No, dear reader, this column did not suddenly morph from football to music. I will not dissect the lyrics of the catchy pop song by Rihanna. Instead, I will examine the Whitecaps late resurgence in form and how this may or may not be the result of a change in formation that now sees them play in a what many have dubbed an “old fashioned” 4-4-2 with a diamond in the middle of the park.
The Caps last two games against their Cascadia rivals, Portland and Seattle, have definitely exhibited a notorious improvement in form. I would argue that both games have given the shown fans some of the, if not the best games of the entire season. In all honesty, the Timbers left BC Place with one point too many as Donovan Ricketts stole two from the boys in white. That was certainly not the case just a couple of days later when the Whitecaps visited Century Link Field in Seattle and achieved what very few (and I mean VERY few) thought was possible: a resounding victory of 4-1 against a team that was still in the hunt for the Supporters Shield.
The Whitecaps were tight in the back. They lunged forward and tried to play a more vertical style of football that gave them dividends in Seattle. They kept possession of the ball in midfield. They pressed up top making the other team make mistakes and give up the ball. Their movement along the pitch didn’t give a lot of room and, on the other hand, opened up wide lanes where the likes of Kekuta Manneh and Darren Mattocks posed a constant threat.
The diamond midfield composed of the often easy scapegoat Jun Marques Davidson as the defensive midfielder, Nigel Reo Coker on the right, the always running Matt Watson, and Daigo Kobayashi as the offensive midfielder has really made a difference in the way the Whitecaps take the ball from their own back end to the opposing box. Their play has more fluidity and the possession allows them to chisel away until space is found and exploited. More importantly, this formation allows Daigo to play as a true number 10 and, in that position, he has shown the best version of himself in a Whitecaps uniform.
So is the change of formation the factor that triggered this late resurrection? It is hard to argue against that notion as there seems to be an obvious correlation between the two. However, as my university professor used to say “correlation does not mean causation!”
If pressed, one could argue that there are other factors contributing to this late but positive run of form. Maybe it was the occasion of playing for the Cascadia Cup in two high intensity derbies. Maybe it was the fact that the individual pieces have returned to an acceptable level. The likes of Reo-Coker, Lee, Davidson and even Ousted have stepped up and their contributions have had a positive influence on the field. Maybe it is because they played against a depleted line-up in Seattle (although that didn’t seem to have an effect against Real Salt Lake). Maybe it is because they realized that some, or most of them, are fighting for their spot on the 2014 team.
Maybe it is a combination of all of the above. One thing is certain though – if they want to keep their playoff hopes alive (which means getting another away victory), they need to continue playing with the same confidence and conviction so that they can get out there and play to win the game. And of course, Martin Rennie needs to keep the same line-up and formation so they truly can keep shining like diamonds.
Share your thoughts on the Whitecaps’ diamond midfield on Twitter @WhitecapsXI and in the comments section below!