By: Matt Hartley
Two thousand thirteen was a banner year for the United States Men’s National Team, with an impressive winning streak that included victories over a German-ish team, a Gold Cup triumph, and a nice come from behind victory in Europe, all washed down with the tears of Mexican fans.
This success was built very much on the development of some partnerships that were perhaps a little unexpected. Central defenders Omar Gonzalez and Matt Besler complemented each other very nicely, overcoming their lack of experience. Michael Bradley and whoever he paired with, but especially Geoff Cameron.
The real surprises came on the flanks though. Having an out-of-position midfielder on the right in Brad Evans, with a rejuvenated DaMarcus Beasley on the other gave the team a nice balance going forward, with Beasley tending to push higher, and Evans playing smart, defense-first soccer. Evans worked well with Zusi in front of him, when Zusi could stay wide and attack, while the left midfielder in this 4-2-3-1 could vary the play to allow Beasley to get more involved.
That pattern held during the Gold Cup as well, with Parkhurst and Bedoya filling in nicely for Evans and Zusi. On the left, Jose Torres typically played ahead of Beasley, or Edgar Castillo. But we had a plan of attack, and the results were impressive.
The problem, is that predictability isn’t really a good thing for the US. We’ve improved as a nation, but we still lack the players to go out and impose this style of play on stronger nations, especially when they are expecting it. The ability to vary your approach is key when you can’t simple overwhelm teams with your talent.
Hence, the roster ahead of the US friendly with South Korea is really interesting, and I’d like to highlight an unlikely pair who may have linked hopes to the World Cup: Brek Shea and DeAndre Yedlin. This pair won’t play on the same side of the field, but they will essentially allow the United States to flip the setup they used to great success in 2013.
In considering this issue before, Shea made a lot of sense as the out-and-out winger for the left side, with Fabian Johnson and Brad Davis the other logical choices. Bedoya, Donovan, and Zusi can all tuck in from the right. The fullbacks were the issue in successfully mirroring the 2013 setup, and now we may have some answers.
Given that our two most attack minded right backs, Steve Cherundolo and Timothy Chandler, are both longshots to make the World Cup roster (knee and head issues, respectively), there needed to be someone to step up. I was hopeful Chance Myers would be that person, but it looks like Seattle’s DeAndre Yedlin will get the chance. I’m not 100% sold on Yedlin at the international level yet, but he does attack well, and he has the physical tools to cope with most players.
At left back, we had a different issue. Not a ton of highly rated left backs who are defend-first types. Beasley is a converted winger, and Castillo’s offensive skills far-outshone his defensive skills at the Gold Cup. Step forward Michael Harrington, who was a key cog for a very impressive Portland side this past season. Playing as a right-footed left back, he’s not very likely to bomb on towards the end-line, but does an excellent job supporting the attack from deeper positions. It’s also feasible the versatile Michael Parkhurst could get some minutes there.
The opportunity to explore flipping the setup from 2013 may just be a passing thought, but based on the players at his disposal for Saturday’s friendly, it seems to be one that Klinsmann wants to explore. If Yedlin shows he isn’t fazed by the step up to the international level, and Shea continues to impress during his loan spell, these two may add a a healthy dash of pace and power, along with a specialized skill set, to a squad of versatile veterans.