Once again there has been plenty of talk in preseason about Sporting KC's head coach, Peter Vermes changing Kansas City's formation from what has become their traditional 4-3-3. This has become a yearly occurance for Kansas City over the years, from attempting a two forward system back in 2014 in an attempt to get both Claudio Bieler and Dom Dwyer on the field at the same time, to more tinkering in the 2015 preseason, to this year where according to Robb Heineman, the club has been using the 3-5-2 regularly in training. Each time though KC has ended up reverting to their traditional 4-3-3 with a few minor changes, inverting the midfield triangle, having the wingers sit deeper, almost as wide midfielders in a 4-5-1, and almost having three separate midfield lines.
So you'll understand when KC fans will be a little hesitant about the claims this year that Vermes is looking to change his trusted formation he's used for going on seven years now. A formation he's specifically tailored his roster for. At this point all the talk about formation changes just feels like smoke screen in an attempt to throw off opponents who may not scout the team well enough. But doing it for three years without any major changes, and still playing the high press regularly, it's going to take actually seeing the new formation in a competitive game for fans and other teams to truly believe that Vermes is serious about a formation change.
That said, let's just for a few minutes pretend that Vermes is serious and take a look at some ideas for how a 3-5-2 with KC's current roster would look, starting with the defense and working forward.
With the addition of Nuno Andre Coelho KC improved their depth at center back, but one option with the 3-5-2 would be to play all three of Coelho, Matt Besler, and Ike Opara in the three center back positions. It would solve some questions of who starts at center back, but immediately brings up another concern that the team had last year, if either Opara or Coelho (who has recent injury issues) you find yourself once again with Kevin Ellis getting a large number of minutes for Kansas City in the center of defense.
A potential work around for that would be to only start one of Coelho and Opara on the right side of the three center backs with Besler on the left, and Sporting's defensive midfielder, Soni Mustivar playing the central center back. It's a look that KC has had many times over the years when KC's wingbacks have gotten forward. Whether it's been Julio Cesar, Oriol Rosell, Lawrence Olum, or Mustivar, KC's deep lying midfielder has at times looked like a third center back for Kansas City, mainly as someone to assist with distribution out of the back. In this formation, Mustivar would likely still play a little further up the field than the other two center backs but also not get forward as much as he did last season either. The draw back here is that you put a midfielder, who isn't even six feet tall in the middle of your three man back line. In this formation Besler and whoever starts in the right center back position are likely going to need to play narrow and not get pulled out wide much. This will also put more pressure on the two wide midfielders to do a lot more work to get up and down the field.
In the end though the wide players getting up and down the field won't be a huge departure from what KC's current outside backs have been doing for the last few years. Saad Abdul-Salaam, Amadou Dia, Chance Myers, and Seth Sinovic have all had big responsibilities on both the offensive and defensive halves of the field, so just pushing their starting position a little further up the field isn't going to have a huge effect on them in that regard. The big change for the wide midfielders in a hypothetical 3-5-2 formation is that they won't have the winger in front of them to work off of on overlaps. That will likely push for KC to do more build up through the middle of the field, something that the club had struggled with until Benny Feilhaber really worked his way into the formation. Being able to work through the middle and then get a ball wide to one of the outside midfielders to cross in will add a different dynamic to KC's attack.
In the middle of KC's 3-5-2 midfield, not a lot will change from the way the team plays currently with their 4-3-3. You're still going to have the midfield triangle one way or the other in the middle, whether it's inverted with just Roger Espinoza or Mustivar at the bottom or someone like Feilhaber or Brad Davis at the tip it'll still look very familiar to how it's looked before. One change could be if Mustivar were to be the third center back, KC at times would almost appear to have four central midfielders in that situation.
This formation would put a lot of defensive responsibilities on the outside players, which is why I've only really include the club's outside backs as the wide players. That does hurt some of the influence that someone like Justin Mapp would have on the game as he'd likely have a bit of a role change with a switch from a 4-3-3.
This is the area of the field, at least with the current roster that makes a move to a 3-5-2 really not make a ton of sense. With only Dom Dwyer, Jacob Peterson, and Daniel Salloi listed as forwards on the roster, finding a consistent starter to play with Dwyer up top could be difficult. I'm not sure that Salloi is ready for that responsibility and Peterson just doesn't score enough to be consistently getting those minutes. That puts you in a situation where you're playing two forwards who are in a more staggered position, someone like Graham Zusi playing a bit behind Dwyer, more so to play off the team's target striker. It would probably help with one area that KC struggled with at times last season, leaving Dwyer isolated up top where he'd get the ball and have no one to provide assistance while he faced off against the entire opposing back line. In that sense getting another forward higher up the field to help him is a big plus of a switch to a two forward formation.
In the end it's an interesting idea to play around with, especially in preseason when it's a lot easier to experiment with the way the team plays. But in the end I won't be holding my breath for anything like that to happen until I see it occur in an actual MLS game.