I owe Jurgen Klinsmann that much after panning his lineup before the match, since it was chock-full of central/defensive midfielders. I worried that they would spend 90 minutes bumping into each other and checking back to the ball instead of finding gaps and exploiting them at pace. My worries were, as it turns out, totally unfounded.
A few things:
The formation was a 4-3-2-1
It's called the "Christmas Tree," and like most tactical innovations, it was brought to us by the Italians. The strength of it lies in having a pure d-mid — in this case Maurice Edu, and later Kyle Beckerman — sweeping directly in front of the backline. This both protects the somewhat fragile US central defense (still the area of main concern) and allows the other central midfielders to push forward both with and without the ball.
Edu wasn't flashy, then, but he was effective. And with Michael Bradley and Jermaine Jones pushing up, Scotland hardly had time to breathe when they were trying to play out of the back.
Offensively, the width was usually provided by overlapping fullbacks, which allowed Landon Donovan and Jose Torres to help crowd the midfield, forcing turnovers and moving quickly into space. In a 4-3-3 (which is what Scotland played — and they did so without a true ball-winner, which is suicide), they would have started much wider.
Boyd's off-the-ball movement was stellar
The other thing that made the formation work was Terrence Boyd's unselfish running. He looked like a more athletic (and far less polished) version of Conor Casey out there, and the similarity is no accident: Like Casey, Boyd has spent time learning in the Borussia Dortmund system, one where the center forward is expected to do as much work creating space off the ball as he does with it.
The best example of that came in the 11-pass sequence that led to Donovan's shot off the post in the 50th minute. Instead of showing for the ball, Boyd cut diagonally through the box, dragging two defenders with him and opening the lane for another touch and that cheeky cut-back shot.
If it had gone in, Boyd wouldn't have gotten an assist—- or any note in the box score at all. But it was a huge, heady, veteran play from him.
And hardly the only example on the night. His activity opened space for Bradley's golazo, and he was instrumental in forcing the early turnover to make it 1-0.
Wide play is a concern heading into the Brazil match
The weakness of the formation, of course, is that you give up a lot of width. Yes, Donovan and Torres pulled a bit wider on defense than in attack, but the few times Scotland got by them, there were acres of space to exploit. That's when the Scots were very dangerous — and where the goal came from. Geoff Cameron gets the blame, but it was a central midfield miscommunication that left Bardsley wide open to pick his spot for the cross once he was past Torres.
This was somewhat of a recurring theme throughout the evening. It's also a real worry because neither Steve Cherundolo nor Fabian Johnson are great 1-v-1 defenders, and because Brazil love to overload the flanks.
Landon Donovan never wanted to be Batman
He wanted to be Robin. I don't doubt for a minute the sincerity of the interview he gave last week, but I think the underlying cause is what's telling.
Donovan has worn a heavy mantle during the last 10 years, almost always regarded as the US' best player. The fact that the team and the league have progressed so dramatically with him as the focal point says something about his talent.
But as soon as the pressure's off, as soon as it's someone else's team, he starts playing without the weight of expectations. We've seen it at Everton, we've seen it in flashes over the last three years since Clint Dempsey has started to really challenge for the mantle of "Best US Player," and we definitely saw it Saturday night.
Expect more of the same for as long as people are saying this is Dempsey's team. Landon seems totally at ease with the notion, and when he's feeling like that, the scoreboard tends to light up.