How the USMNT Can Play to Win at the World Cup

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By: Colin Reese


While the United States Men’s National Team isn’t nearly talented enough to emulate the technical ability and creativity of the Seleção, the United States can utilize the tactics, formation, and the combination of the types of players used by the Seleção.


Like Jürgen Klinsmann, Felipão uses the 4-2-3-1 formation with Brazil where truly two-way outside backs flank center backs with the skill of elite defensive or central midfielders, and the Front Six of Brazil combines a line of two defensive midfielders of both varieties behind a line of three attacking midfielders including a true Number 10 with a Number 9 spearheading the attack.


In recent years, Brazil has countered the defensive tactics used by other national teams by using defensive midfielders and center backs that provide the physicality and athleticism that other national teams use to try to stifle Brazil, but Brazil has ensured that their center backs and defensive midfielders play the creative and technical brand of Brazilian soccer that is almost impossible to emulate, although there are a handful of players on other national teams that can match the magical ball control and technical play of Brazil’s best footballers.


Brazil has improved the strength, physicality, and athleticism of their defensive midfielders and defenders while still only using defensive midfielders and defenders who display the trademark Brazilian technical ability and flair.


In short, Brazil learned how to combine athleticism and physicality with their best weapon: totally superior technical ability and unpredictable creativity.


In the 2010 World Cup, the Seleção was mostly devoid of the magical footwork and ball skills that gave Brazil the advantage over any national team and Brazil suffered the consequences. Whereas in 2006, Brazil was essentially out-Braziled by Zinedine Zidane and France in the quarterfinals when Zidane put on a true master class of skill and footballing genius that put Ronaldinho, Kaká, and Ronaldo to shame. Zidane had an outstanding supporting cast who were all footballing elites in their own right, but Zidane has always been a footballer worthy of honorary Brazilian citizenship.


Looking at the French World Cup squad of 2006 and Brazil’s current Starting XI, the same tactics, formation, and combination of types of players were used, and this recipe can be utilized by the United States under Jürgen Klinsmann.


In order to see how the United States can emulate these squads, it’s essential to examine them in a concise but complete manner.


Let’s look at the France 2006 World Cup squad. France started Fabien Barthez in goal with Willy Sagnol at right back, William Gallas and Lilian Thuram as the center backs, and Eric Abidal at left back. This gave France two-way outside backs blessed with speed, skill on the ball, excellent attacking skill, and quality defensive skills and instincts. The French center backs were rocks in the center of the defense where it was difficult to beat them with skill, speed, strength, or combination play.


The Front Six of France used Claude Makélélé as a midfield destroyer with Patrick Vieira as the box-to-box midfielder with Franck Ribéry and Florent Malouda as the right and left wingers who flanked Zinedine Zidane as the Number 10. Up top, Thierry Henry lined up as the lone striker.


Looking at the current Brazil squad, Brazil uses the world’s most elite two-way outside backs in Daniel Alves and Marcelo with Thiago Silva and David Luiz manning the center of the defense with the skill-set of elite defensive or central midfielders.


In the Front Six, Luiz Gustavo plays the defensive midfielder while Paulinho plays the Number 8 role, and Oscar is used as the Number 10 where he is flanked by Hulk out right and Neymar out left. Up top, Fred is the first-choice striker when healthy, but an inspired and healthy Pato is Brazil’s best Number 9.


Turning to the United States Men’s National Team, the system that France used and Brazil uses is easy for the United States to attempt to emulate from a purely tactically standpoint as Klinsmann prefers the 4-2-3-1.


The American Back Four is a mess, but it’s easy for the United States to start an effective Front Six without much deep thought or scouting.


Jermaine Jones and Michael Bradley have the qualities needed to play as the line of two defensive midfielders, and Benny Feilhaber is a proven central attacking midfielder who can be flanked by Landon Donovan and Clint Dempsey who more or less have free license to go where the game takes them.


Given Altidore’s improved technical ability, movement off the ball, and finishing, the United States has a complete striker who can thrive with adequate service and support, which can easily be provided by Donovan, Feilhaber, and Dempsey.


Turning to the defense, the United States would be wise to use natural outside backs as the right back and left back, and among the proven outside backs, the USA can pick from Jonathan Spector, Eric Lichaj, and Fabian Johnson who can all play on either side. These outside backs aren’t nearly as two-way as those of the French and Brazilian squads discussed above, but they are modern outside backs with proven international skill.


Omar Gonzalez and Matt Besler are the center backs for the United States, but the first response to that center back pairing is that Geoff Cameron should at the very least take Gonzalez’s spot.


An argument can be made than Michael Orozco and John Anthony Brooks are better center backs than Besler, and both of the former two players have more proven experience against better competition, in addition to being more complete center backs who don’t have any major weaknesses.


Both center backs are agile, defensively-sound, and technically-skilled, and both have a better track record against better competition, whereas Besler was totally brutalized by Germany.


Cameron and Brooks conceded three goals against Bosnia and Herzegovina, but a reexamination of those goals shows a few minor mistakes that shouldn’t cause much concern.


The initial goal where Eddie Johnson lost possession at the top of the penalty box left both players in a difficult position where both center backs blocked the Bosnian through ball which pin balled its way from Brooks’ to Cameron’s legs and then both center backs were trying to keep the Bosnia attackers offside after Johnson was dispossessed and the through ball deflected through the two American center backs.


The next two goals resulted from headed goals from elite strikers.


On the second goal, Brooks was pushed in the back on the first headed goal as he was about to jump thus leaving Cameron in a position where he was beaten ball side on a cross that Brooks looked in a position to head out before the push.


On the second headed goal and third overall goal, Cameron jumped really high to clear out a cross, but his jump wasn’t high enough and obstructed Brooks’ view of the cross, which was headed in by Edin Dzeko.


The second and third goals were, technically speaking, mistakes as both Cameron and Brooks were beaten ball side to headers, but they were only minor mistakes from a new center back pairing who otherwise displayed great promise from a defensive, technical, and athletic standpoint.


The blame for the second and third goals can also somewhat be blamed on Tim Howard who failed to come off his line to punch out two crosses that were within his sphere of influence.


Nevertheless, the best American center back pairing is still up for debate, but the United States has options.


Going into the 2014 World Cup, the United States can start two proven outside backs with two center backs such as Cameron and Orozco, and the United States can start a Front Six consisting of Jones, Bradley, Donovan, Feilhaber, Dempsey, and Altidore.


All in all, the USMNT can field a respectable group of skilled and proven players that should be able to deliver a better brand of soccer than that which Klinsmann has been producing with his line-ups.


This improved and proven USMNT XI would look like this:




Without discussing the new MLS defenders like Chris Klute, Shane O’Neill, DeAndre Yedlin, Andrew Farrell, and Kofi Sarkodie, not to mention the young central midfielder, Benji Joya, the United States has other capable players like Aron Jóhannsson, Joe Corona, Juan Agudelo, Mix Diskerud, Maurice Edu, John Anthony Brooks, and Terrence Boyd who are also international-caliber footballers.


The pieces are there for the Americans to complete the USA Starting XI puzzle, but the right combination of proven players need to start together for the United States to thrive as a team without any major weak links.


Additionally, the up-and-comers (Jóhannsson, Agudelo, Corona, Diskerud) and non-starting veterans (Maurice Edu and Fabian Johnson) should give the United States the back-up firepower to play Ghana, Portugal, and Germany to win, and if the United States plays together, then the United States can beat all three teams in Group G, The Group of Death.



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