Why the US National Team Should Not Play a 4-4-2 Formation

U.S. head coach Bob Bradley reacts during his team's Confederations Cup final soccer match against Brazil in Johannesburg in this June 28, 2009 file photo. Bradley, a studious man with a background in college soccer, was never going to generate the buzz of a big-name foreign coach but he knew the player pool well, knew the U.S. system and has now proved he knows how to get the best out of both. Qualifying for the World Cup is expected these days for the U.S. but beating European champions Spain on the way to the final of the Confederations Cup in South Africa last year was a pleasant surprise to even the country's most optimistic fans. REUTERS/Jerry Lampen/Files (SOUTH AFRICA - Tags: SPORT SOCCER WORLD CUP)

Without a doubt, formations are one of the most underrated elements of the tactical game. Many countries adopt the simplistic two banks of four with two up top and that’s that. Not a whole lot of thinking goes into their formation.

The United States Men’s National Team and Coach Bob Bradley are ‘one of’ these countries who normally set up in a four-four-two formation. However, they have put their recent friendlies to good use by experimenting with different tactics and game plans. Sometimes playing Altidore and Dempsey up top or rotating them with Buddle and Gomez; I am often asking myself why? Just why does Bob Bradley insist on playing a formation that his team plays poorer in? This is in no way a pot shot at the U.S team’s ability. They are a gifted side. Nevertheless I believe they should look at other formations such as 4-4-1-1 with one in the ‘hole’ playing as the second strike and here’s why:

I believe the U.S are much better fitted for the 4-4-1-1 formation and one of the main reasons is to get the best of out their best players in their best position. Take Michael Bradley, for example. Bradley is a gifted, intelligent, energetic midfielder who does a splendid job of protecting the shakey U.S back four. However on a couple of occasions Bradley is used in a more offensive role albeit in a four man midfield, instead of a five man midfield. Consequently, Bradley is used in more of a ‘box to box midfielder’ role instead of his usual ‘sweeping up role’.

Therefore Bradley, instead of sitting deep and being more of a ‘deep lying midfielder,’ is forced to cover more ground which means come the latter stages of games and the tournament fatigue will likely set in and may hamper Bradley’s performance. If Bradley’s prime role is to rearguard his defense I fully believe he will excel in that role. This is not an uncommon tactic used by major nations. Nations such as Brazil, Spain and Italy all employ the same tactic of having a Claude Makelele type player sitting and safe-guarding their respective defences.

One other basis for my argument is that the U.S apply a very fluid philosophy when they are in possession. The likes of Donovan, Dempsey and Spector are not the most rigid of players and like to roam about the pitch and often leave gaps in their position. A prime example of this is in the friendly against Turkey where Spector could often be seen to leave gaping holes which were exploited by Adra Turan. The fluid philosophy that the United States employ is far from the problem. In fact, it allows for more creative freedom although it does come with a sense of danger. Huge holes of space in-between the defense and midfield are never a good idea and I believe that if the U.S were to go with a five man midfield this would allow them to remain as fluid as usual but they would be able to combat the potential dangerous counter attacks from teams by having a couple of players who remain in position and cover for those that have left to help out in attack.

Also, the U.S are more suited to a 4-4-1-1 formation because when having Jozy Altidore up front the U.S love to play long balls over the top of their opponents back line and allow Altidore to use his pace to frighten opposition defenders which is an intelligent game plan when there is space in behind the back four however this is not always the case. When teams face the U.S and deploy a deep defensive line this somewhat quells the threat of Altidore getting in behind the back four. Therefore, there must be a second option for the U.S to get in attacking positions. If they choose to go with 4-4-2, unless Altidore’s partner is the size of Peter Crouch or has the aerial ability of Tim Cahill, which Buddle, Gomez or Findley don’t necessarily possess, then Altidore is going to struggle to use his pace to his advantage. One option is to either make Altidore peal off down the wing and attack the full back and get to the bi-line whilst runners from midfield such as Donovan and Dempsey, who would be playing as part of a five man midfield, get into the box and cause havoc.

Another option though is to take a leaf out of Spain’s book and play short, snappy, precise passes to allow the midfield to interlock with the strikers and confuse the opposition defenders into who they are marking. We have seen glimpses of this from previous U.S games and the likes of Clark, Bradley, Donovan do possess the necessary ability to play this style of game if needed.

Simple football is often how this style of play is described and would suit the U.S down to a tee as the World Cup can be a place where the likes of Messi and Kaka try to show their individual ability but simple, concise, team football will allow the U.S to have more possession and there is no doubt that possession pays off and it will lead to attacking chances which the United States should be able to capitalise on. They’ll have to in the World Cup.

Finally, The main reason why teams start with two up front is so they have their strikers to link up. Rooney and Heskey epitomize this as they are an ideal partnership and are very similar to the little and large partnerships that many managers use to create chances for their teams. They generally have one pacey, quick, pest of a striker linking up with a big, boisterous, strong target man.

However, the U.S are in the fortunate situation to have a bit of the boisterous target man and pacey pest of a striker all rolled into one in Jozy Altidore. Therefore, there is no need to play to strikers to compliment Altidore and he compliments himself. Not only that, but, the target man that Bob Bradley chooses would have to possess some great physical talent to oust the likes of John Terry, Bostjan Cesar and Antar Yahia in a good old fashioned physical battle. Although there is one plus that comes with playing such physical defenders which is that they are less mobile than the likes of Altidore so if he can use his runs to pull the likes of Cesar out of position and then allow the runners from midfield to exploit the space left by the less mobile defenders; just as other nations have done so to the U.S to many times.

How the U.S should start versus England

After all my analysis, I believe it is rather important that the U.S do not set out in a 4-4-2 formation but instead go with the more diverse and dependable 4-4-1-1 as it will allow their players to shine on the biggest stage of the world. The likes of Bradley, Donovan, Clark and Dempsey are more suited to playing in a five man midfield. It will also allow the U.S to have more of a dominant role in midfield and to overrun teams in midfield and help them determine the outcome of the game. Once again, I’m not putting forward my C.V to be the next head coach of the United States I’m just making a few of my personal opinions heard.

What are your opinions about my tactical recommendations? Share your feedback in the comments section below.

This entry was posted in MLS Talk, Uncategorized and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

17 Responses to Why the US National Team Should Not Play a 4-4-2 Formation

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.