If you came here looking for a synopsis of last night, or player ratings, or a man of the match (it was Bradley), or something like that, sorry to disappoint you. That sounds like tons of work, and the under-staffed, underpaid writers at The Professional Foul will leave that up to other outlets to cover. Besides, it’s not our practice to tell you about the game you just watched. You can tell yourself about that. But there’s one thing we’d like to talk about: The Diamond.
That’s right, the United States lined up in a new formation last night. After almost a year of what we like to think of as “The Empty Bucket” (the 4-2-3-1 formation, that seems to cede pitch space at the top of the attacking third), coach Jurgen Klinsmann tried something new. Well, technically it was something old. The USMNT lined up in a 4-4-2, which is among the most traditional and staid formations in the history of the game. But there was a pleasing twist of lime to this formation, which made it slightly more unconventional: A diamond four in the midfield. This tactical switch bears some discussing, and we’ll do so with an eye towards who we’d expect to see on the pitch at the start of the Ghana match in June.
First of all, it was nice to see two forwards up top. One one hand, Jozy Altidore plays best when he’s got someone with whom he can combine. He hasn’t had that at Sunderland, and notwithstanding his poaching exploits of last summer, he’s not the sort of Drogba-esque player who will physically dominate the box and will the ball into the net. (Even though he’s got the physique for it, and he might learn someday; but for now, it’s not who he is.) A second forward is a good thing to put next to Altidore.
In that same vein, Dempsey up top seems wise in its own right. If there’s one thing that Dempsey has proven over the years, for the USMNT and in England, it’s that he’s supremely capable of putting himself in the right place at the right time, and finishing chances when they present themselves. Having him in a dedicated attacking role plays to his strengths and almost guarantees that the U.S. will continue its tradition of finding goals where none appeared to exist.
What captures our imagination most about this new lineup is the diamond midfield, and in particular, Michael Bradley at the peak of the diamond. Bradley’s quality showed last night, playing in an attacking position that we haven’t seen him at very often in his career. Bradley, being Bradley, made the offense click last night (particularly in the first half), and there’s every reason to think that Bradley would continue this if kept in the attacking midfield role.
What’s concerning about the new-look formation, though, is the bottom of the diamond. The U.S. centerbacks are accustomed to two supporting players in front of them, usually Bradley and Jones. By cutting that support in half, we saw the middle of the defense consistently exposed, particularly in the latter stages of the game. Is it possible that Jermaine Jones could provide sufficient support on his own where Beckerman didn’t? We suppose so, but the ability of our centerbacks — Omar Gonzalez, in particular — does not inspire confidence in that setup. Maybe Klinsmann could run with a Cameron-Besler pairing in the middle, but then the right flank is exposed. Maybe Klinsmann could shift Fabian Johnson to the right back position, where he plays his club football, but then the left flank is exposed. There may not be a good answer to these questions.
Regardless of how the defense would shape up if the new look diamond sticks around, the attack was solid, and about as complete as its looked since Klinsmann took over. Is this change the work of Berti Vogts, the U.S. manager’s new Special Advisor? There’s reason to think it might be, and if so, it’s an encouraging sign for the U.S. Perhaps Berti can make some more magic, and polish up a back line that’s able to face the pressure that the new formation is fated to exert on it.
Photo Attribution: “Berti Vogts coaching Azerbaijan in an 2014 FIFA World Cup qualifier against Russia in Moscow in 2012” by Садовников Дмитрий is licensed under CC Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported.