There was a bit of shock recently when U.S. men's national team coach Jurgen Klinsmann opted for a 4-4-2 "diamond" instead of the 4-2-3-1 that had seen the Americans through qualifying. The new formation seemed to come out of nowhere, but it looks like it is here to stay.
The diamond is not a new footballing tactic by any means. It has been used throughout the history of the game, but it is not as common as other formations.
Those who have played in a diamond will likely tell you that it is extremely difficult to do. It requires everyone to be aware of each other's positioning and can be extremely costly if done wrong.
For instance, the midfield is often left wide open for opponents to exploit, while the fullbacks often have little help covering the wings at times. When done right, the diamond can be very useful, though many may be worried that it will blow up in Klinsmann's face.
Despite the concerns about the American diamond, it does have the potential to find success in Brazil when the World Cup finally kicks off this week.
Michael Bradley will get more touches
Let's be honest here: Michael Bradley is the key to America's success in Brazil. The former Roma midfielder may very well be the smartest player on the USMNT and knows precisely how to dictate play in the middle of the pitch.
Taking a quick look at the 4-4-2 diamond, it really seems like the system was instituted for Bradley.
With the U.S. set up in this formation, Bradley will be getting a plethora of touches each game. The more touches he gets, the more successful America tends to be.
So far, the 26-year-old has been utilized as both the bottom and the top of the diamond. It is quite clear that the team performs better with Bradley higher up the pitch, but the fact of the matter is that Klinsmann is trying to find the best way to get the most out of his star midfielder.
Playing in the diamond will also allow Bradley to drift around the midfield. Without wingers beside him or other midfielders around him, he will have free range to go where he is needed to receive the ball and dictate play.
When Klinsmann broke out the diamond back in April against Mexico, it was very obvious that it was to allow Bradley to play further up the field. But there is also a big difference from America's normal 4-2-3-1 formation now.
In the past, Bradley has formed a holding pair with Jermaine Jones right in front of the defense. In the diamond, Jones will likely be the only midfielder in front of the back line.
There has been cause for some concern, as there is no guarantee that Jones can adequately play as a lone defensive midfielder. However, in recent friendlies he hasn't looked that bad in the bottom of the diamond.
Truth be told, Kyle Beckerman has also been used as the long defensive midfielder with Jones higher up, and it looked promising. Either player can feature in front of the defense, so there are options for Klinsmann.
It allows for Clint Dempsey to feature as a second striker
In the past, the U.S. has played with only one striker leading the charge. Though it may have seen the Americans through qualifying, having a lone target man may not be enough against World Cup opponents.
The diamond allows there to be two strikers up top, but more importantly, it lets Clint Dempsey be up top.
"Captain America" has played in countless different positions for the USMNT during his international career, yet he always seems to be at his best when playing up top. In the diamond he can do just that, and the team will benefit a lot from it.
Dempsey loves to be a part of the attack and has already proven that he can be a dangerous scorer. Throughout his career he has thrived playing through the middle and should be allowed to do that on the international level as well.
Over the past few years, Dempsey has played a lot on the wings, but it doesn't really suit him. He's never been much of a crosser and tends to slack off a bit defensively. Not only will the diamond get the best out of him offensively, but it will also cover his weaknesses as well.
The diamond will allow for a second scoring option, whether that is Dempsey or someone else. Jozy Altidore will likely be the first-choice striker, but pairing him with someone like Aron Johannsson will only give the U.S. more dangerous options against opponents.
There aren't really many drawbacks for the American diamond up front. Two strikers are better than one, and Michael Bradley will be pulling the strings. In the Group of Death, it may be just what they need.
It can constantly change
The best thing about the diamond is the fact that it doesn't have to stay a diamond. With the players who will be on the field, movement can always change the formation into a 4-2-3-1 or even a 4-3-2-1, which happened in America's recent 2-0 victory over Nigeria.
Klinsmann has always been a coach who doesn't put too much stock into formations. He seeks to give the best look against an opponent but is always ready to switch up tactics.
Here is what he had to say about the diamond formation in regard to other tactics, via Kartik Krishnaiyer of World Soccer Talk:
We will approach different teams in different ways, We have at least two or three systems. The system right now suits a lot of our players because it is also based on their strengths. Every system requires different characteristics. It is good for us that we work on different ones and hopefully use different ones at different moments in Brazil.
Furthermore, according to Devin Pleuler of MLSsoccer.com, Klinsmann doesn't even really care that much about formations, stating, "It doesn’t really matter what shape we have or what system we have, it matters how we kind of connect with one another on the field."
The diamond has always been one of the most interesting formations in football because it always has the ability to turn into something else.
On the surface, it will get the best out of players likes Bradley and Dempsey, but it can always shift into something else depending on who the opponent is. Klinsmann is looking for the best way to use the players he has, but having other options is always a good thing.
Some may say that not having one defined formation could be problematic for a World Cup team, but under Klinsmann it will only help the Americans find success.
Will it be successful?
There is no way of knowing just how the diamond will work out until America is actually using it in Brazil. Facing opponents like Portugal and Germany will force the best out of the U.S., and they will have to be prepared.
The diamond has a lot to offer. Bradley will be able to help more offensively, there will be more options up front and the players really seem to like it.
Will the 4-4-2 diamond be successful in Brazil?
However, the drawbacks could also hurt America significantly.
The defense will be more exposed, which isn't good against the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo. At the same time, wingers will have more space to attack—again, not good against Ronaldo.
It all comes down to just how well the players can pull off the diamond. If the USMNT is able to get the movements right and read the game, then the diamond could be what gets them out of the group stage. But if the weaknesses are exploited, America will be going home.
Most teams have rarely played against a diamond, so that is in America's favor. But there is a reason that the diamond isn't that common: It's very hard to do right.
So the question isn't if the diamond will be successful, because it definitely can be. The real question is whether or not the U.S. can actually pull it off.
Is the diamond the key to America's success in Brazil? How should Klinsmann line up the U.S.? Leave your thoughts and comments below!