photo by John Todd/ISIphotos.com
By FRANCO PANIZO
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — A day after Jurgen Klinsmann said that too much is made of formational decisions, the U.S. Men’s National Team made a tactical switch that left plenty of people talking.
Klinsmann deployed a 4-3-2-1 formation that transformed fluidly and constantly throughout the course of the Americans’ 2-1 win vs. Nigeria at EverBank Field on Saturday. It would at times look like variations of a 4-4-2, 4-2-3-1 and 4-3-3, but the foundation of the alignment was the defensive play and shape of the three midfielders – Alejandro Bedoya, Kyle Beckerman and Jermaine Jones – that sat in front of the back four.
Bedoya, Beckerman and Jones were tasked primarily with running all over to close down the gaps that Turkey had exploited so easily in the Americans’ previous friendly, a 2-1 win at Red Bull Arena on June 1. The trio did just that, putting in a solid and blue-collar effort that paid dividends for a U.S. team that is preparing for tough opposition and hot and humid conditions in Brazil.
“We played a 4-3-2-1 today and I think the main job of me, Jermaine and Kyle was pretty much first of all to help the back four, keep it tight,” said Bedoya. “We talked about Nigeria. They have type of players that like to combine through the middle and as long we stay compact in the middle, force them out wide, then that’s what we were going to do.
“That involves a lot of running between me, Kyle and Jermaine. We shift into one side making sure that we stay compact and then if they switch it (we have) to get back over there, as well as the connections between me and Fabian (Johnson) and Jermaine and (DaMarcus Beasley) at left back. It’s a work in progress, but I think defensively we did pretty well.”
After a rough opening 25 minutes in which head coach Jurgen Klinsmann admitted his side could not keep possession, the U.S. found its footing offensively. Jones played a part in that, drifting wide left when the Americans were in the attack. It was a tactical wrinkle that had not been seen previously, and allowed the veteran midfielder to roam forward and join the attack while also giving him defensive responsibilities that he could not ignore.
On the other flank, Bedoya’s industrious game was on full display. He put in a ton of work on both sides of the ball, was constantly seen harassing Nigerian attackers, found good positions when the U.S. was in the final third, and interchanged with Johnson when the right back pushed forward.
The players that spearheaded the U.S. attack also had a little more freedom than previously seen. Clint Dempsey, Michael Bradley and Jozy Altidore constantly filled in for one another by swapping positions, and that kept Nigeria’s back line guessing while also leaving the Americans organized and with numbers behind the ball when they lost it.
It was the type of unpredictability that Klinsmann had alluded to a day prior, and what he could turn to when the U.S. faces Group G opponents Ghana, Portugal and Germany in Brazil.
“We really didn’t even have a formation,” said centerback Matt Besler. “We just talked about individual responsibilities and we wanted to make sure that we got guys behind the ball and into the right shape as soon as we lost it. For the most part, I thought we did a very, very good job. The guys in front of us got into shape, they were working their butts off tonight. It’s a lot of credit to the entire team defensively for not giving up much at all.”
Another intriguing aspect of Klinsmann’s lineup was that it allowed for both Jones and Beckerman to get on the field together. The general consensus in recent years is that there is only one position for the two of them, but the veteran duo looked to have a good understanding and level of comfort with one another against Nigeria.
That was prevalent on one play in the second half. Beckerman – who sat in and covered behind Jones and Bedoya when the U.S. was in the attack - made a mistake that resulted in a dangerous-looking counterattack for Nigeria. Jones hustled back from an advanced position and wound up clearing the ball out for a corner deep in the Americans’ final third.
“He’s got such a motor, he’s so powerful and he likes to drive and get into the attack,” said Beckerman of Jones. “If I’ve got to sit in there and watch his back, it’s all good. But I know he can cover a ton of ground. Hey, I’m all for it. We can play together. Sounds good.”
Said Jones: “Kyle is there always. He’s there when he has to be there. If the coach needs him, he puts him in and he makes always a good job. This is important and you need in the team and you need 100 percent for the World Cup.”
The fitness that Klinsmann has stressed over the past few weeks was evident vs. the Nigerians, as the U.S. midfielders covered plenty of ground. It also played a part in helping shore up a back line that had not convinced many observers in recent weeks, giving Klinsmann and the Americans plenty of confidence as they head to Brazil for the games that truly matter.
“We’re playing against really good teams and they’re going to have some possession at times,” said Beckerman. “If we can limit their times when they’re dangerous, that’s going to be big for us.
“Tonight, we did a really good job of when they did have some possession, they weren’t too dangerous and then we were able to win the ball at times and really break and get them exposed without some numbers. It was what we worked on and it was good that it came to fruition tonight.”