USA: A change in tactics may be needed.

2 Sep

Classic 4-4-2

Let me preface this article by saying that I am not for or against Bob Bradley as the way forward for the United States. I think he has shown a lot of positive things, but has made some fairly obvious mistakes along the way, which his critics will inevitably use against him. This is not an article about him, but more a viewpoint on what I believe USA soccer needs to focus on doing.

Bradley has shown in qualifying and in the 2010 World Cup, that he likes the 4-4-2 for the players he has available to him. When the 4-4-2 is played with the proper personnel, and in the right way for today’s game, it is a very effective formation for a few reasons. One reason is that the majority of the youth coaching is based off playing in a 4-4-2, and in this country it is probably the easiest formation for players to learn and adapt to. In this formation, the field is evenly covered by the 11 players on the pitch, and the basic geometric shape of the formation is very easy for players to grasp. Many clubs and countries have won international tournaments using this formation. Most notably, 2 master tacticians in Fabio Capello and Arrigo Sacchi have used this formation with A.C. Milan  in the 1990’s, which is widely considered one of the greatest club sides ever. Real Madrid in the early 2000’s during the ‘Galactico’ Era, was built on a fairly straightforward 4-4-2.  To say the least, the formation has had some success.

However,  in recent years tactical trends have seen managers try to gain control of matches by using an extra man in the central midfield area to try and keep possession of the ball longer. Some pundits may argue that possession does not necessarily equate winning football, and point to several results such as Inter at the Camp Nou in the UCL Semi-Final earlier this year in which they had less than 20% possession and played a man down for almost the entire game. This Inter side is a side that was meticulously put together and perfected over the course of not 1 season, but 3-4 seasons. They didn’t even try to keep the ball, nor did they want it, and they have world class players at every position. Their aim was to simply stop Barcelona from scoring, they played no football, nor did they want to. With all this, they were a questionable call (handball late in the game)  away from going home before they even reached the final. If every team set out to play like Inter did in that game, there would be no beautiful game. This game was a one off, so to point to it and say ‘Inter had less than 20% possession, therefore possession does not matter’ is simply a ridiculous statement. Possession does matter, and positive possession can lead to both scoring opportunities, and wearing opponents out. So, maybe what the USA needs is a little more possession based football, on the ground, playing more simple and short passes.

Bradley has seen success with his 2nd half substitutes

I still believe this is possible with a 4-4-2. Where this is impossible, is in which the way the USA is set up at the moment. If the USA had a ‘crack’, a genius type support striker who could drop back and create in the space between opposition defense and midfield, we could play 4-4-2. Unfortunately, a 28 year old Francesco Totti we do not have.  We simply lack the forwards for a classic 4-4-2. Altidore is not a support striker and never will be, and until the youth sector improves by leaps and bounds, we don’t have that ‘fantasista’ who can drop back and create something from apparently nothing. We have 2 strikers up top who are doing relatively the same thing -looking to work the channels and combine with the wingers.  This may work against defensively weak or unorganized teams, but it will surely not work in International tournaments and we have seen that. We have played our best football when Feilhaber has come on to play a narrow left midfield role, and Dempsey has gone to the support striker role. I believe we could play even better football if we dropped one of the strikers from the start, kept Dempsey wide left where his guile and technical ability would be right at home. Moving Feilhaber to the tip of a central midfield 3, would be a perfect role for him. The Brazilian born Feilhaber has excellent close control, technical ability and an eye for a pass. His decision making is also above-average; he realizes how important it is to keep hold of the ball and be patient for the right moment.  By playing him in a band of 3 with Donovan and Dempsey, we have all our creative players on the pitch at one time and in an area in which they can work off each other and influence play.  Evidence of this are the games against Algeria and Ghana, where Feilhaber came on and made the difference. Feilhaber and USA shine in 2nd half against Ghana after the USA struggle initially. Roberto Martinez also points out the importance of not giving possession away as the 2nd Ghana goal came against the run of play.

Feilhaber is clearly one of the most technically brilliant and tactically aware players we have available for us to choose. By using him in the right area to compliment our 3 other attacking players, we can hold more possession – and where it counts, which is in attacking areas of the pitch. We are not giving up defensive shape, because we still have 2 central midfielders playing relatively deep, providing shield and cover for our back 4. This is the way that football is being played today at the highest levels, and I think we must adapt or face the prospect of being left in an era that is either dying out or already dead.

the solution? mayhaps.


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