photo by John Todd/ISIphotos.com
By FRANCO PANIZO
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Figuring out how to get Michael Bradley, Jermaine Jones and Maurice Edu all on the field at the same time for the U.S. men's national team has proven difficult in the past given their similar playing styles. But head coach Jurgen Klinsmann may have found the solution.
Klinsmann deployed a 4-3-3 formation in the United States' 5-1 win over Scotland at EverBank Field on Saturday night, one in which Edu sat behind Bradley and Jones. And the result was clear to see. The trio of central midfielders dominated a game together for the first time, with Edu helping serving as a blanket in front of the defense while Bradley and Jones got more involved in the attack.
"We worked on that over the last 10 days in training a lot to see how can we kind of get the best out of these guys that are in their club teams really exceptional players but they play really similar positions," said Klinsmann. "And we came up with that in that little scrimmage we had the other day, and it gives us options then playing Landon (Donovan) wide, or giving more freedom actually to go all over the field, as well as a left position player, which was Jose (Torres) tonight.
"If everybody understands his role, and I think Maurice he had more of the job of a No. 6, kind of in front of the two centerbacks to clean things up there and make sure nothing goes through there," Klinsmann added. "Meanwhile, Jermaine and Michael both have the qualities to go forward and they're dangerous going into the box and they love to do that. In the past that was sometimes a bit tricky because when they both only played together and there was no Maurice, then they left some holes behind. Now there was Maurice today and he kept things in order and gave them a bit more freedom. I think it worked out really well."
That it did. Jones and Bradley got involved in the attack constantly and combined with one another often and early, even doing so in the build up to Donovan's third-minute goal. Bradley one-timed a pass to Jones, who quickly fed a streaking Donovan inside the penalty area.
Then Bradley hit a game-winning goal in the 11th minute on a volleyed effort from distance that some circles are saying is the best by a U.S. men's national team player in some time.
"The guy who makes it for me is Jermaine," said Bradley. "Sometimes that ball goes into guys and they're trying to turn or maybe make a play that is too hard for them. He did well just to see that I was moving off of him and laid a perfect ball back and I caught it well. It was a nice little goal.
It was more of the same in the second half. Jones and Bradley played a quick give-and-go at the hour mark that resulted in Donovan's second goal of the game, and Bradley assisted on another Donovan goal five minutes later before Jones headed home a Donovan cross for his second goal for the U.S. team in the 70th minute.
"I think we forget how good (Bradley and Jones) can be when they do go forward, sometimes they like to be a little more comfortable and stay a little deeper, but tonight they really went out on a limb a little bit and took some chances and it came off great," said Donovan. "I thought they were both fantastic and Mo did a great job behind them of cleaning everything up."
The way the trio of central midfielders played against Scotland was a far cry from how they performed in their first match together in March 2011 in a 1-1 draw with Argentina. In that match it was clear Edu, Jones and Bradley did not have the best understanding of how to play off of each other, though to their credit they were going up against Argentina's talented midfielders.
Still, the understanding between them is much improved now and that was clear to see in the three-man midfield Klinsmann deployed against Scotland.
"The more you play consistently together in a similar role obviously you're going to start to learn each other's tendencies and different things that you guys like to do," said Edu. "How you move off the ball and different things like that, and we're similar players so we can kind of play those three positions interchangeably a little bit. But today I thought we did pretty well."