Just an unbelievable dialogue on our “Charlie Davies in Repair, Who Strikes?” piece. Honestly, it is/was one of the best community dialogues I’ve seen on the USMNT online; astute, creative, and non-emotional comments. If you haven’t read the fan commentary section, it’s worth a read before this piece.
Thank you to our readers, whose additions forced many considerations that TSG had not thought of.
So in the spirit of debate, let’s call this “Who Strikes? Part II — What’s the Formation?” and focus on and maintain the lively debate around the USMNT alternating their formation instead of their personnel in the absence of the CD9 dynamic on the pitch.
The prevailing sentiment from many in that piece?
That Coach USA should experiment with formations in advance of World Cup 2010 given CD9’s injuries, our dearth of World Cup quality strikers, and the current talent pool at the coach’s disposal.
TSG, or rather I, was in the minority in being categorically against a formation change. I wrote about this in August actually here and my arguments I believe still carry quite a bit of merit (though admittedly reader comments here have softened my stance).
The points in the summer were:
• With so few games left (and as of November 1, 2009) only, maybe…what…12 friendlies on the docket until Cup time, it would be ludicrous to suggest the US players could master a new system in a short time and for it prove effective.
• Concurrently, as I pointed out in that article, none of the US starters against Brazil in the Confederation’s Cup final currently play in anything other than a 4-4-2 formation. In other words, cane we legitimately expect them to gain real-time experience, even in a different environment in advance of South Africa.
I’m going to add a few more pieces of commentary presenting for the most part the “cons” of entering into a new alignment. I’ll let the commentary after the piece refute these and present the “pros” and then TSG will sum up everything in a third and final piece.
The 3-5-2: Antiquated
Referencing a suggested 3-5-2 formation, let’s just throw this one out. The US possesses neither the possession maintenance or speed at outside fullback to even consider this one.While the Ticos employed this at RFK, this formation is currently somewhat difficult to master in short order for a team that relies on the counter attack and long ball rather than precision passing.
The 4-5-1: Too conservative to sustain victory on the world stage and not the right personnel
• The US record in the Confederation’s Cup when deploying a 4-5-1 alignment? 0-2, 5 goals against, 1 goal for (penalty) kick. In both the Italy and Brazil games during group play, Coach B game out with a 4-5-1 with Jozy up top and 5 middies behind him. The result: virtually no offense and tons of pressure on the States’ defense.
Fast forward to the knockout rounds with a 4-4-2 (and Charlie Davies over Landon Donovan) and we all know the result. Positive.
• Maybe not as strong an argument, but what about 2006. Sure everything was different. The coach, team selection, strategy. But the formation then 4-5-1, the result 1 goal scored offensively (the Italy goal was an own goal) in 3 games. 10 total shots on goal, with 5 of them coming in the wide open final game to Ghana. Yuck!
I believe this points, if weakly, for the ability of good teams to take advantage of the USMNT’s 4-5-1.
• In a 4-5-1 in 2010, who is your lone striker? The only player capable of playing this is a precocious 19-year-old who is currently subbing for about 10 minutes a game on a relegation-bound EPL team. That’s right, the USMNT would be betting their formation and Cup experience on Jozy Altidore. Not a terrible bet, but also not a necessary bet when you have seasoned vets like Landon and Clint. Maybe in 2014.
In moving Jozy up top by his lonesome (where he started in the Confed cup mind you), not only do you force him to receive and maintain possession (not his strength), but you shackle him to that responsibility and put him further from the goal. Beyond Donovan and maybe Dempsey, who else do we really want attacking and shooting?
• Beyond TSG’s two favorites (Stu and Benny!) and one Jose Francisco Torres, only one of whom has been starting lately, the players in the middle of the pitch that Bob Bradley typically starts, do not possess the ability to link passes up the field and move the offense up. Can you really see the likes of Mike Bradley and Rico moving the ball out of the back. In watching those two against Trinidad and Tobago most recently, I do not have that confidence.
The 4-3-2-1: I’m starting to come around, but…
• A lot of good comments in the Davies piece specifically from “Tuesday” and Antonio (hopefully I’ve captured them accurately). Both of these readers have been promoting the formation for awhile.
Rationale: The formation frees up Dempsey and Donovan to be attackers and not have to double back as far on defense. Secondly, by employing a floating 3 halfback concoction, the US encourages the switch field cross and, in effect, can only, in theory, be beaten in defense on a more difficult offensive play.
More on the the 4-3-2-1 by Tuesday on his blog.
These comments have merit and I’m sure the comments section below will add to this pro. For my part…..
• The negative. In the 4-3-2-1, you really leave the center open to quick linking strike (akin to what you would see from an Italy or a Brazil). Unless the USMNT has a disciplined and effective destroyer back likes Jermaine Jones, the team is susceptible to an attack up the middle with one less defender. Sure the outsides in the formation can collapse, but that’s relying on them to do that quickly and effectively. With the current USMNT personnel, I’m not sure the US can employ this. Ricardo Clark and Michael Bradley are just too undisciplined and stray too far from the midfield to hack this formation. (See Mike Bradley, 2nd goal against, Costa Rica, RFK)
In my opinion it’s Jermaine Jones or at worst a fit Maurice Edu or bust in the 4-3-2-1 — can the US get the formation ready in time given neither of these players are healthy? If Bob Bradley actually willing to sit his son (who played the 3rd most minutes for the US during qualifying) or play his son out on a wing?
• Next, crosses and corners. Both have been a big part of the US attack. Whether it’s been Altidore from a standstill (El Salvador), Boca risking his skull (Honduras, home) or Donovan deftly coralling and controlling an errant long ball…you know a quick note here, on Bradley’s goal against the Ticos not nearly enough has been made of Donovan’s composure and patience on the ball in putting a worthy shot back on frame. That comes from experience and confidence; a world class play.
Apologies, back to our commentary. The cross in is a large part of the US game. With a 4-3-2-1, can the US get wide enough to maintain this? If Stu, for example, is on the wing in the mid 3, will he be able to make that run up the pitch?
• Finally, I think there is a consideration here that only arose over the past 48 hours. That is that Carlos Bocanegra, hardly as agile in defense
as he once was, is our lone experienced central defender at this moment. For November 18th in the least, he’s going to be coupled with either Danny Califf, Chad Marshall, or Clarence Goodson. While TSG is a huge fan of both Marshall and Goodson, we also remember the damage done on the counter against their interior defense in the Gold Cup, a 5-0 result. TSG is categorically not a fan of Califf as we believe we have better younger options and he’s not disciplined enough in the role.
Why am I telling you this? Because it impacts the 4-3-2-1. Should the US play a narrow 4-3-2-1 the middle help defenders (the center mid and one or more of the wings) can help out on the inexperienced central defense. However, this leaves our outside fullbacks vulnerable to 1-on-1 attacks (think: Vela, Robinho, Torres & Ashley Young to name a few). If the US goes wide in support, we leave our inexperienced central pairing at risk. A surmountable task, yes, but if we had say Gooch and DeMerit in the middle, having a one less defender specifically assigned to the middle would not matter as much.
So in closing, temporarily, TSG’s initial comments on the formation, I’d like to thank our readers for forcing us to reconsider and draft this piece. I have no doubt that we’ll continue the stirring debate that marked the first piece.
Mind you, I’m not against a new formation. My sentiment is such that the US cannot master new positioning in time to prove effective at the World Cup 2010.