By: COLIN REESE
Not enough possession and not enough technical ability have always been the primary weaknesses of the United States Men’s National Team, and certainly a lack of consistent goal-scoring and some shaky and porous Defensive Back Fours have also been weaknesses for Team USA in international soccer.
While starting two defensive midfielders has been the standard practice of the United States due to the logic that the center backs need a lot of defensive coverage and support in front of them, perhaps using quicker and more agile center backs with only one defensive midfielder should be one of the formation changes that Jürgen Klinsmann makes.
An inability to string enough passes together without conceding possession and an inability to creative enough scoring chances have both plagued the United States at the international level, particularly against first and second tier national teams.
The use of only one defensive midfielder as advocated above allows the United States to stuff the midfield with players who are comfortable and effective with the ball at their feet when facing quality competition; it also allows line-up space for an additional attacking midfielder so that Clint Dempsey can be moved closer to goal as a second striker to partner with Jozy Altidore in order to give him a player with whom he can combine and off whom he can play.
Starting only one defensive midfielder, which would obviously be Michael Bradley, is a cause for alarm for many observers because it means that only one midfielder is really providing defensive coverage for the Back Four, and this is an understandable sentiment.
On the other hand, if center backs like Michael Orozco and Geoff Cameron are started, then the United States is more or less using the two center backs who bring the best combination of defensive skills, quickness, and technical ability, and all of these things are necessary for center backs to be able to mark and tackle skilled and quick attackers while also possessing the facility with the ball to work the ball out of the back, as opposed to just launching long clearances downfield.
If Bradley lines up in front of Orozco and Cameron, then the United States would have a trifecta of players with the right blend of defending, athleticisim, and technical skill to make it difficult to penetrate the center of the defense with through balls, balls played over the top, dribbling, and combination play.
These three players along with all of the other seven starting outfield players who should be pressuring the ball when the United States doesn’t have possession is enough defensive strength to not be using a Staring XI that can be labeled too attack-minded and overly vulnerable from a defensive standpoint.
Jermaine Jones has been the target of heavy criticism from the American soccer media and from American fans, and while this may be unfairly scapegoating Jones, using Bradley as the lone defensive midfielder with Orozco and Cameron as the center back pairing is very much a tactical set-up that looks to defend the center of the American defense with athletic and technical players with excellent defensive skills.
Setting aside the defense of the center of the United States’ own final third, starting Landon Donovan, Benny Feilhaber, and Joe Corona as the line of three attacking midfielders with Jozy Altidore and Clint Dempsey up top is without a doubt a proactive set-up to facilitate possession, creativity, and attacking potency.
If these players are combining with one another and maintaining possession and creating goal-scoring opportunities, then the United States is actively looking to take the game to the opposition and score, as opposed to resigning itself to pushing back wave upon wave of attacks from opposing teams that will be able to boss the midfield, if the United States fails to start midfielders with advanced technical ability and excellent passing skills.
Rather than having no link-up play between the two defensive midfielders and the more attack-minded players, using a 4-1-3-2 formation gives the United States not only link-up play between the defensive midfielders and the attack, but it also gives the United States the personnel needed to have the amount of possession needed to take the game to the opposition and be proactive.
The best way to implement the 4-1-3-2 formation is to start Michael Orozco and Geoff Cameron as the two center backs with Michael Bradley as the defensive midfielder and with Landon Donovan, Benny Feilhaber, and Joe Corona forming the line of three attacking midfielders who line up behind Jozy Altidore playing as a first striker and Clint Dempsey playing as a second striker or support striker.
This 4-1-3-2 allows Altidore to have an attack partner where both Altidore and Dempsey would have creative and technical attacking midfielders like Donovan, Feilhaber, and Corona making sure that they received not only enough service but the right type of service needed to be effective at the international level.
This improvement in the amount of possession and the quality displayed by the United States is the main weakness that the United States needs to rectify to improve as a national team and as a soccer nation.
How the Front Six would line up:
DONOVAN FEILHABER CORONA