Throughout his reign as United States head coach, Jurgen Klinsmann has experimented with quite a few formations, some of which have worked and some of which have been failures.
In the United States' final tune-up for the 2014 FIFA World Cup, Klinsmann threw a new wrench into the formation system by starting Jermaine Jones, Kyle Beckerman and Michael Bradley in the midfield. In recent games, Jones had lined up as the lone defensive midfielder, while Bradley found himself in a more attack-minded role behind Jozy Altidore and Clint Dempsey.
When the midfield diamond was employed, Jones was tasked with a massive amount of responsibility when the fullbacks surged forward in attack. To make sure that he would not overextend himself against Nigeria, Beckerman was handed a start alongside the 32-year-old in the defensive part of midfield.
By having two solid defenders in front of the back four, Bradley was handed more freedom to stay forward and combine with Altidore and Dempsey. The 4-3-2-1 shape empowered Bradley to leave any worries about defending near the American goal on the sidelines and become the attacking powerhouse that he can be.
Having both Jones and Beckerman in the midfield allows Jones to move forward more to create a few chances, just like he did on the first American goal against Nigeria. Jones fed Alejandro Bedoya on the right wing with a pass, and then Bedoya got a pass into the box that eventually resulted in a tap-in by Altidore.
That showed how much trust the Americans have in Beckerman, the Real Salt Lake man who has been a model of consistency for club and country over the last few years.
While the formation put out against Nigeria delivered some entertaining play, it featured only one true winger in the starting 11. Bradley and Dempsey can certainly drift out wide to serve balls into the box, but players like Graham Zusi and Brad Davis are much better in that role.
Some may counter that argument with the fact that Fabian Johnson and DaMarcus Beasley are good enough to provide service from the fullback position—and they are—but that leaves gaps everywhere on the pitch if an opponent pushes ahead with a counterattack.
The only other option, and potentially the best one, for Klinsmann in regards to a formation is the 4-2-3-1, which would line Bradley up alongside Jones or Beckerman in defensive midfield and hand Dempsey a role just behind Altidore.
There is no doubt that Bradley will move forward when called upon, but he also possesses a defensive prowess that allows him to dominate the possession battle.
Altidore and Dempsey have shown during the send-off series against Azerbaijan, Turkey and Nigeria that they play well together up front, and they both contain confidence in themselves and each other.
On the wings of the 4-2-3-1, Zusi and Bedoya would be the best options for now, but do not be surprised if Davis gets a run out because of his work rate on defense and ability to create something out of nothing with his left foot.
For those thinking that Johnson will be handed a start on one of the wings in Brazil if things go wrong, you can get that thought out of your mind right now. He is better suited as a right back so he can deal with the speedy wingers that the Americans will face in Brazil.
For those of you who believe that a 4-3-3 or 4-4-2 needs to be employed if the Americans struggle, you are also wrong. Neither formation has worked that well throughout the Klinsmann era because the players on this team have so much flexibility and will not be able to stay in one position for a full 90 minutes.
When it comes down to choosing either the 4-3-2-1 or 4-2-3-1, the easy answer would be that Klinsmann should employ the latter, but as we all have learned with the German, anything is possible when it comes to the shape of the starting 11.
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