Centerback surplus has Berhalter pondering three-man backline for Crew

Defensive depth and versatility provides tactical options in 2014

Gregg Berhalter

Photo Credit: 
Hammarby IF

After Gregg Berhalter confirmed reports that the Columbus Crew were interested in German defender Maik Franz on Friday, the Sporting Director and Head Coach said that his team's potential depth in the center of defense could allow the club to use a rarely seen three-centerback, two-wing back system, rather than a traditional flat back four.

"It's interesting," Berhalter told MLSsoccer.com. "We thought of that, actually. To really execute it the right way is difficult, but it's something that interests me."

The Crew traded away Chad Marshall and declined the option for Brazilian defender Gláuber in the offseason, but the club still seems to have a plethora of options in central defense, especially if a move is made for Franz in 2014.

Recently added US international Michael Parkhurst – likely headed for a central role – joins Josh Williams, Tyson Wahl, Eric Gehrig and new Homegrown signing Matt Wiet as center backdepth, along with rightback Chad Barson, who played in the middle during his collegiate career at Akron.

Despite the pieces fitting on paper, Berhalter knows there would be an adjustment period in store throughout the preseason. And while newly acquired Costa Rican Waylon Francis, Agustín Viana and first-round SuperDraft pick Ben Sweat can all play on the left of defense, the right side wing back would be a bit more difficult to nail down.

"It would take a lot of teaching, a lot of instruction and you'd need very fit guys on the outside," he said. "On the left side, I think we have it. On the right side, I think we need to develop that."

Williams, who has been training with some of his Ohio-based teammates in the offseason, was surprised to hear the idea acknowledged as anything other than a crazy thought by one of the players.

"[Berhalter] hasn't talked to us, but some of the guys have actually talked about that," Williams said. "It's weird that you bring that up."

The recently re-signed defender said that the defense's versatility would be the key to pulling off the non-traditional formation.

"There is so much depth back there and so many guys can play different positions," he said. "We're not overly big, but it's kind of an athletic group. We can all kind of be kind of switched around. ... So if that's something [Berhalter] wants to do, we're all in."

Berhalter said that "besides the 3-4-3 or 3-1-4-2" possibility, he has his ideal formation in mind, though he wouldn't share it. But he did comment that looking at how a team like Juventus plays with three central defenders is "remarkable."

"It's tough, because you need a lot of good tactical understanding on the defensive end," he said. "I think that's an interesting route. I'm not sure we're going to go there, but it's something I'm thinking about."