SAN JOSE, Calif. – It’s a seemingly endless debate in soccer circles – which formation is best? Which is in vogue? How should my team line up?
The discussion is certainly being had among followers of the US national team, especially after an enticing – at times scintillating – demolition of Bolivia in the USMNT's final tune-up game ahead of the its Copa América Centenario opener against Colombia on Friday evening (9:30 pm ET, FS1).
In that game against Bolivia, fans saw US head coach Jurgen Klinsmann put his team out in a 4-3-3 formation, featuring three central midfielders, with Michael Bradley sitting deeper as a No. 6, and two wingers supporting a lone center forward. Klinsmann also used the formation on Wednesday in a 1-0 win over Ecuador, albeit with different personnel.
It’s something of a departure for Klinsmann with regards to the US, seeing as he has regularly lined his team up in a 4-4-2 or 4-2-3-1, but the German coach noted that although his formations may change, what he asks of his players – in the general sense – ultimately remains the same.
“It’s definitely a huge option that we take advantage of here and there,” Klinsmann told the assembled media ahead of the USMNT’s first training session in the Bay Area, at Avaya Stadium on Tuesday evening. “There is no end formation that we are going for. As we often talk about, the modern era of soccer is a fluid type of game where everybody defends and everybody joins the attack. So no matter what formation or shape you prefer, it kind of leads to the same goals.”
It also helps that the US has now developed a strong collection of players that fit into the formation, most notably at the wing positions. Against Ecuador, Klinsmann deployed two more traditional wide players – Alejandro Bedoya and Graham Zusi. In the Bolivia game, Klinsmann used Gyasi Zardes – whose best position, forward or winger, is still a subject of much debate – and forward Bobby Wood in the wide spots.
The move worked a treat in that game, with Zardes bagging two goals, one assisted by Wood, while Bedoya provided two assists from a central position. Substitute Christian Pulisic would also net a goal while featuring as a winger in the 4-3-3.
“With a 4-3-3 and based on the players that we have, this is definitely interesting to see because when we have wingers that maybe a couple of years ago we didn’t have, we can try to bring their strengths out in that formation,” Klinsmann said. “The advantage of 4-3-3 in that way is that it turns into a 4-5-1 defensively – that makes us a little more compact and [it’s] easier then to press the ball. So you can put it together the way you prefer – it’s definitely an option that we enjoy.”
Klinsmann wouldn’t tip his hand regarding a strategy heading into the Copa América opener, but he has often talked about the notion of needing to plan for what the USA’s opponents will do, especially when facing elite teams such as Colombia that will look to take the game to his team. But whatever formation takes the field on Friday evening, Klinsmann and the players are confident that they have the tools to get the job done.
“I think it’s a great thing to have. I think we have that versatility and I think we need to use that in our favor,” forward Chris Wondolowski told reporters. “Colombia is going to provide a different test than [Group A opponents] Paraguay and Costa Rica, so we’ll have to be ready. The coaching staff is already starting to implement a game plan and how we want to go about that, so I think the 11 that he puts out there will be ready to go.”