A not-so-heated game played out in the heat of Texas between San Antonio FC and El Paso Locomotive FC where the teams played to a 0-0 draw in the USL Championship. A match where there was a missed penalty, a red card, and only five shots on goal between the two teams, the interesting insights into both teams came from their ability to move and control the ball in possession and out of possession.

In a league where El Paso tend to dominate possession, ranked second in total passes and first for passing accuracy in the USL Championship 2019 season, where San Antonio ranked 16th and fourth respectively, the possession was just about even between the two sides (52% El Paso – 48% San Antonio). This tactical analysis will look at the tactics employed by both teams and how they tried to dominate the ball.

Lineups

The host, San Antonio FC, lined up in a 1-3-diamond-3 formation where they tried to overload the middle and get the ball to their wingers. El Paso Locomotive FC lined up in a 1-4-2-3-1 formation where only one full-back looked to get forward often. When defending, San Antonio’s shape changed into a 1-3-4-1-2 with the striker and one winger (Billy Forbes) staying high. El Paso defended in a 1-4-4-1-1 shape with their striker staying high to occupy San Antonio’s three centre-backs.

USL Championship 2019: San Antonio FC vs El Paso Locomotive FC - tactical analysis
Lineups for both sides.           

Match Statistics

The match played out with five total shots on target – two to San Antonio (including a missed PK) and three to El Paso. As mentioned above, both teams shared the ball almost equally. As the game played out, it looked as though San Antonio would dominate possession, but that changed in the 63’ when former Manchester United and MLS player Jack Barmby received his second yellow.

San Antonio FC – in possession

San Antonio FC looked to control the game by overloading the middle of the field with a diamond that was helped by their wingers providing the width and occupying El Paso’s outside backs. The use of three centre-backs made it easy when building out of the back, especially as El Paso defended in a medium and only had their striker and attacking midfielder high up the field to try and win the ball. Because of El Paso’s defensive shape, San Antonio FC were able to progress the ball higher up the field through the rotation of their midfielders.

USL Championship 2019: San Antonio FC vs El Paso Locomotive FC - tactical analysis
This image shows how San Antonio’s midfielders rotated to create problems from El Paso’s #7. If the #7 committed to one midfielder, the player on the ball would just find the other or just switch the play.

San Antonio FC were also helped by the movement of their striker, Ever Guzmán, who would drop as a free man, allowing San Antonio’s midfielders to move higher up the field.

USL Championship 2019: San Antonio FC vs El Paso Locomotive FC - tactical analysis
Guzmán, designated by the circle is laying the ball off. As Guzmán is deeper, San Antonio’s midfielders step up.

San Antonio FC – out of possession

San Antonio FC defended in a 1-3-4-1-2 shape where they compacted the middle of the field. They looked to defend high up the field to prevent El Paso Locomotive FC’s midfielders from turning.

USL Championship 2019: San Antonio FC vs El Paso Locomotive FC - tactical analysis
As soon as El Paso’s midfielder receives the ball, he is pressured by San Antonio’s Pecka. Although this pressure situation resulted in a foul, the intent was to prevent El Paso from facing forward.

Because one winger tended to stay high, and the other was slow in tracking back, San Antonio FC were exposed out wide for El Paso to attack, in which they nearly scored from a cross sent in by El Paso’s #15.

USL Championship 2019: San Antonio FC vs El Paso Locomotive FC - tactical analysis
Because one winger tended to stay high, and the other was slow in tracking back, San Antonio were exposed out wide for El Paso to attack, in which they nearly scored from a cross sent in by El Paso’s #15.

After the red card, San Antonio moved to a 1-4-4-1 formation where they still tried to maintain possession of the ball, but due to being a man down higher up the field, they had little success getting closer to the goal.

El Paso Locomotive FC – in possession

El Paso Locomotive FC looked to get forward through the movement of their left attacking midfielder. By tucking into the half-space, the left attacking mid gave El Paso’s left-back the space to get forward. At the same time, the movement helped to create an overload in the middle where El Paso looked to get plenty of numbers in the box.

USL Championship 2019: San Antonio FC vs El Paso Locomotive FC - tactical analysis
The movement of El Paso’s #8 created space for #15 to receive the ball to play in a cross or maintain possession.

One area where El Paso could have improved is the movement of their ball-carrying centre-back. Too often the centre-backs took the safe option to maintain possession instead of drawing out San Antonio’s attackers. Such an example is shown below.

USL Championship 2019: San Antonio FC vs El Paso Locomotive FC - tactical analysis
In this image, El Paso’s centre-back plays a safe pass to their defensive mid. San Antonio’s striker is still behind the ball. Another option in this passage is to drive forward and play a split pass to the defensive mid as designated by the red and green arrows. Playing the split pass would have eliminated San Antonio’s striker from this play when they were already a man down.

El Paso Locomotive FC – out of possession

El Paso looked to defend in a medium block when out of possession. This prevented San Antonio from getting many quality looks on goal as they congested the defensive and middle thirds of the field. If El Paso lost the ball higher up the field, they would look to counter-press to force a mistake before retreating into their half. However, creating those mistakes happened a handful of times as San Antonio FC were able to move the ball away from pressure.

USL Championship 2019: San Antonio FC vs El Paso Locomotive FC - tactical analysis
At this moment, El Paso had 10 players behind the ball to prevent SAFC from getting any quality shots on goal.

Conclusion

In a match where no one could get on the scoresheet and there was little action in front of the goal, this analysis showed that both teams did their job from a defensive perspective. It seemed as if neither team wanted to play with an overabundance of risk as each coach implemented a failsafe option had possession been lost. If El Paso’s centre-back been a little more adventurous on the ball or if Barmby stayed on the field, the match could have ended very differently.

Miguel Vidal
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