The Eleven open 2016 on the road in Tampa


Series record:

All-time series record: 1-4-1 (W,D,L)

4/19/14 Eleven and Rowdies tie, 1-1 at Carroll Stadium. Goal from Erick Norales for the Eleven.

7/19/14 Rowdies beat the Eleven, 1-2 at Carroll Stadium. Goal from Kleberson for the Eleven.

11/1/14 Eleven and Rowdies draw, 2-2 at Al Lang Stadium. Goals from Don Smart and Jhuliam for the Eleven.

5/30/15 Eleven and Rowdies finish in a stalemate, 2-2 at Carroll Stadium. Goals from Dylan Mares and Kyle Hyland for the Eleven.

8/19/15 Eleven beat the Rowdies, 2-0 at Carroll Stadium. Goals from Dane Richards and Eric Norales for the Eleven.

9/15/15 Eleven and Rowdies finish, 1-1 at Al Lang Stadium. Goal from Jamie Frias for the Eleven.

Tampa Bay Rowdies:

Head coach: Stuart Campbell

Record last year: 10-9-11 (39 points)

Finished: 5th in combined standings

2015 GF: 33

2015 GA: 37

Key Additions: D, Walter Ramirez; D, Frankie Sanfillppo; M, Kalif Alhassan; M, Freddy Adu (re-signed); F, Tom Heinemann; F, Danny Mwanga.

Indy Eleven:

Head coach: Tim Hankinson

Record last year: 8-9-13 (33 points)

Finished: 9th in combined standings

2015 GF: 36

2015 GA: 48

Key Additions: GK, Jon Bush; D, Lovell Palmer; D, Colin Falvey; M,Siniša Ubiparipović; M, Nicki Paterson; M, Gorka Larrea; F, Eamon Zayed.


The Tampa Bay Rowdies and Indy Eleven are using a formation that become popular in the soccer world around 2010 when the likes of; Spain, Germany, Barcelona, and Jose Mourinho’s teams incorporated a balance between offense and defense. Now this formation has become fashionable to use in the United States, especially MLS. So why is this formation so popular? I take a look at some of the features the 4-2-3-1 has to offer. For simplicity I will use a number chart for positions.

Strengths of the 4-2-3-1 formation:

Defensive midfielders: It cannot be understated that the two most important players in the 4-2-3-1 formation are the defensive midfielders (numbers 6 and 8). When teams build possession from the back they look for the defensive mids to be in a position to receive, turn, and distribute the ball. When the opposing team begins to man mark the defensive midfielders, the 6 should drop deep within the defensive back line and allow the 8 to sit as a decoy. This allows the backline and goalkeeper to distribute the ball wide or switch the play.

When the team using the 4-2-3-1 formation is in possession in the mid to final third, the 8 will push into the attack and help recycle the possession as needed between the attacking players and backline. At the same time the 6 drops to the backline as a third center back. This helps the outside backs (2 and 3) to become outside mids and gives the three attacking midfielders the ability roam free.

Defensively, the 6 and the 8 are there to add another barrier to disrupt the opposing team from finding their forwards. Examples are; closing down space on the attacking player who has the ball, disrupting passing lanes, and never shying away from contact. Tim Hankinson has discussed the role of the two defensive mids (6 and 8) and the attacking mid (10) rotating as a triangle. For Indy Eleven’s game against the Rowdies I see the 6 and 8 staying at the bottom of the triangle and 10 at the point.

A good example globally of a solid defensive midfielder is, Sergio Busquests of Barcelona. For the Eleven it will be; Brad Ring, Gorka Lorrea, and Nicki Paterson.

Attacking midfielders: These players may start in a specific position or have defensive responsibilities in precise areas. But when the team advances into the final third, positions become irrelevant and the creativity of three attacking midfielders in addition to the lone striker come to the forefront. This creates overloads and numbers up situations for the team that is on the prowl. At the core of it all is the number 10. 

The number 10 is synonymous with the game of soccer. Those who wear the number 10 are regarded as the best player on the pitch because of their ability to orchestrate the attack. They have the best touch, give a spark to the team, make precise penetrating passes from difficult angles, and have the ability to score. But the most important aspect of the number 10 is, vision. They must see the game several steps ahead and know where there teammates are at all times.

Although retired, an example of a great number 10 would be Paul Scholes. For the Eleven: Dylan Mares and Siniša Ubiparipović will play the role of number 10.

NASL: Ottawa Fury FC at Indy Eleven
Ubiparipovic will play the number 10 role for the Eleven this year. PHOTO CREDIT: Matt Schlotzhauer

Limitations to this formation:


The forward becoming isolated: When a team using this formation becomes pinned in their own half because of the mounting pressing from the opposing team, the number 9 can become isolated. This forces the number 9 to be in a 1v4 situation but is still expected to produce goals. Therefore, this position needs a player who can be creative and fluid when interchanging positions in the final third, have the physical strength to shield defenders off the ball to allow their team to join in the attack, be good in the air, and score from any area of the field. If the forward is struggling in these circumstances then the team must finds ways to expose the opposition and not rely exclusively on the counter-attack.

An example of a versatile forward would be, Romelu Lakaku of Everton. For the Eleven it will be, Eamon Zayed.

Keys for Indy Eleven in the four stages of the game:

Principles of attack: The one principle the Eleven had last year in the attack were long balls to create scoring opportunities. The new additions to the team allows the Eleven to have width, mobility, creativity, and support in possession. To generate these principles of attack I look to Dylan Mares and Ubiparipović to have consistent penetrating passes that allow the Eleven to be more flexible.  

Transition from attack to defense: I do not think ‘winning the ball back as quickly as possible’ will be the mentality for the Eleven in this game. The speed and depth of the Rowdies in addition to fitness levels for Indy will wear down the Boys in Blue well before the 90 minutes is up if they institute this philosophy. Instead, the back six (four defenders and two defensive mids) must drop and keep the ball in front of them. As long as the Rowdies keep possession from touchline to touchline the Eleven will be fine. It will be up to the two defensive mids to stop the Rowdies penetrating passes and the backline must contain forward Tom Heinemann, and midfielders Freddy Adu, and Kalif Alhassan.

Principles of defense: At times the Eleven struggled to close down space and had enormous gaps defensively. The Eleven must delay, have depth, be physical, and stay compact in order to contain Heinemann. Last year, Heinemann was the best in the league at winning and controlling the ball in the air, allowing him to set up goal scoring opportunities for himself and teammates. The Eleven must be careful how deep they drop when trying to contain Heinemann because they will be unable to close down Rowdies players who have the opportunity to shoot from 25 yards out, uncontested. In addition, they will struggle to transition to the attack being so deep.

Rowdies head coach Stuart Campbell took over the team during the 2015 fall season. PHOTO CREDIT: Tampa Bay Rowdies


Transition from defense to attack: Last year Marc Dos Santos introduced the NASL to a sophisticated tactical approach to transitioning from defense to offense. Now teams have to transition by exposing their opponents where they are not. Therefore, look for the Eleven to build from the back with their defensive midfielders. If this does not work, then the outside backs and attacking midfielders will be called upon to start the attack down the flanks.  

Players to watch:

Freddy Adu trapping the ball last year for the Rowdies. PHOTO CREDIT: Tampa Bay Rowdies


Freddy Adu, midfielder: Since I have already showed respect to Tom Heinemann for his scoring ability, I figured this was the area to mention the once teenage phenom, Freddy Adu. Once labeled as the next big star to lead the United States into uncharted territory at the international level, Adu never lived up to the outrageous expectations when he signed with D.C. United at 14 years of age. Adu has bounced around several clubs across the globe before finding a home last fall with the Tampa Bay Rowdies. At the age of 26, Adu still has a lot to give to the game showing last season and during this year’s preseason that he still has the ability to be a dynamic player. Adu’s relationship with Heinemann will be crucial if the Rowdies look to have success in front of goal. In addition, Indy cannot give up fouls around the eighteen as Adu has proven to be deadly from set pieces.

Eamon Zayed, forward: Where ever he goes, where ever he plays, Eamon Zayed scores. He has played professionally in Ireland, Iran, Malaysia, and represented Libya at the international level. This is the first time that the Eleven have signed a striker with such an extensive resume to a permanent deal. Zayed is most famous for his time with Persepolis in Iran, scoring a hat trick when his team was down 2-0 and fielding ten men against their biggest rival. The Eleven will rely heavily on Zayed this season in 4-2-3-1 formation. I predict the Eleven will do well when he scores and struggle when he doesn’t find the back of the net.


Indy Eleven released Stephen DeRoux, Dino Williams, and Dragan Stojkov earlier this week. Then, the Eleven sign Colombian striker Jair Reinoso.

Reports have come out that the Tampa Bay Rowdies have signed English international Joe Cole for the fall season.

Feature image photo credit: Trey Higdon


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