Jurgen Klinsmann has opted for a 4-5-1 in the USMNT's Group G contest with Portugal tonight:
It's a bold move from the US manager, one that is a stark departure from the diamond midfield and two-forward lineups of recent vintage. Lots of folks around the MLSsoccer.com newsroom predicted this look, but I have to admit I didn't see it coming.
The reason why? Because the US were so lackluster and out of ideas the last time Clint Dempsey played as the main front-runner, in last autumn's dour 3-1 loss at Costa Rica. The US had a bear of a time creating space – let alone opportunities – and couldn't wrest control of the game away from the hosts on that day.
A few days later, against Mexico, Klinsmann returned to a two-forward lineup, and the US dominated El Tri thanks largely to the stellar play of Eddie Johnson in the target striker's role. The Yanks have played with two forwards ever since.
This time through? There's no Johnson, no Terrence Boyd, and thanks to his injury in the game against Ghana, no Jozy Altidore to do the classic donkey work. The other two forwards on the roster – Chris Wondolowski and Aron Johannsson – are more of the channel-running second-forward type, so Klinsmann decided to leave them out.
On the backline, Matt Besler reclaims his starting job after coming out at halftime vs. Ghana with a hamstring concern. Alejandro Bedoya – who was subbed late with muscle complaints of his own – and Graham Zusi get the start on the wings.
Portugal, meanwhile, have their own host of injury concerns, but have turned to the expected replacements:
Portugal XI v USA: Beto, Bruno Alves, Veloso, Ronaldo, Moutinho, Costa, Meireles, Nani, A. Almeida, Pereira, Postiga— beIN SPORTS (@beINSPORTSUSA) June 22, 2014
What's it mean tactically? From here, it seems like the US will probably forego the desire to control the game at all, and trot out a good, old-fashioned bunker for the second straight game.
Hit on the break, hit on set pieces, defend deep and party like it's 1994. The only thing that's truly beautiful is a result.