Counterpoint: Jozy, The Facts & Formations

I rarely comment on other publications here at The Shin Guardian.

Continued challenges in his absence....

Mark and I generally believe that we ourselves can present both sides of an argument and debate, with our community, the merits. It’s one of the strengths–we believe–of our publication.

However, I have to take umbrage with a piece that ESPN introduced yesterday mandating that Bob Bradley change his formation as he is bereft of strike partner for Jozy Altidore.

The column had a number of challenging statements that I want to make sure readers have a counterpoint to here.

I’ll summarize the article as, “an indictment of Bob Bradley’s tactical line-up in the absence of Charlie Davies. The author mandates that Bob Bradley deploy a 4-5-1 with Jozy Altidore as the lone strike option up top and add a central midfielder.”

First, let me state something: 1) I have absolutely no problem with the premise and given that Bob Bradley has introduced both Alejandro Bedoya and DaMarcus Beasley into the Netherlands friendly camp, he’s probably considering it 2) I’m not attempting to defend Bob Bradley merely present a system of events as they transpired and why the author should not take the scathing and fallible approach he did.

First, let’s address the timeline and hindsight. A show of hands out there, how many people enjoyed the benefit of watching Jozy Altidore play 90 quality minutes before February?

Ok, put your hands…down….wait, they’re not up. That’s right, the emergence of Jozy Altidore as a plausible option to play alone at the top of the formation is a fairly recent development….as in a few weeks recent. Jozy is a 20-year old player who is starting to learn the striker role against the best possible competition. He’s also been far from consistent to date.

Yes this is an odd picture, but Altidore is better in tandem.

Next, let’s see how Jozy Altidore has succeeded in the 4-5-1 at Hull City. That’s not the case either. In fact, much like we put forth about Landon Donovan, Jozy has become much more of a weapon with the threat of the pass, playing off another striker, namely Jan Venegoor of Hesselink. “VofH “is benefitting from Altidore’s ability to create at the top of the offensive third. He’s been the recipient of many a threatening pass, two that have led to goals. (Here’s an article on that pairing.)

In a 4-5-1, it is sometimes very difficult to get that other striker involved when he is not on the pitch. Sarcasm intended.

So our first condemnation is that the option of Jozy Altidore as the author calls “the lone wolf” was not apparent until recently. We are just over 100 days until World Cup 2010 and the author condemns Bob Bradley for not employing this option when it wasn’t even an option until recently. I have no problem with Bob Bradley’s decision making here.

Next, let’s look at history here. We cited it in this column here, calling the formation “the McBride.” Admittedly it was a different time and space and of course a different coach, but in the 2006 World Cup Brian McBride was hung out to dry, namely by the Czechs and the Italians. Absorbing consistent pressure as the United States still does today, the US relied on over-the-top balls to McBride. McBride had no striker playing off him and no option to go forward. If the midfield troops weren’t there in time? Possession lost as we saw.

But wait, we didn’t just see that in 2006, no we saw that just last summer at the Confederation’s Cup with one Bob Bradley as their coach. Deployed in a 4-5-1 at the Confederation’s Cup against Italy and Brazil, the United States was basically annihilated, suffering from the same McBride syndrome that they did in 2006.

And why is that?

Because the United States attempted to play between the hash marks. The author of the article above suggests the United States has a surplus of midfielders to counter this. This is where I have the biggest issue for two reasons.

First, beyond the author suggesting that Brad Evans is fit to play at the World Cup in the midfield, surplus does not equal “strength.” Sure the United States has a surplus of midfielders. Let’s run through them. Mike Bradley, check. Ricardo Clark, currently coming back from injury. Benny Feilhaber, check.

Sacha Kljestan? Enigma.

Jermaine Jones? YET TO FIND THE PITCH IN 2010 (and before).

Kyle Beckerman? Unproven above the Gold Cup level.

Brad Evans? Um, did I miss when he was he trotted out for the senior side yet in the center of the pitch?

Surplus, which I don’t believe the United States has even, does not equal strength.

Okay, you go up the middle with Brad Evans....I'll take my chances with Landon on the outside...

But wait! There’s more. Let’s throw out a few more names, specifically Cesc, Xavi, and Xavi Alonso. That’s the interior midfield that the US encountered in the Confederation’s Cup against Spain. So you’re telling me, you want to deploy our “surplus” of midfielders to move the ball up the middle of the attack and attack against those guys?

Ok, you do that, I’ll take my chances going up the wings with Landon Donovan, Clint Dempsey, and Stuart Holden. Why would the US take away the width of the field, which is one of their few strengths, to play to other teams’ strengths, including group opponent England as is pointed out in the column.

It doesn’t make a ton of sense.

I feel no need to defend Bob Bradley–in fact TSG will have a column out in the next few weeks discussing Bob’s coaching profile positively and negatively–but I do feel the need to put things in proper perspective for the United States soccer audience.

Leander Schaerlaeckens I would ask next time merely that you present both sides of the argument, rather than offering a scathing indictment of the United States strategy without taking into account the timeline, the progress, the opponents, and the USMNT strengths and weaknesses.

Finally, it’s not so much about the formation as it is finding space and making runs with the personnel you have. This will be Bob Bradley’s challenge as he continues to evolve the team in the absence of a clear-cut strike pairing.

The United States will move their offensive parts all around in the Netherlands like they did on October 14th at RFK, the last time we saw nearly the entire senior side together. Bradley will try EJ and likely Findley running off Altidore. He might slot Altidore ahead of Donovan and move Dempsey up the pitch (in what would be considered a 4-5-1).

It’s hard to fault Bob Bradley’s formation and player moves after CD9 went down, with the possible exception of not taking another look at Kenny Cooper (who mind you is not starting and still just a month back from injury). Fans should see that he’s trying different options as close to the Cup as he is…look at England, their strike team has been nearly set since last summer.

28 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Fireball on 2010/02/26 at 9:19 AM

    Thank you. I really hated that other column.


  2. Posted by Timmy on 2010/02/26 at 9:31 AM

    If we play a 4-5-1 I will puke. The ESPN author also writes that Gooch has good speed? Shows how much he knows about this team. We will not score goals with a 4-5-1 formation.


  3. Posted by maxq on 2010/02/26 at 9:35 AM

    Thanks for voicing my rather exasperated thoughts after reading that ESPN article yesterday. TSG will continue to be my #1 source for USMNT news and analysis.


  4. I wouldn’t mind seeing the US play a 4-5-1, IF we had the central midfield players who can, and would be allowed, to get up into the attack quickly. And we’d need a McBride style forward, not a Jozy.

    After reading Leander’s article yesterday I came away with the feeling that most USMNT fans did, what the heck is this guy talking about? Does he even watch these players play for their clubs, etc. But then I remembered another piece he wrote that spawned a ton of hateful comments. I’m guessing Leander can argue both sides and he chooses not to in order to be a polarizing figure and draw more readers who are wondering what he’s going to say next… If that’s the case, it’s a total d-bag move.


  5. ESPN has some questionable soccer writing these days. When did Altidore become an “aerial threat” like Ching? One of his big criticisms is that he doesn’t win a lot of headers last I checked.

    Anyway, some good points. I think another thing to consider is that our biggest strength as a team is probably our fitness level (as was commented on often during the Confed Cup). Trying to take our game to the center of the pitch, away from our pace and ability to spread the field on the wings, would seem to play away from that strength. Particularly against England, as you mentioned.


    • Addendum – Stuart Holden has yet to show consistency? I think he’s shown to be quite capable of starting on the wing.


  6. Dear Leander,


    Love, TSG


  7. Posted by RSF on 2010/02/26 at 10:46 AM


    glad you summed up everything I was thinking


  8. read this attempt at an article last night and to say the least, I was surprised by it’s intense lack of depth. Not only is it anti-football, but we’ll have problems moving up the wings with a crowded midfield. Can we do a 1-1-1-1-1-1-1-1-1-1 and ask FIFA to shorten the width of the field? You’ve heard of the “Christmas Tree”? Mine’s called “The Penetrator”

    See? I can be a reporter for ESPN too.


  9. Posted by Tripp on 2010/02/26 at 11:40 AM

    The one thing I do agree with in his article was the comment about flittering away the 4 games. Don’t get me wrong, I like that Coach Sweatpants looks at a lot of players, but group dynamic is extremely important. What if Bedoya was judged on his first game only? Wouldn’t we all like to see him and others on the field with out best and see what forms? Not to mention some of the others (Rogers, Findley,Torres, etc).

    The point was made that England has known their strike team for a year, but more importantly, they have been playing together in games for a year…Is the US going to start fielding a more consistent team from here on out?


    • Posted by matthewsf on 2010/02/26 at 11:46 AM

      I agree Tripp…I think the argument–as we are going to add to our BB column–can be made that Bob Bradley should have gotten a broader look at players earlier in the process and indeed he’s very reluctant on players outside MLS (no secret there).

      Though England have known their strike pairing, they haven’t necessarily played with it, sometimes deploying Carlton Cole or Darren Bent up top as they search for possibilities.

      I think the US will start looking to gel now–all the friendlies from here on on out I believe are sanctioned time away (but I could be wrong there).

      Thanks for contributing.


      • Posted by KMac on 2010/02/26 at 4:31 PM

        To be fair, I think Coach Sweaties might have been heading down that path until the 800lb gorilla, all the injuries, came to fruition. Not to mention games that were ill timed – not during int’l fixture windows – that precluded our guys all being at the right continent at the right time.
        Also, England enjoys the luxury of players who all (for the most part) play with a continent, the same season, and the same, and they have enough depth that Capello can still work a system, strategic tactics against different opponents within that system etc.

        (I am a huge US Fan -b/t/w) But if we had a Lampard, a Gerard, etc @ middie or a Rooney, a Defoe etc @striker – plus a decent cast of others – “we” might be playing more consistently ahead of the “Big Gulp” (World Cup). I think the injuries and scandal at the back + keeper issues has England struggling closer to our level in those positions.

        I could be all wet here, but my 2 cents (p.s. I played for Arena in my youth!)


  10. Posted by Max G on 2010/02/26 at 12:07 PM

    Quality article.

    Insight was spot-on and I prefer the philosophy of “point-counterpoint”, giving the reader agency to make up their mind.

    After reading that ESPN piece, that site is sure gonna miss Ives.


  11. Earlier I was going to submit this comment to another post: “For those calling Dempsey to slot in up top, it would be interesting to try to deploy Everton’s system which is a hybrid of 4-2-3-1 and 4-4-1-1. I think we have a midfielder with the skills to play the Cahill role once Deuce is fit, but I’m not sure he has the necessary industry.”

    To play it the way Everton have had success recently, along with this you need a true wide player with speed on either side that can quickly support the lone striker. We definitely have one of those wide players but who is the second these days? That that player used to be Beasley kind of proves Matthew’s point regarding previous US incarnations of the 4-5-1… However, I do think Altidore’s range (mobility and speed) would make the system more effective than with McBride who was really a target forward, ball winner but didn’t have much range or speed. A lone forward has to be both a ball winner, target forward and run the channels tirelessly to occupy the opposing CBs.

    In Everton’s system it’s still 4 attack-minded players just like in our counterattacking 4-2-2-2. The question is really what will be more effective in the absence of Davies, adding one of Rogers, Bedoya, Beasley, Gaven, Davis, Cameron on the wing or pairing one of Ching, Casey, Findley, EJ with Altidore up top. I don’t think there’s a clear case for 4-5-1 if you look in terms of the players available. I think some variation on 4-5-1 with Jozy up top might be possible and should be out in the tool shed, along with Bob’s “shut-up-shop” 5-4-1.

    It’s the “just add central midfielder prescription” into a 4-5-1 that bothers me most. The center of midfield tends to be where we’re least effective so let’s simply add another player there! Pushing Dempsey back out wide and slotting a Torres, Feilhaber, Holden, Davis or whoever in central midfield creates a system that requires keeping possession in midfield to be effective. That sounds like a recipe for roaring success, right?


    • Posted by KMac on 2010/02/26 at 4:33 PM

      Keep praying for Chuck D ahead of scheuule and against the odds. Every time I’m on the treadmill or on the trail, I am willing my fitness to him!


  12. Posted by obxfly on 2010/02/26 at 2:52 PM

    That author just wrote a good column about Gaetjens. Worth the read.


  13. Posted by Peter on 2010/02/26 at 3:47 PM

    Sure, the Schaerlaeckens piece was wrong-headed and showed a lack of true knowledge of the USMNT, but the guy is Dutch and just moved here like 6 months ago. We could give him a break, maybe. His being from the Netherlands, though, did allow for the one truly interesting part of the piece, I think. I kind of liked his idea about moving Michael Bradley forward closer to goal. He’d obviously seen Bradley at Heerenveen, remembered the double-digit goals scored his last season there, and wondered why his own father doesn’t take advantage of the evident talent he’s got.

    The piece was kind of a mess and reflected a shallow understanding of the USMNT — that he seemed to base any of his theory on the El Salvador game is ridiculous — but a 4-2-3-1 with Donovan-Bradley-Dempsey behind Jozy is an interesting idea, I think.


  14. Pretty much every column that this ESPN reporter has written has been universally panned or met with great controversy. I think we’ve seen enough of the “target” forward, lone-gunman approach from the USMNT. It was the death of Sampson in 1998 and Arena in 2006.

    What’s the definition of insanity? Doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. Coach Sweatpants would be wise to avoid advice from people like this.

    I have no problem employing a target man like a Ching or employ Altidore in such a role as long as you compliment it with speed like Davies or Findley. While any coach in their right mind (or sports columnist penning an advice column) would suggest limiting one’s offense and making it so one-dimensional is crazy.


    • Posted by Gino on 2010/02/26 at 10:57 PM

      While I would prefer to see the US play with two forwards, I wouldn’t mind seeing Jozy as a “lone wolf” if it meant Benny, Torres or Holden were tried at the top of the midfield. I’m not suggesting abandoning our flanks and trying to only attack through the middle. I’m talking about using a CAM to provide an outlet to our DM’s and fullbacks instead of just punting the ball back to the other team. This CAM could then either play it out wide, back to an advancing DM before running into space, look for a run by Altidore or turn and dribble into the expanse created by defenders worried about Jozy.

      I’m not saying this is what we need to do, just something we should maybe look at because who knows how fast and effective Davies will be come June. And while Findley is indeed fast, he hasn’t come close to showing he can be competitive at this level.


  15. Posted by Joe on 2010/02/26 at 11:30 PM

    I like the idea of a 4-5-1, but stopped reading as soon as I read this sentence

    “Conor Casey and Brian Ching have been solid, contributing important goals during qualifying.”

    Slotting Dempsey right behind Jozy (mentioned above) in more of a 4-4-1-1 is not such a bad idea


  16. Posted by dikranovich on 2010/02/28 at 12:39 AM

    it looks to me like junior bradley, if he is heading anywhere it is going to be further back into a central defender roll. i sort of have felt like the usa played a 4-5-1 at confederations cup. jozy started the first two games against italy and brasil, without the services of davies. of course we did not really get to see the 4-5-1 in action because a couple of our players got early reds and it messed up the plan “A”.

    usa has so many central midfielders that it does make sense to find formations that get as many central midfielders on the pitch as possible. donovan and deuce look good on the wings, that is for sure, but they also can move into an attacking central mid, or withdrawn striker roll. dempsey has even played lone striker in the 4-5-1 for fulham. but usa do have a lot of central midfielders, that is the point. and now holden is the main man for bolton and he is obviously going to be getting good preparation running that team over the next couple of months.

    altidore has stated that he likes playing with ching, then of course charlie davies showed up and maybe altidore liked that also, but in a 4-5-1, with donovan , dempsey and holden playing as three attacking mids, it would be nice to see jones get fit and pair with junior as defensive mids, or clark could start making an impact in germany and the mustard would be off the hotdog.


  17. […] [The Shin Guardian] A rebuttal of the idea of a 4-5-1 for the Nats […]


  18. […] Interlude: February 26th: TSG explains why Jozy works better up top with a player in support. […]


  19. […] Connor: For the creation of a new formation: “The Penetrator.” […]


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