like a 2-4-4. That system required a lot of work from the goalkeeper, who often operated well up the field, behind the centre halves. But that was back in the day of the heavy leather ball, and your goalie could cheat well up the pitch because no one could hoof the ball from his own side of half and get it to goal. Now, with the modern, light ball, the keeper can’t cheat — and that system is pretty well dead. But, with any other system, it’s amazing how everything old eventually becomes new again. And, right now, in Canada, good ol’ 4-4-2 is king once again.