How Kei Kamara and Anthony Blondell fit into “Robboball”
The red and white ticker tape has barely been swept up on Toronto FC’s historic victory, and the bleary eyed players are likely still nursing earth shaking hangovers, but the Whitecaps management has not let the dust settle. Two strikers have been added to the roster, with rumours of more to come.
While there is still a painfully long wait until the first ball is kicked in preseason, the Whitecaps offseason moves may indicate possible tactical changes ahead. Or is that just wishful thinking?
While most fans do not hesitate to voice their discontent at the style of play the Whitecaps take on, I can see where Carl Robinson is coming from. The Western Conference was such a gong show last season that the mere act of not losing was enough to earn you a seat at the playoff table. It would be dangerous to make the same assumption next year, and if the offseason signings are what I hope they mean, the pieces added are an indication of taking the tactical initiative.
The ‘Caps spent most of the season playing a 4-2-3-1, which occasional flutters into the in vogue 3-5-2-ish territories, and a successful 4-1-4-1 thrown into the mix in the Spring.
Fredy Montero was the focal point of the attack, with Yordy Reyna given a free role in the attacking third to seek out space, and to run at centre backs. Before Reyna was fit, Montero would often cut an isolated figure, and would periodically drop deep to just to get a touch of the ball and spark a build up of sorts. Now, with the addition of Kei Kamara and Anthony Blondell, it appears that the club are attempting to become a more offensive minded team.
Obviously, there will be more players added; hopefully another creative midfielder and a consistent left winger, but assuming that Kamara and Blondell have been promised playing time, how will Robbo fit them both in the team?
Kamara is a proven MLS player who Robbo clearly respects. I think he has done well to attract him now, and not a couple of seasons ago when he was on the move from Columbus and over priced. Blondell was the leading scorer in the Venezuelan top flight, so he hasn’t left his country to sit on the bench in MLS.
This is where the optimism stops.
Robboball has been an evolving tactic. It went from the Pedro Morales branded possession based system, to the Octavio Rivero counter attacking system, to it’s current catenaccio (minus the sweeper) style. I don’t think we are going to see a sudden jump to a 4-4-2, or a 4-3-3. Robbo has always put the midfield cover of the centre backs front and centre in his tactical concerns. There are very few formations that allow for two strikers and midfield numbers. The only one appears to be a 3-5-2.
So how likely is it that we see a permanent switch to a 3-5-2? Or is it more likely that who we might see as a perceived striker is not used as an out and out striker?
Looking at the current squad for next season, the two forwards in question would probably be Kamara and Blondell. The three centre backs would be Tim Parker, Kendall Waston, and one other. We have Jake Nerwinski who can play right wing back, and Brett Levis or Marcel De Jong who can play left wing back. Aly Ghazal can anchor the midfield, with Tony Tchani, Russell Teibert, David Norman, and hopefully Reyna, filling two other spots in the middle of the park.
On paper it makes sense. In practice, we have seen some horrendous 3-5-2 applications by the Blue and White. Should Robbo have this formation in mind, he needs to commit to it from the first day of preseason. This could be a possible reason Cristian Techera was left exposed in the expansion draft. Surplus to requirements or simply worth the risk on his high salary and international status?
The alternative is Robinson’s tried and tested 4-2-3-1.
According to transfermarket.com, Blondell can also play as a right winger, meaning that the current system would remain intact. Kamara would bring something different to it than Montero.
Kamara is a monster in the air. The ‘Caps were deadly at set pieces last season, and the likes of Techera and Nerwinski whipped in many dangerous crosses that went to waste. Kamara looks to be the man to either finish some of those chances or use his presence to set up someone else to. He is also physical like Montero and I like the bite and character that he brings. Having the likes of Kamara, Waston, and Parker crashing the box at set pieces should be a nightmare for opposition defences.
Whatever happens, I have no doubt that Robboball will again evolve, but who is to know if it is moving up or down the Jose Mourinho-Pep Guardiola scale? Only the man with Zara jumpers likely knows for sure.
I suspect whether or not Nosa returns next year will have an impact on formations. If Nosa can be a real #8, then the 4-2-3-1 with Kamara leading the line can be more forward-thinking and dangerous than it was this year. If that formation predominates, I can see either Blondell splitting playing time essentially with Kamara, or Blondell playing as a winger. My worry in that case for Blondell is whether he’ll be effective in that role. I remember reading somewhere that his breakout season last year came when he was moved up front as an out-and-out striker. His goal production was quite low before that when he was asked to take on more defensive responsibilities in addition to attack. If Blondell plays on the wing, will he become another Kekuta Manneh–too withdrawn to use his offensive instincts to the full, and weak enough defensively to be an occasional liability?
Like you mentioned, 3-5-2 has not been kind to the Caps. So how about a 4-4-2 diamond, as follows:
On the attack it could be more a 4-2-1-3 with Nosa stepping up, but could collapse to a 4-3-1-2, or even a 4-4-2, with Nosa and even Reyna tracking back.