The number one thing that fans and journalists alike tend to do once a lineup is introduced is analyze the formation. Jurgen Klinsmann has tried many formations for the USMNT in the last couple years and that continues just a little over one week before the start of their World Cup campaign. One can say that Klinsmann is trying to make it harder for his opponents to scout the USMNT. Regardless, the more important element is that the players are coached on what their expected role is on the field along with the tactical approach.
The talk for the majority of World Cup training camp was the implementation of a diamond midfield. This was a 4-4-2 look with Jermaine Jones anchoring the back. The recurring discussion was how this did not truly free up Michael Bradley at the top of the diamond. The players looked to be having trouble adjusting with Graham Zusi and Alejandro Bedoya collapsing more than necessary. After the match The Shin Guardian’s Matthew Tomaszewicz said the players told him they were not really schooled on tactics.
When the lineup was announced for the USMNT’s final Road to Brazil match against Nigeria the focus was on three defensive midfielders. This could not be a diamond anymore. This had to be a 4-2-3-1 with Jones and Kyle Beckerman shielding the back four. That makes sense going into a match with Ghana. However as the game unfolded, Jones would move left when the USMNT had possession. Clint Dempsey and Jozy Altidore looked to be paired up at times, but also switching as the lone striker. Bedoya was also sitting back near the back line and paying close attention to his defensive responsibilities. The formation was being called the “Christmas tree.”
The first half of the Nigeria match was easily the best played half of soccer in recent memory for the USMNT. It was not the formation. It was an understanding of responsibilities. Beckerman was in the true defensive midfield role. Bradley had liberty to get forward. Jones was expected to show his athleticism to cover the defense and open up an option on the left when in possession.
Personnel has a big effect on what can happens in a match. However, it is employing those players with clear tactics and roles that makes a game plan come together. Perhaps this is a chicken or egg discussion, but do not put so much merit in a Klinsmann formation. These words will make certain fans’ and analysts’ blood boil. Think about the responsibilities of the players combined with the tactical approach and let’s hope those are clearly communicated over the next week.