Monday, June 9, 2014

USA's Guide To Getting Out Of Group G

The USA are underdogs in Group G. There's no denying that. Germany are full of world class players (even without Marco Reus), Portugal have Vogue cover boy Cristiano Ronaldo (I hear he's decent at soccer too), and Ghana tend to kick the United States' asses (plus, they've got a witch doctor working for them). However, soccer in the US has improved in leaps and bounds over the past decade to a point where the likelihood of us surviving the "group of death" is not so improbable. In fact, we have several world class player of our own, including midfield maestro Michael Bradley, star forward Clint Dempsey, prolific scorer (every once and a while) Jozy Altidore, and of course, the one and only Landon Donovan (what's that? he didn't make the team?). However, with the quality of the other teams in our group, the most important player may turn out to be coach Jurgen Klinsmann, who will need to be in top form when it comes to tactics, formations, and player choices. Now, Klinsmann may not be openly asking for advice, but I'm going to give him some anyways... here goes:

Lets start off with formations. The United States historically has utilized a 4-2-3-1 formation, with two holding and three attacking midfielders, but in the recent friendly against Nigeria, Klinsmann opted for a less traditional 4-3-2-1 Christmas tree formation, with three holding midfielders and two wingers. At times in the contest against Nigeria, the formation even morphed into a 4-4-2 with a diamond midfield configuration, where the midfielders create a diamond behind the two strikers. Each of these formations lends itself to a different style of play and it makes sense that Klinsmann would change up the formation based on the opposition. Against Ghana, the formation that makes sense is a 4-4-2, because the United States will likely dominate possession and the midfield diamond allows for triangle 1-2 passes  that can slowly break open a stiff defense. Meanwhile, against Portugal and Germany, the more traditional 4-2-3-1 makes sense, because it lends itself to a counter-attacking style of play, where Jozy Altidore can hold up the ball and then distribute to lead to quick, wide attacks. Another added benefit of the 4-2-3-1 is that it uses two wider attacking midfielders, who can double down on the dangerous wing players of Germany and Portugal (see: Cristiano Ronaldo).

As for players, here's my best starting XI to play against Ghana in the 4-4-2 diamond formation:

Goalkeeper - Tim Howard - No real consternation here. Howard was always going to be the starting keeper and has performed admirable in the international friendlies.

Left Back - DaMarcus Beasley - Lightning fast defender who has only gotten better with age. However, he will always be remembered as the guy who peed on the pitch during the 2002 world cup (search at your own risk).

Center Back - Matt Besler - Conceded a penalty in the recent friendly against Nigeria, but he is still the only actual center back on the roster who is capable of managing the position.

Center Back - Geoff Cameron - Not actually a center back. He has formerly played as a defensive midfielder and a right back for his club, but he certainly has the physical attributes to play at center back and Klinsmann seems to agree with me, as he has started every friendly at the position. Honestly I would be fine with a can of corn at center back as long as it means that we don't have to start Omar Gonzalez, who has struggled mightily during the friendlies.

Right Back - Fabian Johnson - Maybe the best player for the United States right now. He is going to need to make the same sorts of forward runs that he has been making as of late if the US is going to break past Ghana's stiff defense.

Holding Midfielder - Kyle Beckerman - Great passer who seems to have some sort of calming effect while on the field. I think he is more suited for the holding role than Jermaine Jones (exciting but at times erratic), especially in a game where we will probably have most of the possession.

Left Midfielder - Jermaine Jones - Usually plays in a central role, but seeing as the 4-4-2 diamond is not a very wide formation, Jones would fit in well here. Alejandro Bedoya also could have been considered for this spot, but he would likely end up too wide and too far forward, whereas Jones will likely stay compact and is not afraid to check back to the defense to pick up the ball.

Right Midfielder - Graham Zusi - Traditionally plays a wider role, so his skills as a crosser might be a bit lost here, but there's always set pieces. Plus, if Jones stays compact on the opposite side, Zusi would likely be allowed to drift outwards and engage in some wider combination play with Fabian Johnson.

Attacking Midfielder - Michael Bradley - Usually plays in a less advanced position, but Klinsmann tried him out in a more attacking role against Nigeria and he was dominant, so I don't see why Klinsmann shouldn't try it again against Ghana.

Forward - Clint Dempsey - Would likely play just off the shoulder of Jozy Altidore making darting runs in behind. His creativity will be key to breaking past Ghana's defensive line.

Forward - Jozy Altidore - Had been in a very long scoring slump before putting two in against Nigeria. When in form, Altidore is brilliant at holding up play, playing neat through passes, and finishing off scoring chances from any position.

On the other hand, here is the 4-2-3-1 that Klinsmann should employ against Germany and Portugal:

Goalkeeper - Tim Howard - Same as above.

Left Back - DaMarcus Beasley - Same as above.

Center Back - Matt Besler - Same as above.

Center Back - Geoff Cameron - Same as above.

Right Back - Timothy Chandler - Hasn't been incredibly impressive in friendlies, but he is a proven player in Europe, and will be given a bit of
cover due to the tracking back of the wings in the 4-2-3-1. This could also be DeAndre Yedlin, who many think Klinsmann brought on the team for the sole reason of defending Cristiano Ronaldo.

Holding Midfielder - Jermaine Jones - Simply moves from left midfield to defensive midfield.

Holding Midfielder - Michael Bradley - Makes the move from attacking midfield to holding in an effort to start off counterattacks quickly from the back.

Left Midfielder - Fabian Johnson - This move provides the US back line with a lot more cover, which they are certainly going to need against Germany and Portugal. Though he would start off on the left, he could end up on the right to help Chandler out with Ronaldo or Podolski.

Right Midfielder - Graham Zusi - Same as above.

Attacking Midfielder - Clint Dempsey - Though the position name changes, Dempsey will be doing pretty much the same thing in both formations, playing off of and behind Jozy Altidore.

Forward - Jozy Altidore - Same as above.

Well... Let's hope Jurgen Klinsmann has been checking in on this blog. If the US makes it out of the group stages you can expect another one of these, so that's something to root for. Go USA!

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