A US Lineup for Gold Cup Soccer
Much has been said about the poor showing of the US men’s national team at the Gold Cup so far. Dirty Tackle and the NYT’s Goal have probably been the two best sources for commentary, and, unsurprisingly, both have commented on the US roster and lineup choices. Without going into the mistakes that have been made in the past, I want to offer a suggestion for the upcoming US-Jamaica match.
First of all, the US needs to get away from the 4-4-2. They just don’t have the right people for it. That said, here’s how I think they should line up:
Cherundolo – Goodson – Bocanegra – Lichaj
Bradley – Kljestan – Jones
Donovan – Altidore – Dempsey
Yes, that’s a 4-3-3. I generally consider it a very offensive formation, and the US tends to play slightly more defensive soccer, so this might not be the first thing that comes to mind… but since it seems to be conventional wisdom to everyone by Bob Bradley that the simple formations played by the US are holding the team back, it’s time to ask more from the players.
So why would this formation work? I’ll handle it by position.
Cherundolo and Lichaj can both get forward, and in a 4-3-3 that’s needed, even if only a bit. The weak point of this formation against Jamaica is speed – Bocanegra and Goodson are at risk of being outpaced in the center. However, the aerial ability and overall experience the two bring to the positions is worth the risk, for me, especially since….
Bradley and Jones are really playing as defensive mids. Or at least Jones is – Bradley could be freed to get forward more quickly if necessary. The key here, though, is that Kljestan should be freed up to be an attacking midfielder. With Dempsey, Donovan and Altidore all on as attacking players, there should be no shortage of good targets. And having a true defensive mid can stop runs early. As well, this really means the US can pack the midfield with three mids and let the fullbacks and attacking wingers take care of the outside of the pitch.
With a 4-3-3, the two outside forwards are really attacking wingers – think the Barcelona mold, where Pedro and Villa often come into the center around the opponent’s 18, but also track back. That’s exactly what Donovan and Dempsey can do in this formation, and it plays to their versatility as midfielders who can create chances, score for themselves, and play adequate defense. This formation also relies on them to track back on the wings and help out, but they both have, when they’re on their game, the ability to play hard for a full 90. In a pinch, Altidore can play as a lone target man for Kljestan if the wingers are occupied; otherwise, the obvious targets here are slashing runs from or to the wings depending on the positioning of Jamaica’s fullbacks.
Bedoya (the US version of Jesus Navas of Spain in the 2010 World Cup?) is the obvious sub here, on for Donovan or Dempsey if the formation is to hold. If Bradley feels like they must return to a 4-4-2, I’d suggest moving Dempsey up front and Bedoya on for Kljestan, with Donovan on the wing and Bradley and Jones in the center of midfield. Or dropping Altidore and moving Bedoya to the right and Dempsey up front as the lone striker.
A straight swap of Wondolowski for Altidore could also be in the cards.
This formation could also be run as a 4-5-1 with Altidore as the lone striker if more defensive emphasis was desired.
Or a 4-4-1-1 with Dempsey playing in behind Altidore/Wondo and Bedoya on the wing in place of Kljestan. The problem here is that the US would sacrifice the third centerline midfielder and lose the potential numerical advantage.
The bottom line here is that the US, outside of Bedoya, doesn’t have any pure wingers but does have a ton of midfielders, and playing a 4-4-2 is not playing to their strength. They’ve struggled so far, and something needs to change. Why not introduce a different formation? Many USMNT players are accustomed to them from their time in Europe (and hell, even in MLS). Just because it mostly works for Alex Ferguson is no reason for Bradley to stick to it….