Changing the US National Team formation

There has been some chatter this past week about the US changing its formation. Leander Schaerlaeckens over at Espnsoccernet wrote a pretty interesting article about why he thinks the US National Team ought to change its formation. I was intrigued, so I put together some thoughts of my own about this possibility.

Schaerlaeckens advocated changing the US National Team formation from a 4-4-2 to a 4-5-1. To summarize his thoughts, the idea is that the US does not have many quality strikers but has a surplus of quality midfielders. Why not take off a forward and put on an extra midfielder? While a 4-4-2 with Charlie Davies and Jozy Altidore worked well during the Confederations Cup, it hasn’t worked that well since losing Charlie Davies.

I do think that Schaerlaeckens makes a good point, but I also think that there is more to the story. After the Confederations Cup  the US used a B or C team for the Gold Cup with this 4-4-2 formation and played pretty well until the final against Mexico, which I won’t bring up again. After that there were a few more World Cup qualifying matches, where Davies played. We scraped through these matches and pulled out a couple of wins and a breathtaking tie against Costa Rica on Oct. 14, 2009. Davies was injured just before the Costa Rica match.

Since then we haven’t played in any meaningful games. We have only had friendlies. We played Slovakia, Denmark, Honduras, and El Salvador. We haven’t played that well in any of these games, but coach Bradley has been experimenting with the lineups, which tends to create poorer results. So, it isn’t really fair then to suggest that the formation hasn’t been working since Davies was lost to injury.

So, if we had a full or nearly full strength squad, would not having Davies make so much  of a difference, that we should switch to a 4-5-1? Well we have seen that Robbie Findley, Jeff Cunningham, Conor Casey, and Kenny Cooper haven’t made enough of a difference. It is also doubtful that Eddie Johnson will step in and play like Charlie Davies. So, what options does that leave us with?

Well, you could slot in Brian Ching, Landon Donovan, or Clint Dempsey in the second forward slot alongside Jozy Altidore. If you choose Ching, then you lose your speed option and have two target forwards. Jozy Altidore has some speed himself, but he is closer to a target forward than a Davies like speedster.  If you choose Landon Donovan, then I think you get a player almost as quick as Davies but with more skill. However, Donovan has struggled as a front man in the past. He has generally played better as a withdrawn attacker. Finally, you have Dempsey who doesn’t seem that fast, but just has a knack for scoring up front.

So, with Donovan and Dempsey as options alongside Altidore, I think you can make the 4-4-2 just as successful without Davies. The only problem is that you may then weaken the midfield. However, with Jose Francisco Torres, Maurice Edu, Ricardo Clark, Michael Bradley, and Benny Feilhaber not to mention others, I think you have a strong midfield regardless of whether you are missing Donovan or Dempsey.

Ok fine, but what about a 4-5-1? Could it be a better solution? Well let’s take a look at a really interesting possibility.






We could have Altidore up front alone, Dempsey and Donovan on the wings, Bradley in a more attacking central midfield role, and two holding midfielders in Edu and Clark. The back line isn’t as important here, but there are obviously more variations. In addition the 3 central midfield positions can be changed around and you could put Feilhaber and Torres in there. On the wings you might have Holden and DaMarcus Beasley.

I like this formation and I like the personnel on the field. If we got Onyewu back, then you could slot him in central defense and move Bocanegra out to left back. You could also put Spector in for DeMerit and put Cherundolo on the right. This would be a more defensive looking formation, but Dempsey and Donovan might be able to do a lot more damage on the wings because they would have an extra holding midfielder to cover for them in defense.

In the next match against Holland I am pretty sure we won’t see this formation, but it looks good. It may also suit the talent at Bradley’s disposal better than the 4-4-2 because of all the quality midfielders the US has. However, given the proximity of the World Cup and the lack of games to experiment with it, I don’t think it is wise to switch the formation at this point. The Holland game is the last true experimental match. After that the games against the Czech Republic and Turkey are for fine tuning and putting out your World Cup squad. If you switch the formation now, it could really upset the balance of the team. I say stick with the 4-4-2. Let me know what you think.

One Comment

  1. my worry with the 4-4-2 the way the US has played it recently is that it requires the outside midfielders to come up and attack, and that hasn’t always happened effectively. depending on whom we’ve had on the wings, it’s sometimes been just the two guys up there, and the 4-4-2 doesn’t work if there’s no attacking support. what would often happen is one of the strikers would collect the ball from the midfielder, and then it’d be the guy with the ball plus his striker partner and no one else. that’s not threatening.

    i love the idea of having donovan and dempsey as attacking middies, so that you’d end up with three guys up there. that being said, i’m not yet convinced that anyone but donovan has the ability to really create his own space in the midfield, so pulling him up to the wing scares me. i think you’d need someone like feilhaber, who has proven to me that he can be a playmaker, behind donovan for there to be any flow.

    so i think i fall back to the 4-4-2, with the hope that the outside midfielders can do a better job of overlapping than they have at other times. i agree, andrew, that dempsey seems to simply have the ability to score, no matter what his other statistics may look like, so i like him up there with altidore. but they both feel a bit like target guys rather than creating guys, which puts even more pressure on the four midfielders to actually create.

    based on all of this, and the fact that, as you mentioned, there’s not a lot of time to get used to a new system, i think they should stay 4-4-2. i’m curious to hear other thoughts.

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