Game of Numbers – #8 – Alexis Loera’s Midfield Shift

In our latest analysis series: Game of Numbers, we break down the various tactical undertones of the modern game, most notably the roles that individual players hold on the pitch to help their teams explore avenues for greatness. This is Issue No. 8, currently featuring the following:

  1. Alex Loera’s shift into midfield for Kansas’ big 2-1 win over Houston
  2. Silas Mvumpa’s right-sided freedom for Stuttgart vs. Bochum

Let’s jump into Game of Numbers Issue No. 8!

ALEX LOERA’S MIDFIELD SHIFT

Kansas City Current enjoyed a stunning second half of the season, going unbeaten in 15 of their final 17 matches from May 30th to the Playoffs. This culminated in an impressive fifth place finish, playing some of the most tactically flexible, free-flowing football in the division. But with defensive-midfield stalwart Desiree Scott suspended for their first-leg playoff match against Houston, Matt Potter had an important decision to make at the heart of his midfield. Scott’s been a mainstay for the Current in 2022, featuring in 19 of their 22 matches and completing 4 tackles + interceptions per game. With such massive experience behind her belt as a legend of the Canadian soccer scene, Current fans would have feared that Scott’s presence in midfield would have been irreplaceable.

But against the odds, Matt Potter found the perfect replacement in the form of one of his standout centre-backs, Alexis Loera. Loera’s made herself something of a superstar for Kansas this season, featuring in 21 matches and wonderfully showcasing her ability on the ball at every turn. She’s one of many centre-backs in the NWSL taking set-pieces for her team, and evidently has the panache to play in that deep-lying role both as a defensive destroyer, and as a game-ticker out from the back.

But few would have predicted Loera to have such an influential effect from defensive midfield in the Current’s opening playoff encounter. With her exceptional passing range and vision now used higher up the pitch, Loera was free to help Kansas control the game from central channels. It was her killer pass inside three minutes that broke Houston’s lines and allowed Kristen Hamilton to bear down on goal and win her team on a vital penalty kick.

The defense-splitting pass was exceptional in finding Hamilton through the tiniest of gaps, something that Desiree Scott simply might not have been able to pull off – despite her evident quality on the defensive end.

She continued to spray game-breaking, high-risk passes throughout the match, as she ventured into left-half-space channels to combine with Lo’eau LaBonta and contribute to the attack when appropriate. This even allowed the 23-year-old to pop up with the assist for Kansas’s last minute winning goal, where Loera brilliantly combined with LaBonta with a perfectly weighted 1-2 sequence before delivering the ball across to Kate Del Fava.

To deliver the killer pass on both of Kansas’s goals just showcases her commendable, undeniable role in the victory. She’s the type of player who just wants to involve herself in attacks when she sees fit, excellently timing her movement forward from that defensive midfield role. It beared fruit in the final moments for Kansas to leap into the next round, but also served her well in staking a claim to make that role her own in the next match.

Loera’s heatmap on Sunday, according to SofaScore

In large part, that claim was only strengthened by her brilliance out of possession. Anchoring the midfield in a free-flowing 3-1-4-2 formation is never an easy task, and can often feel like an isolated process. Scott masterfully makes the role her own in breaking up the play, and Loera had to be on her task in doing the same. She made five tackles on the night, and 10 recoveries, wonderfully anchoring the midfield line and helping to break up play in transition.

Her compaction of central spaces alongside Lavogez and LaBonta in the team’s 5-3-2 defensive block also worked out well, ensuring that Nichelle Prince couldn’t find space to receive in the centre of the pitch. Prince was relatively anonymous beyond transitional moments where she always explodes into action, and Loera deserves further commendation for her role in tracking the Canadian attacker.

Overall, it ended up being a stroke of genius from Matt Potter to place Alexis Loera at the heart of his midfield, and he now has a further selection headache ahead of their semi-final match-up against the Playoff favourites OL Reign.

SILAS’S RIGHT-SIDED FREE ROLE

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Ever since losing Saša Kalajdžić to Wolves, Suttgart’s promising start to the season immediately became one of flux and frailty, as Pellegrino Matarazzo ultimately found himself sacked from the job. They’ve waited a long time for a win, dating all the way back to their German cup game at the beginning of the season. But thanks to Silas Mvumpa, Die Schwaben finally upped their game to achieve a massive result. Silas played a remarkable role in the side’s 4-1 win over VFL Bochum, operating in and out of the right-half-spaces, often as the highest member of the team.

Silas’s heatmap on Saturday, as per Sofascore

He floated between a position as a right-striker, right-wing-back and right attacking midfielder, always seeking the most prevalent spaces in any given moment.

His clever movement confused the life out of Bochum, and his own teammates responded brilliantly in filling the gaps in his stead. Tiago Tomas or the energetic Enzo Millot for example would drift out to the right wing as he floated up into the attack.

The defenders would also adjust out of possession, coming into more of a back four to allow the 24-year-old to stay high in transition. In that high role, as the highest frequenter of the attack, Silas was the first outlet in transition, and the one they looked to at every turn beyond just those quick counter attacks.

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The Congolese international used his pace and power to continuously advance past the Bochum defense, particularly off-the-ball where his teammates would thread through-balls into space for him to run onto.

Tasked with running his heart out, Mvumpa rarely passed the ball to his teammates. Instead, he played on the shoulder of Bochum’s defenders, looking for the space to advance in behind at the crucial moment. This resulted in four offsides on the day, but also a myriad of opportunities for Die Schwaben.

Often as the finisher of moves, Silas’s finishing was clever and composed on the day, resulting in two goals, a penalty win, and an assist to his young teammate – future French star Naouirou Ahamada.

Normally when players are given a free role in the attack, they drift left to right, operating in-and-out of central channels. But Silas’s role became unique in its hereditary dominance toward the right side, where he could then build and expand upon his positioning wherever he saw fit in the moment. He moved to left-striker later on in the match to support his team in leading the press from the front, only showcasing his growing versatility in and out of possession. Silas Mvumpa is a wonderful footballer, and if Stuttgart can pick up the broken pieces and build their team around the 24-year-old, they will be in for a sudden upswing in form.


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So there it is! Game of Numbers Issue No. 8, featuring Alex Loera’s crucial role in securing a semi-final matchup for Kansas City Current, and Silas Mvumpa’s dominating performance against VFL Bochum. Be sure to check out more in this series below, and follow on social media @mastermindsite to never miss an update. Thanks for reading and see you soon!

-> Game of Numbers #7 – Ben White’s Right-Back Revolution
-> Game of Numbers #6 – Lucy Bronze as a Floating 8
-> Game of Numbers #5 – Changing Shapes Mid-Game

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