Thomas Rongen changed half his team, but stuck with his formation, and a decision that started out looking like it might be a stubborn mistake wound up being a smart move that has the U.S. Under-20 national team in great shape at the Under-20 World Cup.
The Americans trotted out a 4-3-3 formation for the second straight match, doing so despite the same formation being largely ineffective in a 3-0 loss to Germany. Rongen saw something in the match-up against Cameroon that suggested to him that he needed to stick with three forwards and the result was a 4-1 thumping against a highly-regarded Cameroon side.
It didn't start out looking like a smart move, not as the United States struggled through the first 40 minutes of the match, but when midfielder Bryan Arguez scored the match's first goal just before halftime, the dynamic of the match changed and the opportunity for Rongen's 4-3-3 to shine presented itself.
How so? Cameroon came out in the second half eager to equalize and got caught overstretched and exposed to a counter, which Dilly Duka was able to exploit with the U.S. team's second goal. That became a theme for the second half, with Cameroon attacking and creating build-ups, and the Americans countering with their three forwards (and Duka's creativity) and applying heavy pressure on the African team's defense.
If the U.S. team had sat back and bunkered, Cameroon would have created even more chances and would have likely made it a much closer game, but the U.S. attack kept pushing even with a lead, a formula that led to two more goals and a USA romp.
Despite the result, the U.S. team shouldn't be fooled into thinking that approach will work against everybody. A team with a bit more patience, better finishers and defensive discipline could have done a much better job of exploiting the U.S. team's weaknesses. A team like South Korea, the U.S. team's next opponent.
With that in mind, Will Rongen stick with the 4-3-3 against South Korea, a team that also employs a three-forward attack? The impressive performances of some of his midfielders could force Rongen to seriously consider switching to a 4-4-2. If he did, Rongen could play the midfield combination of Dilly Duka, Mikkel Diskerud, Jared Jeffrey and Bryan Arguez.
Duka certainly showed enough play-making ability vs. Cameroon to retain his starting job, and Arguez showed for a second game that he is the team's best defensive midfield option, but Diskerud is a creative player who could work well with that midfield grouping. He never really stood a chance to show his qualities playing in the team's opening match, playing in a three-man midfield against Germany's five-man midfield, a match-up that stifled the U.S. team's offense and rendered Diskerud largely invisible.
Rongen will have much tougher lineup decisions to make for Friday's match than for the Cameroon match, but one advantage his team will enjoy, regardless of lineup and formation, is the confidence the squad is riding heading into the match vs. South Korea. The team could have folded against Cameroon after almost a game and a half of goal-less soccer, but instead of folding it flourished and now Rongen and his team have a chance to show that the team we saw dispose of Cameroon is a much more true reflection of this U.S. Under-20 team than the team we saw get rolled by Germany.
What did you think of the U.S. team's performance on Tuesday? Still worried about the number of chances being given up? Is Dilly Duka your new favorite player? Think the team will advance to the second round?
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