New System Could Help USA Enjoy Strong Copa America
SAN JOSE, Calif. — Jurgen Klinsmann loves to experiment with his teams – U.S. national team fans and players have learned this over the years. Be it position changes for players, or experiments with formations, Klinsmann has never been afraid to try new things, even if, at times, some such experiments feel very forced.
Klinsmann’s latest experiment feels different. The U.S. team’s deployment of a 4-3-3 formation in recent matches has the team looking very comfortable, and the U.S. could wind up reaping considerable rewards at Copa America because of it.
“Ultimately, the ability for us to be able to play in different ways, to do different things on different days is important, but in the last few games there has certainly been a lot of good that has come from playing this way,” Bradley told Goal USA of the team’s recent use of the 4-3-3. “Now, we start to prepare and make sure that we’re ready in every possible way for this game and fine-tune how we work as a group.”
Klinsmann tried to downplay the impact of the team using a 4-3-3 formation.
“There is no end formation that we are going for because, as we often talk about, the modern era of soccer is a fluid type of game where everybody defends and everybody joins the attack,” Klinsmann said on Tuesday. “No matter what formation or shape you prefer, it kind of leads to the same goals. No matter what system you want to choose.
“With a 4-3-3, and based on the players that we have, this is definitely interesting to see because we have now wingers that we maybe a couple of years ago didn’t have,” Klinsmann said. “So we can try to bring their strengths out in that formation. The advantage of a 4-3-3 in that way, is it goes into a 4-5-1 defensively. That makes us a little bit more compact, and makes it easier to press the ball.”
The results have been positive, and the feedback from players make it clear that they are buying into the new system completely.
“We’ve tried this new formation with different players in different areas and I think it’s helped out the team,” Bedoya told Goal USA. “I talked about formations can be overrated, but if you play a certain way, and players are maybe more comfortable in certain positions, and players off the ball are a lot cleaner, and there’s more movement off the ball, then things click more.”
So why might the 4-3-3 yield better results for the U.S. now? It comes down to a combination of factors, from strong personnel well-equipped to fit into the system, to the fact that Klinsmann is playing several players in positions they naturally prefer, but haven’t necessarily played regularly in the past.
Bedoya and Bradley fit that bill. Bedoya has spent much of his time with the U.S. playing on the wing despite spending more time in central roles for his club teams. He has stated repeatedly in recent weeks that he prefers playing in central midfield, and his two-assist showing in Saturday’s 4-0 win against Bolivia showed a player who can be effective playing in the middle of the field.
Klinsmann’s fascination with trying to make Bradley a playmaker has been well documented, and Bradley’s struggles with that role at the 2014 World Cup won’t soon be forgotten. One role we really hadn’t seen Klinsmann assign Bradley is as a lone defensive midfielder, a deep-lying role the manager has preferred Kyle Beckerman for when he has used it. Something has changed though, and now Klinsmann has come around to the idea of playing Bradley in that deep role. The Toronto FC man has responded with some excellent performances.
As Klinsmann noted, having some wide options who can pressure defenses and press defensively is also beneficial to the new system. Bobby Wood enters Copa America riding a wave of supreme confidence after a strong season with Union Berlin. Zardes, though still the subject of some criticism for the occasional wayward touch, has clearly grown as a player and gives the U.S. the kind of two-way work as a wide forward that can make a 4-3-3 work well.
Throw in the presence of two fast and defensively sound fullbacks in Fabian Johnson and DeAndre Yedlin, and you have the ingredients for an effective, and potentially dangerous 4-3-3 that can punish teams offensively, and squeeze them defensively.
That is clearly what Klinsmann is hoping to see on Friday against Colombia. After the win against Bolivia, Klinsmann hinted that part of the motivation for the new system was to help the team better match up against the Colombians. The reality is it might just wind up being the best system for the U.S. for the foreseeable future, regardless of opponent.