New York Red Bulls' head coach Jesse Marsch recently took some time out of training to talk to Franco Panizo of Soccer by Ives. Here's what he said:
At times it’s going to be a 4-4-2, at times it’s going to be a 4-1-3-2, at times it’s going to be a 4-2-3-1, at times it’s going to be a 4-3-3...
...For me, at this moment, to tell them we are going to play ‘this’ system handcuffs the type players we have. Of course, there has to be a basic starting point. But they are free to flow, to interact.
Oops. That wasn't Jesse Marsch, that was Mike Petke talking to Steve Davis of ProSoccerTalk back in the 2013 preseason.
Here's what Marsch had to say to Panizo:
I think at times our midfield will look like a 4-2-3-1. I think at times it will look like a 4-1-4-1, a 4-3-3...
...There will be malleability to how we do things.
That is indeed a radically different outlook. All that January upheaval was well worth it.
Of course, there is very different context behind those not particularly different quotes. Mike Petke was a new head coach plunged into a team that had dumped a bunch of players and its old head coach and failed to produce much by way of a convincing plan for its next step. Jesse Marsch is a new....Oh. Wait. Let me start that again.
Mike Petke was talking about the need for flexible tactics to accommodate the experience and talent of his core attacking trio: Thierry Henry, Tim Cahill and Fabian Espindola. Jesse Marsch is enchanted by the central midfield personnel he's accumulated:
Guys like Dax (McCarty), Felipe and Sacha, you can already see the intelligence of those three guys sort of in the middle of the field. How we use Felipe, how we use Sacha, not totally certain yet.
Different players, same difference: a head coach talking up tactical flexibility in preseason, most likely because he's still got a lot to figure out. (It would be nice to think he didn't trade away Ambroise Oyongo and Eric Alexander for a couple of guys he can't quite think what to do with...but we'll give Marsch the same leeway afforded Petke and assume he's just overwhelmed by the sheer range of options his starting core provides.)
It would seem, at this early stage in his career at RBNY, Marsch has more in common with his predecessor than those trying to sell the idea we are entering a radical new era of tactical ingenuity would like to admit.
There is even an echo of Petke in Marsch's description of other players in the squad. For example, on the subject of BWP, the two coaches would appear to be in complete agreement: "2014 MLS Golden Boot winner Bradley Wright-Phillips is best served playing alone up top" writes Panizo about Marsch's astute tactical analysis of a man who scored 11 goals in 12 appearances after Petke switched to a 4-2-3-1 (not that BWP had too much difficulty scoring in the 4-4-2 the team struggled to execute convincingly for most of last season).
To be fair, we haven't seen much evidence of a willingness not to try to fix what wasn't broken, so kudos to Marsch for at least starting the year with that hypothesis for one fairly important part of the lineup.
Unfortunately, the new coach also seems to be teetering on the edge of repeating one Mike Petke's most glaring mistakes:
Marsch also said that wide midfielder Lloyd Sam was being asked to do more than be a one-on-one player
Stop that talk, Jesse. We've been here before. Have a read of Dave Martinez's article at the back end of the 2013 season, when Sam finally worked his way off the bench and brought an attacking spark and width the team had been missing for most of the year. He started five of the team's last eight games (missing two due to injury), and contributed three goals during that (coincidentally) unbeaten, Shield-clinching run.
In 2014, Sam set the team record for starts under a coach no longer in doubt about the value of his talent, tallying five goals and 10 assists in all competitions. He is the only RBNY player other than Thierry Henry to have a double-digit assist season in the team's Henry era. And the first player not named Thierry Henry to register double-digit assists in a season for this club since Amado Guevara in 2005. He's not broken.
No harm in trying to get more out of any player, of course. And if Marsch is quietly emulating Petke's work, misjudging Sam might be a particularly important part of the process. The 2013 season started with excitable talk about a fluid tactical system that never materialized and with one of the league's better attacking talents stranded on the bench - but it finished pretty well.
You picked a good script to follow, Jesse. Hope you read it all the way through is all: helluva twist at the end.