STANFORD, Calif. – Having used a bevy of different formations in the last 16 months, it’s not clear what kind of style the US national team will sport next month at the World Cup.
Will it be the 4-2-3-1 with Jozy Altidore at the tip of the spear? Or the 4-4-2 with Michael Bradley and Jermaine Jones working side-by-side in the center of the pitch? Or the diamond 4-4-2 with Bradley freed to roam offensively while Kyle Beckerman stays home?
Whatever the case, midfielder Brad Davis knows one thing for certain. From there, however, it’s anyone’s guess.
“Our tactical identity is going to be an attacking one,” Davis said on Sunday at US training camp at Stanford University, “but one that’s going to be known as being able to adapt to different teams and different situations.”
From US coach Jurgen Klinsmann’s perspective, there’s no fear of winding up as jacks of all tactical trades and masters of none. In fact, Klinsmann encouraged the mystery after unveiling the diamond 4-4-2 look against Mexico last month in a 2-2 draw – a match in which the Americans opened brightly with a 2-0 lead at the half.
“We need to have at least two, if not three, different systems for the World Cup to kind of confuse hopefully the opponents a little bit,” Klinsmann told reporters after that match.
He has a point. Even the best, most talented sides in the world can be cracked, especially if they remain one-dimensional in their tactics. (Just ask Pep Guardiola and Bayern Munich.)
“The beauty of playing at this level, with so many good soccer players, is that you can change things quickly and guys figure it out,” LA Galaxy star Landon Donovan told reporters on Monday. “It’s hard to know exactly how we’re going to play or in what way.
"A lot of that depends on what the coaches think – who’s best on the field, who you’re playing against, all that stuff. … But we’re all very smart soccer players and we can figure that out. That’s nice to have.”
The concern for outsiders is that the US – who are already spending a good chunk of time during this camp finalizing the 23-man roster – won’t have time to polish up their movements in multiple different formations before World Cup play begins for Group G on June 16.
“I don’t see him changing,” Davis said of Klinsmann. “I think, depending on the teams we’re playing, he’s going to go with different lineups, with different personnel. It’s worked for us.”
There have been high points in each setup, which makes it both tantalizing and potentially perilous, if the US miss the mark with a tactical change during pool play.
“We’ve had success in both,” Seattle Sounders veteran Brad Evans said on Sunday. “We’ve had great moments in that 4-4-2. Against Mexico, I thought the first half was the best the team has played in a long time. I look back to the game in Seattle against Panama, the 4-2-3-1, if you could replicate that performance, I think you’d keep up with any team in the world, no problem.
“It’s about your opponent, and where you’re playing. I think it’s a multitude of things.”