Deutschland Bound (Part II)
Moving on, welcome to Part II of "Deutschland Bound". In this episode, I posed two question to Hile and myself:
1 - "If you were Bruce Arena, what formation would you use for the '06 World cup, and why?"
2 - "In that same formation, who would your starting 11 be?"
Up first, Hile's thoughts:
This is much harder than in recent years. The increase in the talent pool has allowed Bruce Arena to utilize various formations, many of which could be effective. While I believe that the best formation for our team would be a 3-5-2, I believe that we will spend most of our time in the 4-4-2. It has been Bruce's preferred formation since he took over as coach and most of our European-based players are in England and Germany, countries where the 4-4-2 dominates.
I also believe that the 4-4-2 will be our best option against the teams we face. Against the Czech Republic, a 3-5-2 would give Nedved far too much room to wreak havoc on the wings. Italian teams have struggled strongly against English teams inEuropean competition and the Italian catenaccio defense is strong up the middle but susceptible to attacks up the wing. African squads like Ghana frequently have trouble with well organized teams that are equally athletic.
That being said, Arena has the options to tweak the system to what we need. He will not hesitate to make changes based on the matchups and has proved extremely capable at that in the past. Without thinking about matchups, injuries, yellow cards, etc., this is what I believe will be the US starting lineup for the World Cup.
[Note: Reyna/O'Brien means whichever one of the two is healthy... which might be a long shot]
I feel there a 3 different formations that should be considered here, and then I'll explain my favorite and why. The formations are the 3-5-2, the 4-4-2, and the 4-3-3.
The 3-5-2 (perfected by the Hope College Flying Dutchmen, by the way) strength lies in it's midfield. With two defensive center midfielders, an attacking center midfielder, and two wingers placed wide, the US would almost certainly control the midfield of every game. The weaknesses are that there are only 3 defenders, and all 3 of those defenders have to be 1) excellent ballwinner, 2) excellent readers of the game, and 3) excellent distributors of the ball out of the back. I think we're 2/3 of the way there with Onyewu and Gibbs, but we don't have that third piece, therefore I don't think it would work.
The 4-4-2 is the most popular formation in the world. It's strenghts are that it's balanced, you're not too defensive, not too offensive, and have a good amount of players in the middle. This is what we'll most likely run, however I'm opposed to this because it's boring. It's average. I'm looking for something with more flair, something that will make other teams say "oh shit, how do we stop this."
That brings us to the 4-3-3. This is my deravation of the formation: Flat 4 in the back, with the two center backs being more man-marking backs than anything else, and covering for one-another. The outside backs play ahead of them, and they defend when they have to, but on offense they get involved in the attack, and they get WIDE. In the midfield, I like all 3 players to be in the center, with no outside midfielders. Play with 1 holding center midfielder (who is basically a glorified stopper), and 2 attacking center midfielders (one predominantly left, one predominantly right). Up top, you play with 3 forwards. One central, pressed as far forward as the other team will let you, and he acts as a target man and a ball-winner. The other forwards again play WIDE, and play a little withdrawn. The team gets it's width from it's outside backs and outside forwards... the backs get forward on offense as much as possible, and the forwards track back to cover opposing teams outside midfielders.
First I'll tell you who my starters will be, then I'll give you justification for it.
In the back: Onyewu and Gibbs are no-brainers at center back. I like Lewis on the left because he is a natural left-footed left-midfielder, so getting forward with the ball won't be a problem. Stevie C. has also shown the ability to get forward, most notably against Poland and Japan, where he was causing absolute havoc running forward. Plus they can both defend when they need to.
Midfield: I love Pablo Mastroeni as a holding center midfielder in this formation. He will play very defensive minded, probably mark the opposing teams attacking center midfielder, and generally clog up that area of the pitch. He's strong on the tackle, and a great ball-winner in the air. He won't be called upon a lot to get into the attack, just distribute the ball to his outside backs, outside forwards, or fellow center midfielders.
As far as the other two midfielders go, I have both Reyna and O'Brien in there. This of course is assuming both are healthy, which is a possibility, but not probable. I think both Captain America and JOB are our two most creative players, and they both have the ability to change the game. They will get into the attack often, shooting through the gaps between our center forward and our outside forwards. They can distribute the ball, make things happen, take players on 1 on 1, combine with the fowards, and finish. They will both be keyin this formation. If either one of them is hurt (which is likely), I like bringing in Clint Dempsey, and letting him be as creative as he wants in that role. He can get forward well, and, along with Beasley, is our best player at taking opposing players on 1 on 1.
Forwards: McBride is the obvious target man. He's strong, he wins balls in the air, he can hold the ball up, and he can finish. End of argument. (If he gets injured, Taylor Twellman is actually a very good reserve to bring in).
On the left I like DeMarcus Beasley, and I think this would be the ideal position for him. First of all, he's used to playing this position with his club PSV Eindhoven, where he has been very successful. Play the ball into space, and he can run onto it and get behind the defense. Play the ball to his feet and he has the ability to put in great service with his left foot, or to take players 1 on 1 and run at the defense. He has also shown the ability to combine well with O'Brien (WC '02) and McBride. Having him out wide as well means he would have more space to work with, and his blistering pace great foot skills would just kill other teams.
On the right I like Landon Donovan, and here's why: I think when he's in the center of the field and the focal point for the US, he wilts (A la Fred Bergman). He doesn't perform well in the spotlight, and when he has to be the teams leader and controller of the games pace and playmaking, he struggles. I think he puts too much pressure on himself to perform, and ends up trying to do too mcuh, which turns out to be detrimental to the team.
I made this argument about a month ago, but Liverpool has done exactly the same thing with Steven Gerrard, with unbelievable results. Gerrard is arguably their best player, but started struggling when he had to be THE playmaker in the center of the field. Rafa Benitez saw this, and asked Gerrard to move to an outside midfield position, and they haven't gone back since. Gerrard is still the most dangerous player on the field, but he doesn't have to be involved in every play. The same would work brilliantly for Donovan. He's the best server of the ball on the team, and his crosses are deadly. Having him out on the wing lets him be able to serve that bending ball to the back post where McBride / Beasley / O'Brien / Reyna will be waiting. He can also beat his player down the wing, or bring the ball central and take on defenders that way. Plus he will have plenty of options in the box to score. (For the record, if we end up playing a 4-4-2 like Hile suggests, I'd still like to see Donovan on the right, Beasley on the left, and Mastroeni and O'Brien/Reyna in the center).
As always, feel free to post your thoughts and comments in the comment section. If you can't get it to work, email it to us and we'll post it for you... you noobs.