U.S. Men's National Team

Tactical formation switch changes USMNT's fortunes against Argentina


Photo by Howard C. Smith/ISIphotos.com


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.

  • wichin

    As anyone will tell you, anyone can win a game. But if we play back all the time, how are we going to work on our skills that we need to improve on. IT’S A FRIENDLY!!!!! Take your chances, learn, explore and progress!!!!


  • Benjamin

    Lots of people have considered this, actually. But since the last meaningful games the U.S. played were in the World Cup, and Bradley was one of the primary reasons the team advanced as far as it did, I am not ready to give up on him just yet. It would admittedly be nice if he started getting minutes with Villa, though.


  • GW

    “But here’s something for people to think about: for all of 2009 and 2010, the USNT was one that consistently (and against almost all types of competition on the road and at home) gave up early goals. ”

    I guess that depends on how you look at it.

    In 2009, excluding the Gold Cup ( as B team excercise), the US played fifteen competitive matches ( WC qualifying and Confed Cup).

    The opposition scored in the first half in six of those games. The opposition

    (including teams such as Brazil,Spain,Italy, Mexico and Egypt) did not score in the first half in nine of those games.

    In 2010 the only competitive matches for the US were the World Cup where the US gave up goals in the first half in three of the four World Cup games.

    I’ll agree being overrun in midfield doen’t help but mostly in 2010 Demerit and Gooch did not recover sufficiently from their injuries and Howard had a poor World Cup.

    That is the core of the defense, not easily replaced.


  • GW

    I’ll bet the guys who were covering Altidore weren’t draft choices out of Akron.

    Give Argentina’s defenders a little credit, they knew exactly what they were doing.

    And if you want a sporting American cliche, this is a 90 minute game not a 45 minute one, so Jozy figured it out in the end, which is what forwards are supposed to do.


  • GW

    Last year guys like you were blasting Bradley for sticking with his tried and true 4-4-2.

    You were all calling for 4-2-3-1 because Stuart Holden had to be fit in and we had so many quality midfielders.


  • GW

    Because you forget Argentina, like any team, can only sustain that kind of massive wave attack for so long, then they get tired. They only had one sub in the 73rd minute. We made two good ones who provided passing outlets. Bet you didn’t think BB could spell sub did you?

    Ever hear of rope a dope?


  • GW

    You are a fan.

    Bradley is paid to be a cold hard eyed realist. A great attacking lineup that loses 5-2 probably doesn’t impress anyone, doen’t really move this program forward. Ever hear the expression 90 minute game? Ever hear of rope a dope?

    Have you ever heard of General Robert E.Lee?

    He had the same thoughts as you do leading up to Pickett’s charge at Gettyburg. Later on he thought better of it.


  • GW

    Does it matter to you that it’s a 90 minute game and after 45 minutes the game changes a bit?

    Has it occurred to you the second half gains were won by the first half’s hard work? That maybe we actually wore those guys down and softened them up? US players are renowned for their fitness you know;it’s Holden’s strongest point.

    They made only one sub in the 73rd minute.

    Think about it.


  • Stephen

    I completely agree, although I think Edu looked more lost than Jones, mainly because he was playing out of position.


  • AdamFromMich

    I call BS on this. The German national team played counter attacking football through much of the World Cup, especially against better teams. No team plays in a vacuum.


  • Joe Patrick

    I think we need to continue with the transformation to a 4-2-3-1 for the following reasons:

    This is the first step towards the end goal which takes place in 3.5 years. That means we should use this time to prepare and mold our squad. While Edu may not be top quality right now, we will need him to play a large role in 2014. While Jozy might be struggling playing as the lone front man now, we need him to get comfortable in that role. Did anyone really expect us to come out and pass it around Argentina with our fancy new five-man midfield? Of course not. There will be kinks in the system, but if we are to progress as a country, We have to be able to play in different capacities.

    Obviously we miss Holden, but I actually think he would be better as one of the defensive mids in our system than the CAM. He would help us keep better possession and build better from the back. With him missing, I would’ve liked/would like to see Donovan in that role. He is creative enough to pick out other attacking options, and I thought he needed to be on the ball more in general than he was vs. Argentina.

    I think people are overreacting in general to this game. Stick the course with the more progressive formation. Like Garth says in Wayne’s World describing a new pair of underwear: “At first it’s constrictive, but after a while it becomes a part of you.”


  • Eddie

    Yes, we wore them out. They were so tired from having to touch the ball so often during the first half.


  • Eddie

    I’m sorry, did you watch the match? Landon looked like a wingback the whole first half. Argentina spent the whole first half parked in the US’ half of the field. Except for one, possible two counter attacks, the US couldn’t even get the ball anywhere near their 18 yard box.

    Rope a dope? That’s hilarious, because that was the exact phrase people in our section were making while trying to laugh off the US’ horrible first half.

    It’s a friendly. I wanted to see more positive soccer. I got that in the second half and went home happy with the draw.


  • beachbum

    the game changed when both DeMerit and Chandler started to play calm balls out of the back…did not happen at all in the first half. Most surprised by this development? The Argentines, who almost took an L out of New Jersey at the end.


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