Was the 4-2-3-1 a success?
Before I answer that, I'd like to qualify the team a bit. Yes, it was our first competitive match of the season. Yes, we're not used to playing at altitude. However, even with those issues, I think our success last night (and it was a success, despite the draw) has everything to do with our formation, and the discipline we've picked up this off season as a result of playing only that formation.
So, with that in mind, here is why I think the 4-2-3-1 worked wonders last night and will again.
1. It gave our forwards dual purpose.
I've talked about this before in my pre-season line-up speculation, but having a dual purpose forward makes your attack more dynamic and more confusing for an opponent. Dilly Duka's first goal came from a decoy run by Oduro, and Ignacio Piatti's missed shot was only achievable because Dominic Oduro had drawn the defense back with an excellent decoy run.
The Pachuca defence can never abandon our man up top, knowing if they do he is bound to score. It freed up the attacking midfield to do the heavy lifting, while Oduro played the role of constant threat perfectly.
2. The spine is the strength
Our centrebacks (Laurent Ciman, Bakary Soumare) and CDMs (Marco Donadel and Nigel Reo-Coker) were simply amazing last night. Argue all you want about semantics and whether or not they could be better - but Donadel's defensive tackling, Ciman's quick handling of incoming attackers and Reo-Coker's quick distribution all ensured that our defensive third was well manned.
The only fault I can really place here is a miscommunication between Ciman and Evan Bush that led to a goal. However, this issue was discussed at length last year when Bush made several errors in judgement , with Hassoun Camara and Matteo Ferrari, that cost us. I'm willing to lay the blame here on Bush's communication skills and judgement. He's just not at an elite level yet.
That being said, our defense was nailed down well enough, and we ensured there were no major gaps between the midfield and the defense (like in a 4-4-2).
3. The attacking midfield three reacted well to defensive pressure.
Pachuca really worked hard to shut Piatti down, throwing nearly everyone in their midfield into the job during the evening (watch Piatti's shot on goal for an example, he was surrounded). This was probably Klopas' expectation, as the ‘release valves' in the attacking third were Justin Mapp and Dilly Duka, who performed better than anyone would have expected. Duka's goals were well timed, and executed swiftly. Mapp shot well, crossed even better and proved to be the most dangerous man on the right in that stadium.
Our 4-2-3-1 is not perfect, and this was only our first outing - but there is a reason why major leagues in France and Italy line up in this formation. Last night, we saw why. Even Pachuca lined up in a 4-2-3-1, and maintained the balance of possession and managed to equalize the match.
Every team develops a tactical culture over time. Sporting Kansas City lines up in a 4-3-3, no debates or questions. They have since 2012, and they've been a huge success. We should follow suit with our own formation.
If I were a betting man (and I'm not), I'd wager that Frank Klopas' legacy in Montréal will be our adoption of a permanent 4-2-3-1. After last night, we know it can work against even the toughest opponents. There's no reason it can't carry us to success in MLS as well.