Tactics Tuesday: USA-Paraguay Preview

The USA men fell to the Netherlands 2-1 at Amsterdam ArenA, Wednesday, March 3, 2010.

On Saturday, Bob and the Comeback Kids toyed with our emotions on the way to a 1-1 draw with Argentina. In an attempt to duplicate USA’s victory over Spain in the ’09 Confederations Cup, Bob Bradley instructed his squad to invite the South Americans forward before breaking on the counter. But an in-form Argentina ran circles around the US, at least until exhaustion prevented them from tightly marking the Americans.

Up to that point, the match had been scary moment after scary moment for the American defense. Tomorrow evening, against Paraguay, the new opponent should reveal a more viewer-friendly USA.

Different Teams, Different Tactics

Paraguay’s attack is not nearly as fluid as Argentina’s, which is why we expect Bradley to drop the 3-man holding midfield of Jermaine Jones, Michael Bradley, and Maurice Edu. Paraguay, with only two center midfielders in their 4-4-2, won’t be able to press up the pitch like Argentina, allowing either Benny Feilhaber, Mikkel Diskerud, or Sacha Kljestan to sit in front of two holding midfielders. Additionally, the South Americans will be without two of their top strikers, Roque Santa Cruz and Nelson Valdez.

Their absence should give further impetus for Bradley to employ pressing of his own.

Pressing to Play

On Saturday, the Americans rarely applied any pressure until the Argentines advanced to the top of the ‘D.’ If Bradley rolls out a 4-2-3-1 against Paraguay, he’ll be using a formation that was originally created as a means of defending in the opponent’s half.

Possible starting lineups

Juanma Lillo, the manager who for all intents and purposes invented the 4-2-3-1, had this to say about the creation of the formation:

My intention was to pressure and to try to steal the ball high up the pitch. (…) You have to remember that they’re pressuring to play, not playing to pressure.

The 4-2-3-1′s raison d’être was to press in order to quickly win back the ball. To do so, the midfielders and strikers must possess that rare combination of a hard-nosed approach and proficient passing. The defensive and offensive qualities of Edu, Bradley, Jones, Landon Donovan, and Clint Dempsey are well-known. Benny Feilhaber and Mikkel Diskerud are very capable when in possession, so they should be able to step right into a possession/pressing strategy.

When the midfielders and strikers are flitting in and out of the opponent’s half, the fullbacks have to be prepared to prove they can participate in build-up play. In the World Cup, Steve Cherundolo showed off his attacking abilities, and understudies Eric Lichaj and Timmy Chandler have both been impressive going forward, albeit in limited time. On the left, Carlos Bocanegra continues to provide a steady option, though we’re likely to see Jonathan Bornstein at some point.

Center backs, like fullbacks, don’t have to venture too far out of their comfort zone when moving from a 4-4-2 to a 4-2-3-1. Their responsibilities remain largely the same. However, with their teammates advancing up the pitch when not in possession, the center backs do have to be a bit more circumspect with their distribution. Jay DeMerit and Oguchi Onyewu produced some howlers on Saturday. Hopefully Tim Ream will receive some playing time and add a bit of quality to the service from the back.

Up top, strikers Jozy Altidore and Juan Agudelo haven’t yet had the opportunity to prove they can succeed in a pressing 4-2-3-1. Unfortunately, neither quite fits the mold of a false-nine, the type of striker often used in 1-forward formations. Argentina used a false-nine on Saturday with Lionel Messi, who sometimes fills the same role for Barcelona. Francesco Totti is often used the same way at Roma (which is where the strategy actually originated).

Altidore and Agudelo, though, are not as proficient passers as Messi and Totti (we here at FFG are not unaware of the power of understatement). Altidore and Agudelo are both, in theory, capable of playing as a target man, withdrawn forward, or a false-nine. Agudelo did an admirable job as a withdrawn forward on Saturday, but that was with Altidore stationed higher to occupy the center backs. Agudelo, who has made just 3 appearance with the National Team, hasn’t seen time as a lone striker.

Tomorrow evening Bradley may well give the youngster the chance to show he can flourish as a false-nine. But if Diskerud, Feilhaber, or Kljestan fails to impress in an attacking role, Agudelo and Altidore could find themselves partnered again.

Long term, FFG still believes 4-2-3-1 is the way to go. But if fielding 3 central midfielders continues to lead to stagnant offensive displays, a series of soccer-induced fan heart-attacks could force Bradley to permanently pair his two young strikers.

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  1. bensten says:

    Looking forward to seeing USA as the aggressors tomorrow. I’m excited about the 4-2-3-1, but have to admit how much better they looked with two strikers in the second half (even if Agudelo was very withdrawn). Maybe we will see the youngster as a lone striker. He certainly has the on field attitude and confidence to play that role. We all hope he can fill those britches!

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