Today’s the day. It’s finally here. Even though we still have to wait until Monday to see the United States play, the World Cup is finally here. The World Cup is finally here after four long years of waiting. Over those four years we’ve seen Jürgen Klinsmann use numerous players and lineups in friendlies and qualification matches, and I want to take a look at the last five lineups specifically. Which lineup utilizes 11 of our players in the best way?
The last five lineups have all been different and maybe hinted at the end of the 4-4-2, which had historically been the preferred formation of the United States team. Klinsmann experimented heavily during 2013 using four formations through the 23 games played. The 4-4-2, which was the norm, appeared to be the odd man out as it was used the least in 2013 – only in two games.
In the last five games Klinsmann has used two different lineups: the 4-4-2 diamond (three games), and the 4-2-3-1 (two games). First, let’s look at the 4-4-2 diamond which Klinsmann used against Mexico in the April 2nd friendly, Azerbaijan in the May 27th Send-Off Series friendly, and Turkey in the June 1st Send-Off Series friendly.
There was over a month between the Mexico and Azerbaijan games, and by this time Klinsmann had named his 23-man roster for Brazil. The two lineups are very different from a man point of view as only Bradley, Besler, Wondolowski (who started in place of an injured Dempsey), and Zusi appeared on both. However, even with the personnel changes, the key difference is degree of experimentation.
Klinsmann decided to heavily experiment in the Mexico friendly. An injury-battered Gonzalez started, and Beltran started, but it was his first appearance since the Gold Cup in 2013. Donovan didn’t start, and youngsters Green and Yedlin also saw time. The first half showed many that the 4-4-2 diamond formation can be very effective when used in the correct way, and that means using Beckerman at the bottom and Bradley at the top. Davis and Zusi played very well on the sides of the diamond, but Davis turned in the better performance in my opinion.
The second half was a different story as Mexico scored two goals and exposed Gonzalez, who was responsible for both. The first goal came from a set piece. He got stuck on a pick, which gave Rafa Marquez a free header, and then on the second goal he didn’t step quickly enough as Alan Pulido tapped in a ball that deflected off the left goal post. This was the beginning of the end of Gonzalez in my opinion. Even though it was a friendly and he was recovering from injury, this is the game where Gonzalez lost his starting centerback position to Geoff Cameron.
Klinsmann decided to use the 4-4-2 against Azerbaijan as well, but the biggest changes were using Jermaine Jones at the bottom of the diamond, Demarcus Beasley and Fabian Johnson as the outside backs, and Alejandro Bedoya on the side of the diamond. Azerbaijan friendly was a difficult game to analyze because Azerbaijan put 10 men behind the ball, and parked the bus in a way. The United States were easily able to retain possession and move the ball around, but getting good chances were difficult to come by.
Jermaine Jones played the whole game at the bottom of the diamond, but he made it look more like an arc or boomerang as he ventured too far forward too far often. That’s why if we use the 4-4-2 diamond at any point during the World Cup, Beckerman has to be in the game. Beckerman stays at home, which allows Bradley to go forward and make advancing runs because he knows Beckerman is filling the gap in the midfield.
Bedoya played a good game, but he didn’t seem to make the same impact that Davis made in the game. Beasley and Johnson should be the outside backs in any formation using four in the back. These two compliment Besler and Cameron very well, both on defense and in the attack. Beasley and Johnson can both go forward and make an impact the counter attack, but also have the peace of mind to be able to provide cover and balance for Besler and Cameron.
Klinsmann used the 4-4-2 diamond for the third and last time against Turkey, and he used the same lineup from the Azerbaijan game except for two changes. Timmy Chandler started at left back, and Brad Davis returned to the lineup on the outside of the diamond. For the most part, this is the starting 11 that I think should be in place if the 4-4-2 diamond is used by Klinsmann.
Fabian Johnson had an excellent game and I believe this is where he solidified his starting place in the back four. He was solid on defense and on the counter-attack. He even snagged his first goal in a United States uniform as he volleyed home a nicely chipped pass from Michael Bradley. Beckerman subbed in for Jones at half-time, and the boomerang rightfully returned to a diamond. Jones was a physical presence and was all over the field, but Beckerman and Bradley have the right chemistry that makes the formation click.
Now, let’s take a look at the 4-2-3-1 as we rewind three months back to March 5th where the United States faced Ukraine in a friendly. This was before Klinsmann had called the 30 players in to the preliminary camp, so there are a few faces that didn’t make the trip to Brazil. Also, since this game took place in Europe it features a roster mainly consistently of Europe-based players.
This was the most experimental and least popular of any of these five lineups used as we saw a very inexperienced and unfamiliar backline. Overall, the game was a disaster as it exposed a huge question mark on the backline as Klinsmann was still trying to plug people in to the right holes. It showed Brooks is not yet ready to start for the United States team, and both Castillo and Onyewu looked out of sorts as they played themselves out of the 30 man camp. I thought Kljestan played decently, but shouldn’t be paired in a midfield with Jones as both players go forward. This left gaps in the midfield during this game, and Ukraine used it to their advantage.
The second time Klinsmann used the 4-2-3-1 was in the most recent game; the June 7th Send-Off Series friendly against Nigeria. Unlike previous games, US Soccer didn’t create a pretty little graphic for the starting lineup, so I took the liberty of making my own. My paint skills are pretty great, right? Anyways, I was a big fan of the lineup Klinsmann went with. The only change I would have made would have been another winger instead of Bedoya. Bedoya has played decently in the Send-Off Series friendlies. But he hasn’t provided a huge spark, unlike Davis and Zusi who have both played very well.
I loved the combination of both Beckerman and Jones in the midfield, and it’s what needs to happen if a 4-2-3-1 is played. They complement each other and provide balance. Jones tends to go forward, Beckerman tends to stay home. Beckerman prevents a big gap from opening up in our midfield, and a gap in our midfield is the last thing we want teams like Ghana, Portugal, and Germany to take advantage of.
The lineup we should primarily use in the World Cup is a 4-2-3-1, and is basically the same lineup we used against Nigeria. The only change in the two is Brad Davis, who has played extremely well, provided a different spark, and has the added benefit of set piece ability. This sets him just above Zusi, Bedoya, and Diskerud; all players who have seen them in the three-man midfield.
The backline is the most consistent we have, and the combination of players complements each other better than any other combination of defenders. I hope Gonzalez doesn’t see much time, as I view him as a liability now. He let in two goals against Mexico. Then, he out does himself in the Nigeria friendly by showcasing his serious lack of speed. Moses blew by him, forcing Cameron to haphazardly stab at the ball before contact Besler took Moses to the ground. Moses is fast, but players on Ghana, Germany, and Portugal are just as fast. I don’t want that to happen again.
In a substitution situation, I would much rather see DeAndre Yedlin. His speed will be able to match that of any attacker. Yedlin is considered to be raw in terms of defending, and because of that many do not want him to see time against the likes of Ronaldo, Gyan, or Schurrle. Put him in the Nigeria friendly, though. Imagine if he subbed on for Altidore instead of Gonzalez. If he was in Gonzalez’s situation, he wouldn’t need to take the ball. He would just need to contain and slow down the attacker, and with his speed he could. That’s why I’m 100% behind Yedlin seeing time against these teams.
I think the 4-2-3-1 should be the primary formation, but if the 4-4-2 diamond is used, it’s a must that Beckerman plays instead of Jones. He keeps the midfield occupied, and allows Bradley to make countless runs forward. They have the perfect chemistry for the formation. Keep the same backline, move Dempsey up with Altidore, and swap out Zusi for Jones. A diamond with Beckerman, Bradley, Davis, and Zusi is the best option we have in my opinion and gives us the greatest possibility for success.
Today’s a great day, and I can’t wait until Monday. We could leave Brazil with seven points (I don’t think there’s a chance we’ll end up with nine), or we could leave with zero. No matter what happens, it’s a great time to be an American soccer fan.