For the first 10 matches of the Crew's 2014 campaign, the fullback spots were consistently manned by Waylon Francis on the left and Josh Williams on the right. When Francis was called into the Costa Rican National Team ahead of the club's 11th match at Portland, Sporting Director and Head Coach Gregg Berhalter had to alter his steady pairing of fullbacks. At the time, question marks around replacing Francis (as well as central defender Giancarlo Gonzalez) were rampant. Who would slot in? How would it alter the Crew's style of play? Would anyone shift around as a result?
In the matches that have followed, Berhalter has gotten his answer, and unearthed a new team strength: the versatility and quality of his roster options to play the fullback spots. No fewer than five different members of the Black & Gold have suited-up at either rightback or leftback in the five matches since Francis left. Each one brings a different style of play and strength to Berhalter's roster, aiding his selection options moving forward.
The above maps are Opta Chalkboard representations of Crew rightbacks: on the left is Hector Jimenez's start against Chicago (May 24), and on the right is usual starter Josh Williams' map against Real Salt Lake (June 4).
The representations serve as proxies for heat maps in that they indicate every action taken on the pitch. Shots are represented by circles, squares are passes, triangles are defensive actions (tackles, interceptions, clearances) and pentagons are bookings.
First, consider Jimenez's map. Notice how tightly pinned to the sideline he played? You might surmise that his comfort in playing the wing translated to his run at rightback, where he didn't make as many divergences toward the middle of the field. Conversely, now consider Michael Parkhurst's map from Saturday at D.C. United, his first start at the position of the season:
Even if I didn't tell you anything about what the shapes represent, immediately, you can begin to form conceptual differences from player to player, particularly with Parkhurst. Two things stand out: the amount of activity he has toward the center of the pitch, and the number of clearances (purple triangles) and blocks (yellow triangles) he has in the box. You might recall his goal-saving block on the line in the fourth minute, an incredible read and a play that serves as a microcosm of the intelligence he brings to the Crew's backline.
That block was just one play of many that displayed Parkhurst's versatility and intelligence during this match. Notice how the vast majority of Parkhurst's passes came from the right side, but his defensive plays occur both along the right flank and in the middle of the field. That shows how he is able to keep the shape when his team has the ball, while surveying the opposition and making defensive reads without it. In other words, he drifted in only when absolutely necessary, exactly what Berhalter and the Crew want to see when trying out new lineup configurations such as playing Parkhurst out wide.
You'll also notice that Josh Williams displays comfort in drifting inside to make a crucial defensive play, more than Jimenez. These maps, while a small sample, prove quite representative and display exactly what you would expect: Jimenez as an attacking wing presence, Williams a consummate outside back with attacking and defensive balance, and Parkhurst as the intelligent rover, able and comfortable enough to drift well across the halfway point of the field when necessary.