Jun 8, 2014, 10:00 AM EST
JACKSONVILLE, Fla — Before kickoff against Nigeria, Jurgen Klinsmann made three changes to the side that played decent against Turkey, and the country tried to figure out exactly how the players fit together.
90 minutes later, after a 2-1 win over Nigeria that felt a bit more complete than the scoreline showed, there was a shower of praise for how the players fit together tactically.
Except still, nobody could figure out exactly what to call it or how to define it.
On the heels of Klinsmann’s rant slamming the discussion of formations altogether, there was a guilty feeling that accompanied any attempts to label how the individual US players pieced together on the pitch.
It was like a piece of IKEA furniture – confusing at first, requiring a lot of work to put together, and without a comprehensive set of instructions, but once it does come together right, it serves its purpose well.
“We started off a little bit lethargic,” said Alejandro Bedoya. “It took a little bit of getting used to, but we did what was asked of us.”
It took time to sink in because the tactic was brand new to the entire squad, implemented by Klinsmann just in the past few days.
“We felt in the Turkey game that they were able to get into some dangerous spots on us,” Beckerman said. “We worked on it this week, it was new to us, but we felt like if we’re all working for each other and backing each other up, that we can be successful.”
Bedoya labeled the formation a 4-3-2-1. Beckerman anchored the epicenter of the midfield, with Jones to his left and Bedoya on his right. There was an expectation for both Bedoya and Jones that they would advance further outside on attacks to expand the advance, and pinch in when the team moved back towards their own goal.
“Our focus this week was to get everybody behind the ball, because we’re playing against good teams and they’re going to have possession,” Beckerman said. “But if we can keep them from being dangerous then their possession doesn’t mean anything. We felt if we could win the ball then we could expose them with some numbers, so we defended together, we had each other’s backs, and when we won the ball we got into some dangerous spots.”
With the midfield secure, the two above them in Dempsey and Bradley also weren’t defined into any particular locations, but flowed freely between the central midfield and the front line.
It fit perfectly with how Klinsmann described Spain’s 4-6-0 in Euro 2012, using random midfielders pushing forward to throw off the opposition. While it wasn’t nearly that radical, it employed the same general concept.
It wasn’t always Altidore up top who was the most dangerous man. Dempsey and Bradley flowed freely and made runs, leaving Nigeria guessing as to who would come at them next.
The catch with this build is that it involves lots of running, but the US proved they were in excellent physical condition, and had the stamina to make it happen.
“In this position, you have to run more,” said Jermaine Jones. “Kyle played the “six” with Bedoya on the right and me on the left. In front was Michael and Clint, and Jozy on top. But the game shows there are differences, I have to be more inside with Kyle or out on the left side. This is why I say I have to run a lot.”
The 32-year-old then said with a chuckle, “sometimes for the old guys that is not so good.” It drew a laugh from the scrum of reporters, but the point was there – if the US is to deploy this tactic against Ghana, they will need to be at full fitness levels to run the formation to completion.
All that running comes from the polarizing difference in the formation between the compact defense and wide-open offense, like a hollow-point bullet expanding on impact for maximum damage. With the tactic so new to just about everyone, it took some time in the beginning to settle in, but once they figured it out, the team became deadly.
“It took us a while to get into the game because we couldn’t keep the ball the first 20-25 minutes long enough to play out of the situation and switch sides and make it open,” Klinsmann said. “Once we understood to make the field more wide, to stretch it – almost cost me my voice – we looked better, and we started to have more flow and better combinations. We started to play more simple, one-two touches from the back into the midfield, and finding Jozy.”
And ultimately, that’s the key – finding Jozy. With the service he got from this wide-open attack, he flourished, bagging first a sitter and then a ripper, the perfect combination for him going into Brazil.
But the formation is built on compact defense first, and from the get-go that was never an issue for the players. “It involves a lot of running between me, Kyle, and Jermaine,” said Bedoya. “We shift into one side, making sure to stay compact, and then if they switch it to get back over. With the connections between me and Fabian, and Jermaine, and Beasley at left-back, it’s a work in progress but defensively I think we did well.”
The dichotomy of the new 4-3-2-1 worked, throwing Nigeria not only into confusion at the back but a spider web at the front, entangling their link-up play in the US midfield thicket.
Whether you agree with teaching the team a brand new formation a week before the World Cup or not, the results on the pitch in Jacksonville are undeniable. If Klinsmann can teach a completely new tactic in just a few days, then it seems logical he could work the kinks out between now and June 16 when the US opens with Ghana.
Who knows if Klinsmann will choose to build upon this for the World Cup, but he would be wise to give it serious consideration, because he seems to have found the launch button that could potentially bring this United States squad success at Brazil that seemed out of reach just two matches ago.
Dec 20, 2014, 9:23 AM EST
United looks to keep back with their noisy neighbors this morning on NBCSN.
Dec 20, 2014, 9:08 AM EST
The NBC team discuss when Lamps may head stateside.
Dec 20, 2014, 8:11 AM EST
Sterling, 20, follows the likes of Rooney, Messi and Aguero after being named the best youngster in European soccer.
Dec 20, 2014, 7:20 AM EST
Can the Citizens make it six wins on the spin without a striker? Watch live, here.
Dec 20, 2014, 7:10 AM EST
How and where to watch every single PL game from Week 17 live online or via the app.
Dec 19, 2014, 11:20 PM EST
Harry Redknapp believes he could be Ravel Morrison’s “last chance” to prove he is ready to play top-flight football.
Dec 19, 2014, 10:25 PM EST
Since returning from injury, the England international has been key to United’s six-game win streak.
Dec 19, 2014, 9:40 PM EST
Rog and Davo are joined by Downton Abbey’s Laura Carmichael, who discusses her short stint selling hot dogs at St. Mary’s and the rivalry between Southampton and Portsmouth.
Dec 19, 2014, 8:50 PM EST
With 45 points through 17 matches, Bayern Munich is having the best season in Bundesliga history.
Dec 19, 2014, 8:00 PM EST
The opening weekend of MLS play features Orlando City SC and New York City FC facing off in a battle of expansion teams.
Dec 19, 2014, 7:10 PM EST
Newcastle and Sunderland may be bitter rivals, but their managers are telling supporters to behave on Sunday.
Dec 19, 2014, 6:20 PM EST
The Blues’ boss said his Belgian playmaker can become a Chelsea legend, but must win titles first.
Dec 19, 2014, 5:30 PM EST
England’s number one keeper finally put pen to paper with a new deal that will keep him at the Etihad until 2019.
Dec 19, 2014, 4:40 PM EST
The Leicester City boss was also fined $15,000 by the FA following his altercation with a fan.
Dec 19, 2014, 3:55 PM EST
CR7 and Howard, it seems, are among the few blessed with tons of talent and even more desire to work.
Dec 19, 2014, 3:20 PM EST
In the Premier League, Brad Guzan is tasked with keeping Manchester United off the scoreboard.
Dec 19, 2014, 2:05 PM EST
Orlando City founder and president Phil Rawlins described Shea as a big addition to the squad.
Dec 19, 2014, 1:43 PM EST
Altidore’s production for his country and in the Eredivisie prove he’s a much better player than his horrible spell at Sunderland.
Dec 19, 2014, 12:52 PM EST
According to The Daily Express, Man Utd’s man if Mats Hummels won’t come over from Borussia Dortmund is Nicolas Otamendi of Valencia.
Dec 19, 2014, 12:00 PM EST
Where and how to watch all the PL games during Week 17.
- Watch Live: Aston Villa vs. Manchester United (Lineups and Live Stream) 0
- Raheem Sterling named best young player in Europe, wins ‘Golden Boy’ award 0
- WATCH: Premier League online via NBC Sports Live Extra – Week 17 0
- MLS announces home openers for 2015 season 2
- Mourinho says Eden Hazard can become an all-time great 2
- After failed odyssey abroad, Brek Shea returns to MLS with Orlando City 3