Tactics Tuesday: Potential Gold Cup Formations

Bob Bradley has picked his twenty-three and in fifteen days they face Canada in their opening match of the 2011 Gold Cup. The surprise inclusion is Freddy Adu, while Alejandro Bedoya’s absence is somewhat puzzling.

Here is the official roster:

- Goalkeepers: Marcus Hahnemann, Tim Howard, Nick Rimando

- Defense: Carlos Bocanegra, Jonathan Bornstein, Steve Cherundolo, Clarence Goodson, Eric Lichaj, Oguchi Onyewu, Tim Ream, Jonathan Spector

- Midfield: Freddy Adu, Michael Bradley, Clint Dempsey, Landon Donovan, Maurice Edu, Benny Feilhaber, Jermaine Jones, Sacha Kljestan, Robbie Rogers

- Forward: Juan Agudelo, Jozy Altidore, Chris Wondolowski

Now that the roster is known, we can get down to the nitty-gritty. What formation will they play? We think Bob is mulling over three options. And he might end up using all three at some point. Let’s jump right in and take a look at the possibilities.

4-4-2

A potential 4-4-2

Bob Bradley’s favored formation for most of his time as USA’s manager will probably make an appearance or two this summer.

Pros: In the 2009 Confederations Cup, the US used a 4-4-2 in a counter-attacking strategy. Employing two narrow lines of 4, the Americans stymied Spain and Brazil for 135 minutes before conceding a goal. And while they were holding their opponents scoreless, Bradley’s men tallied 4 goals of their own. Two of the strikes – one each against the top two-class opponents – were on viciously executed counters.

Cons: Certain formations can be very exposed when fielded against other formations or particular strategies. The 4-4-2 struggles when facing any formation with 3 central midfielders. The center midfield duo in the 4-4-2 can easily be passed around by the opposing trio, leading to a squad having to chase possession.

The United States faced this problem in the World Cup against Ghana and Algeria. Bradley’s solution was to pinch-in outside midfielder Benny Feilhaber. The plan worked but could have easily backfired had either opponent taken advantage of the space vacated by Feilhaber. England used Steven Gerrard in a similar manner and Germany exploited the area he vacated in their World Cup encounter.

Key players: Jozy Altidore and Juan Agudelo

It’s no secret that the USA’s depth chart up top is embarrassingly thin. Whenever Bob uses two forwards, he’s playing at least one striker at the expense of a more experience midfielder. Assuming the Americans use a 4-4-2 at some point, the forwards have to be productive or serious questions will be asked of Bradley’s formation choice.

4-2-2-2

A potential 4-2-2-2

As we’ve observed many times, Bradley’s 4-4-2 often looks like a 4-2-2-2. Sometimes, though, the team uses this shape from a game’s opening whistle.

Pros: At its heart a 4-4-2, the 4-2-2-2 trades defensive solidarity for a better chance at maintaining possession. When the outside midfielders both move inside, the team then has a 4 v 2 or 4 v 3 advantage in the middle of the pitch, allowing them to more easily hold onto the ball. The Americans most recently used this tactic against Paraguay.

Cons: Unfortunately, the price of extra men in the middle is a dearth of defenders along the wing. The fullbacks can be quite exposed if a team counters along the flank. Even Landon Donovan and Clint Dempsey – outstanding defenders each – can’t be in two places at once.

Key players: Carlos Bocanegra and Steve Cherundolo

When Donovan and Dempsey venture inside, space opens up for the fullbacks. During the World Cup, Cherundolo excelled in the space created by Donovan. Bocanegra is obviously more limited going forward, but if he, or Jonathan Bornstein, can help the squad hold onto the ball for that one extra pass, the risk of a counter would be reduced.

4-2-3-1

A potential 4-2-3-1

Currently most manager’s formation du jour, the 4-2-3-1 seems to be replacing the 4-4-2 as the go-to formation in both club and international soccer.

Pros:  The two holding midfielders provide a defensive base from which the attacking quartet can operate. Additionally, the presence of 3 central midfielders allows the squad to have a decent shot at maintaining possession without compromising the basic defensive shape.

Cons: The lone striker has to be on his game. Whether he’s used as a target forward, a false-nine, or something in-between, if he doesn’t perform, the attack can stagnate in the final third.

Key players: Jozy Altidore and Freddy Adu

As the aforementioned ‘Cons’ section noted, if the striker doesn’t produce, the team’s offense can be very timid. But the attacking midfielder might be just as important. With Stuart Holden out, Freddy Adu might get a chance to thrive in this key role. If he can successfully pick out passes in the final third, the US might be able to overcome less than stellar play from Altidore or Agudelo.

Gringos, were you surprised or upset by any of the roster selections? What formation will be Bob’s 1st choice this summer?

2 Comments Post a Comment
  1. Gringo Primal says:

    I hope Bob uses a 4-2-3-1 but my gut says he’s going back to 4-4-2 as his first choice.

  2. bensten says:

    I also have a feeling it’s the 4-4-2 that will get the first curtain call. However, crafty Bob has been known to adapt throughout games and tournaments so I think we’ll see the 4-2-3-1 as well, depending on the opponent and (as you stated) what kind of form the strikers are in.

    I never would have guessed Adu. Would love to see him “re-emerge” as a talked about and exciting player. Let’s assume Bob has seen a spark…

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