A year ago, I wrote a blog post saying the Regista would be the most important role for the USMNT future. I said this for several reasons. First, it’s a key role in a possession heavy system and in positional play. Second, the US has not done a good job historically in developing this role as it is built today. Third, the US is very thin in terms of elite prospects for this role. All of these things are still true. The role isn’t near as thin as it was but is still one of the thinnest we’ve seen.
First let’s define what I mean by the Regista. These terms are more fluid than most would like (including myself). They are used by analysts to describe a specific role of a player in a particular point in time. Then that role evolves and lots of different analysts, media, and fans all try to use it. The result is a lot of people with different ideas about what it means.
These days I often refer to it as the “Modern 6.” It can also be called the deep lying maker or defensive midfielder. I know there are people screaming into their computers right now that all of these are different. I know. So we’ll start by defining what I call the Modern 6 instead of only using any of these terms.
The Modern 6 is a midfielder that plays at the base the midfield and/or at the peak of the defense. In a 4 back system, when the fullbacks get high and wide, it will sometimes drop into the back line to help form a back 3. As a general rule, the team with the ball will want to keep +1 in their own half. Meaning they will want to keep one more player than the opposing team. So if the opposing team presses with 2 against 2 cb’s the 6 will drop back either centrally or on the edges to keep a numbers advantage.
You can usually identify this role by a few obvious traits
First, he stays pretty tightly tethered to the back. The last thing a defense wants are flat lines where a creative player can create through balls to runners in behind or drive at cbs with space. The attacker has advantage with momentum and timing. The defenders often have to rely on an offside trap to stop penetrating balls or try to make tackles that (if missed) lead to run ins on goal. They would prefer to keep someone always in front of them to not allow that pass or direct line to the cb. They also want to keep a +1 in the back and the 6 is there to help do that. This is why normally the 6 doesn’t press very much. Their job is to contain an attack, prevent the penetrating dribble or pass and shield the back. What you’ll normally see them do is pick their spots when they are confident they can win the ball and otherwise let the 8’s and wings press heavily.
The role of the 6 used to be that of a destroyer. Soccer tactics went through a period of teams consistency putting a creative 10 in the middle of the field to camp out in zones 14 of the opponents half.
They would create goals by being creative on the ball in the most dangerous spots. Teams adapted to this by putting tackle/defensive experts in that same spot to mark out these 10’s. That shifted tactics to move to having 2 10’s in the half spaces between zones 15/14 and 13/14. This negates the ability of a destroyer to mark out a 10 or camp out and eliminate creative attacks in one zone. As a team passes around, the defense has to move to cover passing lanes. This opens up opportunities even in a low block.
That shift away from needing a central, destroying 6 has increased more due to teams defending less in low blocks and focusing more on pressing. It moves the lines of confrontation up the field. This has mostly seen a sharp reduction of pure destroyer style midfielders from good teams. They don’t need an aggressive tackle expert to camp out in zone 14. You still want tacklers but now due to defending the whole field and due to most teams using dual 10’s in the halfspace- teams want rangy 8’s. That’s why you don’t see Kante playing a lot as a one 6 anymore and its one reason the US sought out Musah. With Mckennie and musah as the rangy 8’s, the 6 can act as “clean up.” Some teams can still use the 10 in zone 14 and any team will find itself defending in the low block at times, so you do want a little destroyer in your 6 but that trait is a lot less important than it used to be and not as prioritized.
That’s not to say athleticism isn’t needed in the new modern 6 role. It absolutely is and is why Bradley seems to be phased out of the US program. The rangier the modern 6, the larger space he can clean up and cover and still be that central zones that he needs to be at the right times.
But most importantly, a very rangy 6 is hard to get passed. Where Bradley, Trapp and some extent Yueill most hurt the team defensively is opposing teams could dribble around them too easily. The point of keeping a 6 tethered to the back line is to limit penetration. A good 6 will do this by being VERY good at timing his tackles and will most often not even attempt a tackle. They will contain the attacker until they get help from an 8. The athleticism preferred here becomes one around agility rather than strength, size, and aggression.
High Technical Quality
Second, the other place where athleticism is desired in the modern 6 is for ball control. A team wants that 6 to be a lock box in possession that is press resistant. Most teams counter press these days meaning, as soon as they lose the ball, they are coming at you strong. A really good modern 6 can provide a passing option as an outlet. They can avoid the aggressive counter press. If they are really good, then start the counter with a timely pass or dribble (preferably pass bc dribbling pulls them out of position).
Busquets technical quality is an example
Third, this modern 6 will usually have the high passing percentages of a cb. They move constantly in the zones in front of the cb’s to provide passing options to both the cb’s under pressure and is usually a safe option for the rest of team to maintain possession. The CB’s (or 6) can make a wide pass or line splitting pass and always have the 6 there for safety and reset if the attack option isn’t on. This is where they get the Regista part of the game. They dictate the rhythm of the passing. They speed it up or slow it down. That brings us to a fourth trait.
Fourth, they are often the “qb” of the offense. You’ll normally see the modern 6 directing traffic. This means they need a high game IQ and it’s why you don’t usually see younger guys playing that role. You want experienced players that can read the game and direct traffic. As we saw against Bradley and in the Olympics, the 6 can be marked out. If the opponents decide not to press the CB’s, they’ll often try to mark out the 6, as he’s a key cog in the possession build up and is usually a distributor that penetrates lines. The 6 then needs to be good at reading the game and manipulating the defense with his movement to create passing lanes for the cbs.
Busquets high game IQ and passing ability
Lastly, if the CB’s can do their job and create penetration with the ball at their feet or with their passing, the modern 6 does what you really want them to do- Pass the ball. One of the most important roles of the modern 6 is a distributor. Short passing range is necessary for the Regista duties but you also want this role to be your deep lying playmaker. You want them to make line breaking passes and switches to space. When Bradley or Yueill were/are in as the modern 6, you saw these things a lot. Bradley in particular was good at hitting the long diagonal.
I’ve heard people say that’s over rated but I disagree. The US and most top teams use positional play. Positional Play is a method and/or set of principles of possession play that came out of the Dutch style that Pep has perfected. Most teams that intend or expect to have a great deal of possession embrace positional Play principles. They may go about those principles differently but they embrace the concepts. The term positional play comes from chess and is about getting maximal advantages of players/ pieces positions on the board/field. At the core of great possession play is maximizing the use of space on the field. Positional Play soccer does that with their positions, movement and coordination.
Because of the importance positioning, movement and the coordination or timing of those, a deep lying maker is key and the diagonal is key. The deep lying playmaker sits at the base of the midfield. As a team overloads one side and pulls the defenders to their side to stop numbers or quality mismatches, the team wants to use a positional advantage and space on the back side. Bradley hit that ball like a QB throwing a deep pass. For all his and Trapps’s faults, they were excellent at that.
The other part of being a deep-lying playmaker is the line breaking pass. Adams is quite good at this.
Adams as a deep lying playmaker
It again uses the positions of the other players and movements to create gaps in space between the lines. Then uses the modern 6 at the base of the midfield to read that opening. The modern 6 has to coordinate the movement and pace of the ball (regista) and time the ball movement to hit that gaps in between the defenders to hit attackers. This is an underrated skills because its usually the pass before the assist. Most fans will see the assist and miss that pass. It’s crucial to breaking down packed defenses. It’s not just the technical ability to hit the pass but it’s the high game iq to read the game, control the pace and timing of the passes in the back to hit the opening with it occurs. It’s truly the QB position of soccer. It’s why it’s my favorite role to watch tactically and why I see it as so crucial to the US future.
That is what a team wants with the modern 6. The truth is teams never have everything they want and have to adapt to what they have. That could mean a variety of things. If Adams lacks passing range, then they could lean more on McKennie. If they are using a guy like Yueill, then they’ll have to cover for his lack of athleticism with 3 cbs and one stepping quickly or an 8 playing a little deeper. With Adams or Acosta who like to drive forward with the ball more, they’ll adapt with the 8’s slotting back more and covering that space until he returns. There are lots of tactical nuances once you start fitting in personnel with their own strengths and weaknesses. RB Leipzig seems to do an interesting thing by inverting a wingback at times and then let him play with some of those roles. The variations are endless with different personnel and against different opponents.
When I talk about a “Modern 6” that’s what I am talking about. Can a team play positional play or be good at possession without one? They have to have those traits on the field and they will work to have them some where- whether its elsewhere in the mid or cbs. As a matter of developing a team though- I personally think any team embracing positional play will attempt to find and use this role.
Modern 6 Summary
To summarize this role needs
- Strong positional discipline
- High technical quality
- Press resistant
- High Game IQ
- Deep play making ability (technical ability, vision, outside shooting, and tactical acumen)
- Range; Recovery
- 1:1 defensive ability
- Impeccable timing on their risk taking
- Aggressive, confident tackling
When looking at the USMNT- what I see is a team extremely thin at this role. As a soccer nation who only recently started prioritizing technical development over athleticism, we have too few of these. Our primary source of talent is the MLS pipeline. We are just now seeing them start to play to level that is developing these.
In my opinion, the US program is doing all it can to find these players and try to get them to a higher level. It’s the one role, where we only have 1 player even in the pipeline at a top club. Tyler Adams. Wing, striker, CB, GK, 8’s we have our top tier talent and we have young guys pushing behind them. Aside from maybe passing, ball dominant cb’s, there is no spot that’s weaker in terms of talent at top leagues.
It’s also not a role where I think international scouts think to look at the MLS for. Currently our internal prospects that are getting scouted are pressing cms and athletic, dynamic full backs. This modern 6 is a highly technical and high game IQ position. I don’t think the US has the rep or “branding yet” that we can develop those.
So a year later, who do we have in the pipeline? These are the ones I’m seeing (no particular order). Adams, Yueill, Perea, Johnny, and now Acosta. There are guys like Kitchen, Sands, and Parks that don’t seem to either fully fit the profile or have been unable to make enough of a dent in the US program for me to know them well. Only Adams and Yueill have we seen do these at a higher level.
I personally think the US have done three things to try and fill this role. First, I don’t think it’s a coincidence that both Perea and Johnny are dual nationals who have recently committed to the US. I think the US is targeting weak spots in their depth chart. Second, they just called and tried to simultaneously start 3 6’s in the Olympics. The jury is still out if that showcased them enough to put them on any clubs radar. I think the hope was for them to do well, get scouted and get them into better clubs. Lastly, they are scouring our current pool for those who might have the technical abilities if not the experience.
Current Modern 6 Options
This is how I would rate latest 5 on the criteria mentioned. Understand these are highly subjective and only Adams is proven at a high level. These may be a bit unfair to Perea and Cardoso as I haven’t really seen them enough to feel firm in these ratings.
Adams is our 6 right now. I still think he needs to develop more regarding his deep lying playmaker abilities. I also think his range and tackling ability could be used further up field as a wingback that inverts, as he does for his club. But for now- he’s our only prospect playing a 6 (yes a modern 6) at a high level. Until he develops his passing ability more, I expect the US to rely on Mckennie dropping a bit deeper (who has great distribution skills and now a better tactical sense on when to use it) and to maximize the use of passing CBS in Brooks and Richards. Adams brings to the role most of you what at a very high level.
I think this next year we want to continue to watch who could develop into this role and realize, that players may be one role in the MLS and another with the US. The two that I would keep an eye on are Busio and Pomykal. Both are talents that Berhalter may start to bring into the national team soon. Others that I think we should keep an eye on are Alex Mendez & Bryang Kayo.
Despite the failure to qualify for the Olympics, the future of the US soccer program is bright. The national team is fun to watch and as a nation we’re starting to develop more refined tastes and understanding of the beautiful game. There are lots of key markers to watch. The most important is qualifying and doing well in the World Cup. For me, who loves the tactical side of the game and seeing highly skillful soccer, I’m watching to see how we find and produce talent at this key role. I think the US program sees it as a priority and before long we’ll see as many promising modern 6 prospects as we do 8’s and 10’s. I look forward to it.