After pulling off a trade with the Philadelphia Union for Cristian Maidana and Andrew Wenger earlier in the month, the Houston Dynamo set the tone for the offseason. They showed that creating more chances and getting more dynamic in the attack would a priority, as Maidana was among the league leaders in assists. In the process, they sacrificed defense.
The Argentine doesn't exactly put a focus on the defensive aspect of the game, so with Giles Barnes, Will Bruin, Ricardo Clark and Boniek Garcia all re-signed for next season, the Dynamo will have to find a way to make sure they don't get overrun in the midfield and on the backline.
Here are some possible lineups that could be sent out come 2016 (Note: these aren't suggestions, just lineups we could possibly see):
The conventional 4-4-2
Frankly, I don't see a flat 4-4-2 as the way to go. MLS clubs have recently deviated away from using the age-old formation, as three-man central midfields have become increasingly popular.
-Boniek Garcia is a nice option on the wing. He is fast enough to play fullback if needed and will provide flair attacking as well.
-Two forwards up top would allow Bruin to link up with a quicker, more agile second striker, be it Barnes or Erick Cubo Torres.
-The midfield doesn't have enough manpower to deal with all the teams using the 4-2-3-1. 3-v-2 doesn't sound too bad, but in soccer terms, it's a big difference.
-Neither Maidana nor Clark is an exceptional defender. The former would spend basically all his time up front looking to play a ball through, while Clark would get caught upfield way too often. He likes to make top-of-the-box runs when Houston manage to keep the ball in the final third, so if the opposition get on the counter, they could be facing four or even just three defenders.
As the 4-2-3-1 is the most popular formation in the United States at this point, it will match up well with many clubs. It can overwhelm 4-4-2 squads (such as DC United, LA Galaxy and the Seattle Sounders) and gives the team defensive support (with two defensive midfielders) and offensive prowess, with the five attackers at the top.
-If Rasheed Olabiyi is given consistent starts, he could be the key to letting Clark and Maidana run forward together. Having someone stay in front of the defense and letting other center mids push up is a large component of what makes the formation popular.
-Maidana is given a more advanced starting position, fitting his strengths and best eliminating his weaknesses.
-It would be a plus for Bruin to have another striker with him, but it's not a necessity. He's physical enough and a good enough finisher to do it on his own, provided he has help.
-Torres backs up Bruin, Wenger is an option on the wings and Garcia could play on the outside like Wenger or as a fullback. Kofi Sarkodie can help out Beasley and Zach Steinberger could get more playing time in the midfield.
The 4-3-3 could be used as a possession-based formation, like Barcelona, or as a counter-attacking one, like MLS Cup champion Portland Timbers. The Dynamo are more likely to counter-attack with this lineup.
-Putting Maidana behind three attackers would be a great tactical decision. With how good he is at playing that deadly final ball, Barnes, Davis and Bruin would have great distribution, and thus more direct chances on goal.
-This would be a perfect counter-attacking formation. Once Houston get the ball out of defense, Clark and Maidana could combine to move the ball expertly up the field. Maidana would slip a through-ball behind the backline and Barnes would run on to it and score. Bruin would be the Fanendo Adi of the equation, Maidana would be Diego Valeri, and Ricardo Clark would be Darlington Nagbe.
-The one thing the Dynamo are missing with this look is a defensive midfielder. Olabiyi is not the answer there and neither is Clark. One of the main reasons the Timbers had so much success with the 4-3-3 was because of Diego Chara, their menacing, physical number-six sitting in front of the backline and cutting out chances. The Orange don't have that.
-Bruin's and Adi's styles of play are fairly similar, but Bruin isn't as good with his back to goal. He wouldn't have much role in the build-up.
-This could work, but the problem is defense. Maidana won't play it, Clark will play it every once in a while, and Olabiyi isn't good enough to be by himself defensively.
-While goal-prevention is certainly an issue, goal-scoring wouldn't be. Maidana would be in the ideal spot to work his magic.
Other possible formations
4-4-2 diamond: Maidana would be in an advanced role and Bruin would have a strike partner, but there isn't a CDM to play in the hole.
4-3-2-1: Not to be confused with the 4-2-3-1, the 4-3-2-1 would favor defense, but when you put wingers outside, it turns into the 4-2-3-1.
3-5-2: Is DaMarcus Beasley really fit enough to play wing-back?
4-1-4-1: Having two center-mids sitting high up the field would be a welcome proposal, but it always comes back around to defense.
The 4-3-3 is the best option: The Dynamo need to go find a capable defensive midfielder and use the 4-3-3. Maidana is put in the best position that way.