After a disappointing Gold Cup this past summer where the United States uncharacteristically finished fourth, the United States had a lot to figure out in their September friendlies against Peru and Brazil prior to their CONCACAF playoff with Mexico on October 10th. Jurgen Klinsmann used the matches for experimentation as he said beforehand that everyone was playing for a spot on the field against Mexico. The experimentation worked to varying degrees, the U.S. defeated Peru 2-1 Friday night, but were blown out of the park 4-1 by Brazil Tuesday night. While the U.S. got answers to some of their questions, they were still left with too many unanswered questions prior to their clash with Mexico.
What is the United States’ best formation?
One of the themes of the Jurgen Klinsmann era has been constantly experimenting with what formation the U.S. should use. Several questions always come up such as should the U.S. play with one striker or two? Against Peru they came out in a very traditional 4-4-2 with Ale Bedoya and Jermaine Jones patrolling the center of the field and two strikers. The 4-4-2 looked good as the U.S. midfield held their own while Zyasi Zardes and DeAndre Yedlin caused problems down the wings en route to a victory.
Against Brazil the U.S. welcomed back Michael Bradley and changed things up by a 4-2-3-1 with Jozy Altidore as the lone striker. The curious move came when Klinsmann had Bradley, who is the most stereotypical box-to-box midfielder, line up as the no. 10, the furthest forward attacking midfielder and had Bedoya, who is an attacking midfielder or a winger, line up as a holding midfielder. For the past year and a half Klinsmann has been adamant about playing Bradley as an attacking midfielder despite the fact that Bradley has yet to have a good game in that position and is much better in a no. 8 role. This led to Klinsmann starting both players out of position against Brazil, which ended in a disaster as Bedoya was subbed off after just 35 minutes.
Will the starters vs. Mexico be chosen based on form or Klinsmann’s loyalty?
This is the question that has everyone concerned. Before the match against Peru, Klinsmann said that everyone was playing for a spot on the field against Mexico. However, we already know certain players have spots locked up.
Klinsmann has already said goalkeeper Brad Guzan would be the team’s No. 1 through the Mexico game. He has said that he didn’t call DeMarcus Beasley into the squad for these two friendlies to not risk injury to the defender. Players like Michael Bradley, Clint Dempsey, John Brooks, Fabian Johnson (if he’s healthy), and Jermaine Jones (according to Klinsmann) will all retain their spots.
That leaves room for a central defender, two wide midfielders, and a striker. This is where the big question comes in.
Do those spots go to players that are in form, or do they go to players that Klinsmann has always been loyal to?
On defense it’s pretty much known that Klinsmann loves John Brooks. While I agree that he’ll be the best defender one day, I’m not sure that day is today. If the position was given out based on form, Mat Besler and Omar Gonzalez deserve the spots, but Klinsmann loves the pair of John Brooks and Ventura Alvarado (who had another awful game against Brazil) and there’s no guessing where he’ll go with that. At left back I thought Tim Ream played well in these two friendlies, but that position is all but assured to go to DeMarcus Beasley if he’s healthy.
It’s no secret that I’m not a Jozy Altidore fan and once again the striker turned in two more underwhelming performances for the United States. However, because he scored two goals–the first one after missing a penalty–that’s probably good enough for Klinsmann to consider him “on form” and start him against Mexico.
Poor Aron Johannsson, the man can’t buy an opportunity with the United States getting passed over against Peru for Bobby Wood and only coming on as a late sub against Brazil. Hopefully he continues to play well in the Bundesliga, but unless he scores about 10 goals this month, I just don’t see him getting the start against Mexico.
For the wide players, perhaps the only player who fits into both categories is Gyasi Zardes making him a lock to start. I love DeAndre Yedlin but to be honest I really didn’t see anything special from him in these two friendlies or the late stages of the Gold Cup. I wouldn’t be shocked to see him start, nor would I be shocked to see someone like Bedoya or even Graham Zusi starting on the right side against El Tri.
Where does everyone fit?
For all the experimenting with playing different players in certain positions the U.S. did over the past two games, it all comes with a caveat: Clint Dempsey wasn’t playing.
Dempsey is a lock to play against Mexico, and that creates all kinds of different problems. Whether the U.S. wants to play a 4-2-3-1 or a 4-4-2 Dempsey essentially becomes the second striker, leaving the central midfield pair of Michael Bradley and Jermaine Jones. Ordinarily I’d love this, but the truth is that pair has never actually functioned well together. It’s hard to just drop Jermaine Jones since he was the teams best midfielder during the World Cup, but if he’s not in form that may be the best move.
Is the Mexico game all important.
Since the Gold Cup that’s all anyone has said, that the Mexico match is the be-all end-all. Well the truth is, if the United States loses the match against Mexico it’s actually not the end of the world, but I’ll have more on that next month.