Our league (United Soccer Club) transitioned from 8v8 to 9v9 this year. In any event, in any league you play, you will encounter variations of small-sided games. As you balance development versus results, the way that you align your players at young ages says a lot about your motive.
I believe, without reservation, that the optimal developmental formation for SSGs (7v7, 8v8, 9v9) requires you to play 2 Center-Mids. This opinion has been years in the making. Are there other formations that would be easier to get forward? Yes. To score goals? Of course. The problem is that at the ages where the players are playing SSGs, you have to balance development heavier than tactics or results.
In the new 9v9 setup, I see most coaches play a 332. The lone center-mid is left to spray the ball forward for the forwards to run onto it. To me, this is seed of the 442. My problem is this: if you can teach players how to build through the middle and teach 2 players to operate in that boundary-free zone, they can always play “direct” 332 style when necessary. But the reverse is not true.
I played competitive tennis as a youth. I loved overheads. I loved to spike them (play them short). I was taught by a wise coach to play deep overheads – preferably in the corners – but in no case should I spike them. He told me that if I could learn to play deep overheads, I could always spike one when appropriate – but knowing how to spike doesn’t mean you know how to play a proper deep overhead.
Using 2 CMs in youth soccer is the same to me. Will it slow down your attack? Yes. Will it cost you goals? Yes. But, if you can start building the concepts of having 2 CMs learning to work together in the middle – learning how to move in support (either away or to each other), it is like learning to hit a deep overhead. As a coach, you just need to do it.
So, for the last year my 9v9 teams have played a 323. And, for me, I do not see a 433 like Real Madrid – they are not all 3 “forwards” for me. I have a lone forward with two wingers or attacking midfielders (however you want to call them) that provide width to the attack. They are expected to track back and defend but not all the way back to the touch line. The their defensive duties usually stop around the penalty area or a touch higher.
But, for me, the bottom line is that you need 2 CMs in the SSGs to encourage play through the middle and encourage technical growth, not selling out for short-term results.