USA vs. Ghana: Key Selection Decisions for Jurgen Klinsmann
As the United States men's national team heads into its opening World Cup game against Ghana, American head coach Jurgen Klinsmann will have to make several key decisions on how to approach the game.
Ghana, currently ranked 37th in the world by FIFA, has knocked the United States out of the last two World Cups. Considering the U.S.'s other group-stage competition, namely Portugal and Germany, the game against Ghana is a virtual must-win for the Americans.
Here are three key selection decisions Klinsmann will have to make.
What Formation to Use?
Even though Klinsmann has said that formations don't matter, the players he selects and where he chooses to play them will have a major impact on the match.
For most of the semifinal round of World Cup qualifying, Klinsmann used a 4-1-3-2. He then switched to a 4-2-3-1 for the final round of qualifying, before switching to a 4-4-2 with a diamond midfield for the U.S.'s friendlies against Mexico, Azerbaijan and Turkey.
Against Nigeria, Klinsmann used a 4-3-2-1 "Christmas Tree" formation, with Kyle Beckerman sitting deep flanked by Jermaine Jones and Alejandro Bedoya. Higher up the pitch, Klinsmann had Michael Bradley and Clint Dempsey playing nearly parallel to each other underneath the lone striker, Jozy Altidore.
If Klinsmann goes back to the 4-4-2 diamond, it will likely mean the benching of Kyle Beckerman, as well as the re-emergence of either Brad Davis or Graham Zusi into the starting XI.
If he goes with the 4-2-3-1, his selections get trickier. Klinsmann could go with a Jones–Bradley combination at holding midfield with Dempsey underneath and Altidore up top, flanked by Bedoya, Zusi and/or Davis. Alternatively, he could play Beckerman and Jones side-by-side with Bradley behind Altidore and Dempsey on the wing.
Finally, if he sticks with the 4-3-2-1 he used against Nigeria, there probably won't be any changes to the starting XI at all.
Who Starts on the Left?
At this point in time, the bulk of the U.S. starting lineup is set: Tim Howard will start in goal; Fabian Johnson will start at right-back, with Matt Besler and Geoff Cameron at center-back; Bradley and Jones will start somewhere in the midfield; Dempsey will start up top or in an attacking-midfield role; and Altidore will start at striker.
The big questions all involve who plays on the left side for the U.S. While many U.S. fans have never felt fully comfortable with DaMarcus Beasley at left-back, the mistakes made by Timmy Chandler against Turkey, combined with Beasley's solid performance against Nigeria, seem to have given Beasley the inside track to start against Ghana.
Who starts on the left side of midfield, however, will depend on what formation the U.S. chooses to start the match with. As discussed in the first slide, if Klinsmann sticks with the 4-3-2-1, it will likely be Jermaine Jones. If Klinsmann opts to go back to a 4-2-3-1 or a 4-4-2 against Ghana, either Brad Davis will start on the left or Graham Zusi will come in on the right and Alejandro Bedoya (who started on the right against Nigeria) will be moved to the left.
Who to Sub and When?
The last selection decision that Klinsmann will have to make against Ghana will involve which substitutes to use and at what time in the match.
During the U.S.'s match against Nigeria, Dempsey looked exhausted in the final 20 minutes of play—some fans have speculated he was simply trying to avoid injury. He struggled to get on the end of several well-placed passes and, in the heat of Brazil, may need to be subbed late in the match.
In his place could come young phenom Aron Johannsson or poacher Chris Wondolowski. Johansson's speed and technical ability, however, appear better suited to match up against the U.S.'s Ghanaian opponents.
In the midfield, Klinsmann may have either Graham Zusi or Alejandro Bedoya on the bench, depending on what formation he has chosen to start with. Both are solid players who can contribute to the attack and mind their defensive responsibilities well—making either one a perfect substitute for the other around 65-minute mark, regardless of the score.
If the U.S. is defending the lead and hasn't started Kyle Beckerman, he would be the perfect player to bring on to help close out the game. His smart positioning and simple possession would be a bonus late in the match when the U.S. is looking to kill off the final minutes.
However, if the U.S. is down, Mix Diskerud would be the best midfield sub. His high technical level and quick passing are perfect for breaking down defenses, and if the U.S. needs a late equalizer, Diskerud's creativity and flair would be perfect.
Finally, if Klinsmann needs reinforcements in the back, he could look to bring on Timmy Chandler, who would add an element of speed.
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