World Cup: In USMNT's new "Chrismas tree" formation, Kyle Beckerman plays starring role

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Formations have been a major talking point for the US national team during its three-match send-off series. First, it was the diamond midfield against Azerbaijan. Then the flat-4 midfield (on defense) aimed at slowing a rampant Turkey.

Finally, in Saturday’s 2-1 win over Nigeria, the Christmas tree, a 4-3-2-1 setup meant to keep the midfield space compact and provide more cover and protection for the backline.

The key to this third formation was Real Salt Lake stalwart Kyle Beckerman, who lined up in the center of the 3 in the 4-3-2-1, “cleaning up all over the place,” as manager Jurgen Klinsmann put it afterward. He was flanked by Alejandro Bedoya and Jermaine Jones, who had one of his best performances in the red, white, and blue.

“We felt against Turkey that they got in some dangerous spots, so our main focus was about when playing against these good teams who will get possession at times, to not let them be dangerous,” Beckerman said. “We really were able to get everybody behind the ball and be able to watch each other’s backs, which was huge.”

Nigeria, the only World Cup-bound side the US faced in their send-off series, provided the US with their sternest test yet. It took some time for Americans to adjust to the new formation, especially against the Super Eagles’ pace and attacking mentality. But after the opening 20 minutes, it started to click.

“We talked beforehand about Kyle sitting deep in front of the defenders, Jermaine being tilted to his left and Alejandro tilted to his right, and I think the understanding between the three of them was very good,” attacking midfielder Michael Bradley said. “Defensively we were able to close space down and make it hard on them in their attacking third.”

Klinsmann applauded Beckerman’s performance covering for and protecting his teammates, which allowed Jones to switch back-and-forth with Bradley a little further up the field.

According to the coaches, the Christmas tree was an experiment put together by the technical staff over the previous four days of training. Not surprisingly, there would appear to be some room for improvement should the idea get carried over into World Cup play.

“It was a little bit of a different position and the first half was difficult with it being really hot outside, but it was a good test,” Jones said. “For the first time [using the 4-3-2-1], it was OK. But we’ll have to find some stuff to change with it.”