Since JÃ¼rgen Klinsmann has took charge of the stars and stripes in 2011, they have struggled to look completely comfortable in the way he wants them to play, but they seem to have found a decent compromise lately.
In their fourth game in the hexagonal round four against Jamaica they lined up in a basic 4-4-2/4-4-1-1/-4-2-3-1 shape, with Clint Dempsey off Jozy Altidore, Graham Zusi and Fabian Johnson on the flanks and lastly Jermaine Jones and Michael Bradley as the double pivot. With Klinsmann in charge a more dominant style of football is expected, however, perhaps because of Jamaicaâ€™s pace on the break, it was not the case in that game. Poor defending from Jamaica meant the United States came away with the win, but they rarely looked like creating anything other than crosses for Altidore and knock downs from Altidore for Dempsey.
The pivot of Jones and Bradley isnâ€™t particularly creative and even though Bradley would often drop deep close to the centre backs to start passing moves, he isnâ€™t suited to the role â€“ a box-to-box midfielder rather than a deep-lying playmaker. Dempsey is also more of a second striker and not a pure number 10, his game based on hard work and solid attacking rather than elegant touches and concealed through balls, so it is unsurprising there was little creativity in this zone.
Interestingly, DaMarcus Beasley took up the left back position. With his history as a winger we would assume he would have bombed forward at every opportunity, especially since the US had a two against one advantage on the flank because of Jamaicaâ€™s narrow 3-4-3, but this rarely happened. As Johnson is a pure winger and Zusi more of a wide midfielder, neither were likely to make many diagonal runs and Dempsey was sucked into the midfield battle. Although Zusiâ€™s crossing did have a positive effect on the game, most notably his assist for Altidoreâ€™s goal, the overall play wasnâ€™t all that threatening and not making use of Beasley seemed like a missed opportunity, albeit Klinsmann may have been worried about being caught on the counter.
In the game against Panama it was more or less the same system but with Geoff Cameron and Eddie Johnson coming in for Jermaine Jones and Graham Zusi respectively, but Cameronâ€™s role in relation to Bradley was quite interesting. With Bradley dropping close to the centre backs, the energetic Cameron was left further forward, bringing physicality despite little passing quality to the midfield. But Panama had nobody deep in midfield who needed to be marshalled so what was Cameron there for? When the ball was moved higher up the pitch, Bradley would then swap with Cameron to become the second function midfielder, Cameron was basically there to facilitate Bradleyâ€™s movement but didnâ€™t do much on the ball himself.
The difference between the game against Panama and the one against Jamaica was that here the US had the majority of possession against a deep Panamanian defence. With a lack of creative midfielders in the team there was a lot of sterile possession play and little spark up front. The Americansâ€™ two goals came from firstly being able to take advantage of Panama on the break with an early cross from Johnson, and the other from Panama holding a very high line with little pressure on the ball, allowing Cameron of all people to slide a very simple pass to Eddie Johnson to score, showing the benefits of having somebody willing to make a direct run from a wide position.
So all in all this has been a decent international period for the US, but what does this tell us about the state of the side? During Bob Bradleyâ€™s reign the team would look to defend in two banks of four, before getting the ball early to Altidore to hold it up for his strike partner or the two wide players moving infield. Nowadays it still seems like their best bet is to play that same countering game, but with less threatening wide players. They also look very mediocre when trying to dominate teams with the ball as Klinsmann had previously intended them to play with little success.
What exactly has Klinsmann changed? They do look better at keeping the ball, thus inviting less unnecessary pressure than they often would under Bradley, but apart from that it would be safe to say Klinsmann has added very little to what they had – maybe even diluting their strong points.
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