I'm going to have a post tomorrow morning talking about what we've learned from the Portland tournament and the preseason overall, but I wanted to give one of the biggest things it's own discussion.
Before reading this, be sure to head to MLSsoccer.com and read my story about Jacobson and Warshaw paired together as it provides a lot of the background of what I'm going to discuss.
A soccer team is as good as the sum of its parts and the same is extremely true of central midfielders. Heading into preseason, it looked like the pairing would be a diamond midfield with Peter Luccin as the defensive anchor and David Ferreira as the attacking #10. Well we all know that while nothing has been officially announced, Peter Luccin has a serious injury that could possibly prevent him from playing much of a part for FCD.
While Andrew Jacobson as the defensive midfielder seemed to work out alright against lesser opponents in Cancun, the first game of the Portland tournament against AIK was an eye-opening experience for Schellas Hyndman as against a good team, the diamond was pretty much a disaster.
"The game is the best teacher," Hyndman said after Wednesday's match. "What happened the other day against AIK is we gave up 27 counterattack opportunities which meant that we didn't have enough in the center of the field. We talk about a diamond and it all looks great on the whiteboard, but once it gets on the field in moving parts, it doesn't always look the same."
So what Schellas did, which may turn out to be a masterstroke, was move David Ferreira from his #10 position out to the wing in a move reminiscent of what Seattle does with Mauro Rosales while giving Jacobson a midfield partner that he desperately needed in Bobby Warshaw. It's still early, but Jacobson and Warshaw look to be thriving together. While neither Jacobson or Warshaw are Best XI midfielders on their own, they complement each other perfectly...sum of the parts and all that.
"You do this for two years, watch other people for two years, you hear what coach says and what coach wants," said Warshaw after the game. "That’s my job. My job is not the glory job, it’s to do the grunt work so they can do the glory and when I’m always there it gives AJ, David and Jackson more freedom to ball and go play. You know I’m here and you can take chances."
We saw the same thing in San Jose where a midfield duo of Rafael Baca and Sam Cronin, two relatively unheralded midfielders, paired together perfectly in leading the 'Quakes to the Supporters Shield last season.
"When you’ve got talented guys like that[in front of you], I think the thing is to try to incorporate a system that allows them that freedom and I think that’s some of the stuff Bobby and I talk about and can work on better," said Jacobson. "Wherever our extremely talented players go and the space they leave, we can get in there and hold some structure for them and it allows them to go where they please."
For me, that's what I took away most from the pairing in Portland watching the formation closely from high above Jeld-Wen Field. When Ferreira went forward, Warshaw filled the space on the left, when Jackson went on walkabout (which he does from time to time) there was Jacobson on the right to snuff out any huge gaps.
It's a work in progress, and one that may or may not turn out to be a long-term solution for FCD, but it's the biggest revelation from the Portland trip, one that I'm not sure many of us saw coming and it's something that will be fascinating to track over the first six weeks of the season.