When the United States men's national team takes on Belgium in the round of 16 of the 2014 World Cup next Tuesday, one player who must start for the United States is midfielder Mix Diskerud.
Coming through the arduous group stage and escaping the "group of death," the U.S. has used 17 of its 20 field players. One of those who still has not seen the field for the Americans is Diskerud.
It might seem odd to change things up at this stage considering the U.S.'s success, and especially radical to start a player who hasn't seen a single minute of playing time yet. But, after three brutal 90-minute efforts against Ghana, Portugal and Germany, the U.S. could use Diskerud's fresh legs and offensive creativity.
Against Ghana, the U.S. was on its heels for long stretches and had to dig in to find the game-winner in the 86th minute. Against Portugal, the U.S. had to battle back from a one-goal deficit to take the lead late in the game, only to concede an equalizer five minutes into stoppage time. And against Germany, even though the team lost, they had to go 100 percent for all 90 minutes to assure a favorable goal differential and guarantee advancement.
The U.S.'s three 90-minute marathons in group play have left the team exhausted and been even more taxing considering the game in Manaus and the injuries to Jozy Altidore, Clint Dempsey and Jermaine Jones.
Diskerud, on the other hand, is fresh and ready to go.
Starting him against Belgium would give the U.S. the creative flair they have lacked at times in this tournament. Diskerud can also help the Americans find the goal or two they will need to defeat the Belgians.
While he's not a "like-for-like" replacement for anyone on the field, used correctly, Diskerud would give the U.S. several advantages.
Even though the U.S. has technically come out in a 4-2-3-1 in its last two matches, heat maps of those games show the formation to be much different. Kyle Beckerman has sat deep in front of the U.S. back line, while Jermaine Jones has drifted wide and Bradley has sat underneath the striker, Clint Dempsey. At the same time, the "wingers"—Alejandro Bedoya, Graham Zusi and, most recently, Brad Davis—have played fairly narrow, clogging the midfield.
Using Diskerud in this setup would offer the U.S. several advantages.
Beckerman would still be asked to play his holding role, while Jones would start wide on the left like he did against Ghana (and playing wide like he did against Portugal and Germany despite technically starting as a holding mid). Zusi would take up the position on the right, and Diskerud would be placed underneath Dempsey (assuming Altidore is still injured).
With Diskerud now on the field as the team's No. 10, Bradley would be able to play as the team's No. 8, both getting forward on the attack and retreating to help Beckerman defensively.
Placing Bradley deeper in the midfield to start would also put him in a more natural position and help him be a more effective weapon for the Americans.
In the more advanced role he has played thus far for the U.S. in the World Cup, Bradley has not looked entirely comfortable. Using Diskerud as the attacking midfielder would allow Bradley to sit deeper and take up his more traditional responsibilities.
The formation would basically be a 4-1-3-1-1, allowing the U.S. to continue to clog the midfield and push numbers forward when in possession.
In this way, Diskerud could use his technical strengths to hold the ball up, find Dempsey in space, distribute to Jones, Bradley and Zusi and find Fabian Johnson and DaMarcus Beasley when they overlap into the attack. It puts each player in their most effective position and gives the U.S. the best chance to win.
Following three trying group-stage matches, it's time for the U.S. and head coach Jurgen Klinsmann to finally take advantage of Diskerud's fresh legs and playmaking ability.
He can provide the vital spark needed to kick start the U.S. offense against Belgium and push the Americans. into the quarterfinals of the 2014 World Cup.
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