HOUSTON — In a short tournament, making quick decisions can be the difference between making a deep run and going home early.
For the US national team, there’s been opportunity throughout this Gold Cup for change. As the tournament has progressed, head man Bob Bradley has hit the right chords.
The biggest change came against Jamaica as the US team came out in a five-man midfield. The move paid off as the Americans put on an impressive display of ball possession and throttled the Jamaicans’ speedy attack.
“We’ve played versions of 4-2-3-1 or, if you want to call it 4-5-1, at times before,” Bradley said at a press conference Tuesday ahead of Wednesday’s semifinal vs. Panama at Reliant Stadium. “but the key is that now with the ball, we’re good enough to see things quickly. We’re seeing guys off the ball, being in good places and have options, so now we can find a good rhythm.”
Accompanying the formation shift was a change in personnel. Bradley introduced Sacha Kljestan and Alejandro Bedoya into the starting lineup vs. Jamaica. Substitutes in the group stage, the young midfielders provided a spark and energy against the Reggae Boyz that was missing from the US lineup.
With the addition of a change at the back in the group-stage finale against Guadeloupe — introducing Eric Lichaj at left fullback and moving Carlos Bocanegra to center back — Bradley has struck gold with his moves.
“[Alejandro’s] taken advantage, in this case, of the opportunity to come into camp and has a good way about him both in the role of a sub and when he got a chance to start and bring energy,” Bradley said.
“From the beginning from when we’ve had Eric in camp, he’s shown certain things. I do believe that now, playing a couple of games in a row and having a chance to show something, that he’s done well [and] given himself confidence. It’s a plus.”
A day ahead of a semifinal rematch with Panama, Bradley & Co. are hoping the tactical changes they have in store, whatever they may be, continue to pay off and push the team to Saturday’s finale.
Darrell Lovell covers the Houston Dynamo for MLSsoccer.com. Follow him on twitter at @Dynamoexaminer.