The 4-5-1 formation: It’s a tricky set-up. With two wingers playing a little higher than they would in a traditional 4-4-2 arrangement, the 4-5-1 allows teams to go down the sidelines with greater ease. This gives way to more crosses from the wingers.
Normally, a larger amount of crosses is a very good thing, but when there is only one forward on the field to receive the crosses, things become a little muddled. Should a team sacrifice a body in the box to create more time on the ball for its wingers? Or should it run a more traditional set-up, dropping the outside midfielders back a bit and playing the match with two forwards?
The Fire tried the second alternative in their first three games of the season. After posting a 0-2-1 record in those three games, head coach Carlos de los Cobos decided to switch things up for the team's fourth game. He moved from the 4-4-2 to the 4-5-1 in the Fire’s Saturday night fixture at D.C. United and it worked for Chicago, which registered a 2-0 victory over their Eastern Conference rivals.
The formation change paid off in great part due to the play of outside midfielders Justin Mapp and Patrick Nyarko. Nyarko was a menace on the wing for the Fire, as he has been all season. He set up numerous chances—including the Fire’s first goal—before going off injured late in the second half.
Mapp, who made his first start since Oct. 2 of last year, also looked good. He worked hard offensively and defensively, and his play led to multiple corner kicks for the Fire. Both players kept possession nicely and got up the field every chance they got. It was a positive aspect of a positive result for the Fire.
But before anyone gets carried away with grand notions of the 4-5-1 leading the Fire to future glory, it’s important to remember a few things. First, it took the Fire 80 minutes to score on Saturday. And while goals—regardless of when they come—are effective, scoring them that late isn’t ideal.
Sure, the team created chances in the opening hour and 20 minutes of the match, but they had nothing to show for them until Marco Pappa broke the tie. In the future, they’ll need to improve upon their finishing if they want to repeat Saturday night’s result.
Second (and most important), we must remember that the Fire’s victory this weekend came against a very weak D.C. United team. United, who dropped to a league-worst 0-4-0 with the loss, had only three shots on goal in the entire match and looked shaky in the back. It looks like United are a team that will lose quite a few more games this season. Defeating them shouldn’t—and won’t—turn the Fire into world-beaters. Nonetheless, a win is a positive step.
We’ll see if the Fire can repeat that result this coming Saturday when they take on Houston, which is a much stronger opponent than D.C. If they pull off a victory then, a real discussion about the Fire’s chances at contending should begin to unfold.