Wilf Thorne/Houston Dynamo

Inside Opta: Carr, Kandji adapting to new roles

Dominic Kinnear’s decision to switch to the 4-3-3 has paid instant dividends, with the club unbeaten in the eight games so far in the new formation. Perhaps the biggest individual beneficiaries have been outside wingers Calen Carr and Macoumba Kandji.

Both are having resurgent seasons, with most of that coming with the new setup on the field. Carr has scored four goals in the last four games and added an assist, while Kandji has scored two goals and tallied two assists. Each has also drawn a penalty that was later converted.

Prior to the formation change, both Carr and Kandji had been used mainly as rotation players and substitutes at the forward position. Carr was solid in the Dynamo’s playoff run in 2011 and also earned several starts this season at right midfield, but he was unlikely to hold that spot for the long-term with the signing of Boniek Garcia.

Fortunately for them, they each have skill sets suitable for both a forward and an outside midfielder. The 4-3-3 gave them an opportunity to blend both of those into the outside wing position at the top of the formation. The result has been outstanding contributions from Carr and Kandji in their new roles.

Carr, who missed the first three games of this stretch with an injury, has stepped into the right wing position. From there, his primary job has been using his pace to get the ball to the endline, either for a cross or to open up space for right back Andre Hainault to get forward. Carr’s three crosses per game in this stretch are behind only Brad Davis (3.625/game) and Garcia (3.25/game; played first three games as right winger) on the team.

When he does not have possession out wide, Carr looks to get inside the penalty box to help out lone striker Will Bruin, especially when the ball is on the opposite flank. Carr’s first goal of the year, against Sporting Kansas City on July 18, came right in front of the goal when he and Bruin flipped spots and Bruin fed Carr from touchline. Carr’s second goal that game and his headed goal against New York Red Bulls last Friday both came off crossed balls from the left side, with Carr waiting on the back post to put it in.

With the formation change, Kandji has manned the left flank, where, as a right-footed player, he has played as an inverted winger. In most situations, players are deployed on the side of their strongest foot (i.e. right-footed on the right side, left-footed on the left). This allows them to have their body open to the rest of the field when attacking and makes it easier to cross a ball into the box. When those positions are flipped, like Kandji is now or more famously how Cristiano Ronaldo plays at Real Madrid, it makes it easier for that player to come inside on their strong foot, usually into a shooting position.

Kandji has used this to fire off ten shots since the formation change, second only to Davis’ eleven. Of those ten, seven have come off of his right foot, including both of his goals. Kandji also has a tendency to take the ball to the touchline, but rather than crossing it in like Carr, he prefers to take on his man one-on-one with his dribbling skills into the box. Kandji has taken 38 touches inside the penalty area, more than anyone on the team in this period.

Looking at the Dynamo’s average player positions against New York last Friday (right), you can see that Carr (3) played slightly higher than Kandji (9), which agrees with the thought that Carr is pushing higher and into the box with Bruin (12). Kandji, meanwhile, pulls inside to allow left back Corey Ashe (26)  to overlap and put in left-footed crosses. Neither player was as high up the pitch as Bruin, meaning they didn’t stay in a strictly forward position but tracked back to help the midfield in defense, creating more of a 4-5-1 when out of possession.

No doubt both players are enjoying the playing time this new formation has given them, and Kinnear is enjoying the productivity he’s getting from these two spots. If these guys can keep impacting the match like they have, it will be a long season for opposing fullbacks.