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Lacrosse Basics: Offense Formations

Hey All,
Welcome back the Lacrosse Basics series. This post is going to primarily focus on the core offensive formations, when they are used and a little bit of why. 'Why' is usually a loaded question is better answered with a little more detail that I can provide in separate posts. I will likely be throwing around some terms that I used in the first post, so I'm going to link that here.
This post will focus on the most traditional offensive sets. These include a 2-3-1, 1-4-1, 2-2-2 ("Dueces"), 3-3 and a Circle. I can follow up at a later point in time to review the 3-2-1 and 3-1-2 which are becoming more common at the collegiate level.
When naming a formation in Baltimore, we generally look at the number of players in each row going top to bottom (just like basketball). So the 2-3-1 has 2 players in a row closest to midfield, 3 players across in the middle and 1 player at 'X'. For whatever reason, you'll find NY teams do the exact opposite.
The 2-3-1 is probably the most frequently used formation at the youth level. This is because the passing lanes around the perimeter are short, the field is balanced and there's an adequate amount of space for dodging lanes before the dodger encounters help-side defense.
At higher levels of lacrosse, the 2-3-1 is usually a transitional formation. You'll usually see it for a few ball rotations, before it shifts to another set. Most commonly, you'll see this 2-3-1 to 1-4-1 formation:

In this play, the ball-carrier (marked with flag) passes to his partner who is climbing toward midfield. The original ball-carrier crashes to the high crease. The offense has now shifted to a 1-4-1.
The 1-4-1 is used much more frequently at the college level - where the ability to complete 20-30 yard passes is routine. Higher levels of lacrosse are largely driven off of the success of a dodge drawing a slide. In the 1-4-1, regardless of dodging position, there is plenty of room to dodge without being hedged by an adjacent defender. This allows the offense to dodge to the crease and force a slide from the most vulnerable part of the field. Once a crease slide is forced, the offense will have a temporary advantage if they keep the ball moving quickly while the defense tries to get reorganized. The 1-4-1 also puts 2 men on the crease in a very dangerous position to score. If the offense can draw a slide, the defense must get their first, second and third slides to make sure that all of the most dangerous players are accounted for.
2-2-2 "Dueces"
Dueces plays with a lot of the same advantage as the 1-4-1. Rather than dodging down-field, the top players have the option to "Sweep" across the field. As a defenseman, sliding to a sweep requires a good read on a difficult angle (just like making a tackle in the open field off a sweep in football). The two players behind also have the ability to play a two-man game, somewhat detached from the rest of the help-side defense. I'm planning on doing a whole post on the 2-man game soon, so bear with me. Like the 1-4-1, Dueces also has 2 men on the crease.
The 3-3 is most often seen during extra-man opportunities. It doesn't play too well in 6v6 because there are no dodging lanes. Also, the lack of an 'x' attackman will cause the offense to lose its flow. In an extra man situation, however, there is no need to draw a slide. If the offense is able to move the ball quickly, they could potentially "out-pass" the defense. The 3-3 also puts every offensive player above the goal, so every player is a threat to score.
Finally, Circle
Pretty straight forward based on the placement of the players, right? This might also be called 'Open' to suggest that there is no offensive player on the crease. This is purely a transitional set. You'll usually see this at the start of a dead-ball situation before the offense shifts to their attacking set or as the first set in a man-up offense. The Circle formation is also commonly used in youth settings because the passing lanes are significantly shorter for less skilled players.
With each of the formations out on the table, which set makes the most sense for your team? Consider where your team stands athletically and skill-wise to determine what would best suite your players. Certain formations can better mask deficiencies and isolate your strengths.

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