Photo by Howard C. Smith/ISIphotos.com
By AVI CREDITOR
Ever since the World Cup, the script for Bob Bradley has been relatively the same.
Experiment with a five-man midfield. Revert to the more customary 4-4-2 formation for the second half. Watch the team's fortunes improve.
After starting with Michael Bradley and Jermaine Jones in holding roles and Maurice Edu in an advanced attacking role, Bob Bradley subbed off Jones at halftime for Juan Agudelo, pairing the New York Red Bull with Jozy Altidore up top.
The result was a more balanced second half in which the Americans maintained more possession, managed an equalizer and fought off Argentina's waves of attacks in a more efficient manner.
"When you look at the way they play, they don't only have four or five guys in the midfield," said Landon Donovan, who put in a bunch of time providing defensive cover throughout the night. "Sometimes they have six or seven. Sometimes a centerback comes into the midfield and plays. Their forwards are rarely up high, so they've got guys running all over the midfield. The idea was to make sure we had enough numbers in there to counter that."
The United States had plenty of numbers in the midfield and in the back, often having as many as eight players in the box, with Donovan acting as a makeshift fullback at times.
It didn't seem to matter.
Lionel Messi, Angel di Maria and Ezequiel Lavezzi had their way in getting forward, picking apart the U.S. defense while the hosts looked to steal and dump as opposed to securing possession.
Michael Bradley, Jones and Edu struggled to maintain shape in the center while feeling out their roles. Despite Jones having relative success and being the catalyst for the most dangerous counterattack the team had in the first half, the coaching staff recognized the need for a second forward to help bail out the defenders who were playing long balls to empty space scores of yards down the field.
"We didn't have enough going forward in the first half," Donovan said. "The change to bring Juan on was very good, and it gave us an opportunity to finally get out of our defensive end when we did have to play some balls forward."
With the four-man midfield, spacing was more even, midfielders and defenders had a better idea of where to position themselves on the field, and a more productive 45 minutes was the end result.
Even so, Bob Bradley didn't seem to hint that a permanent change to a 4-4-2 was in the cards, and he suggest that he's still into seeing the Bradley-Edu-Jones triumvirate through for a bit longer.
"Sometimes we're going to need to go in between both of those (formations)," left back and captain Carlos Bocanegra said. 'We started with a 4-5-1, a version of it anyway, then we went back to little bit more of a 4-4-2 in the second half, and it seemed like we had a few more outlets up front. We need to have the ability to bounce between both of those."
Added Altidore: "I think just for our team in general, whoever is playing up front, I think 4-4-2 we work better, but we've got to try different things, because I think we have a lot of very talented midfielders, so you've got to try and get everybody on the field."
Which formation would you rather see for the USMNT, 4-4-2 or 4-5-1? Do you think Bradley should stick with one or continue to experiment?
Share your thoughts below.