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U.S. Men's National Team

Formation change backfires in USMNT loss to Mexico

Photo by Trevor Ruszkowski/USA TODAY Sports

Photo by Trevor Ruszkowski/USA TODAY Sports

Jurgen Klinsmann opted for a calculated risk. Throughout the most recent World Cup qualifying cycle, the U.S. Men’s National Team has played in a typical four-at-the-back set, relying on conventional wisdom and continuity to guide them through many a game against difficult competition.

On Friday, Klinsmann chose a new look, and it backfired. Badly.

The USMNT emerged in a 3-4-3 formation on Friday night, and took an immediate battering from rivals Mexico in an eventual 2-1 defeat. Throughout a disaster of a first half, the U.S. conceded chance after chance, and was quite fortunate to head back to the locker room down just one goal. It was a tactical bloodbath, one that prompted a chance quickly when it became very apparent that things had gone wrong.

Somehow, the damage wasn’t quite done, at least not at the time. Bobby Wood’s finish early in the second half canceled out Miguel Layun’s opener, giving the U.S. what appeared to be a potential point. Rafa Marquez’s late winner snatched that away, but it was easy to see that the USMNT’s poor start was just as damning as their late-game mishap.

“We started the game in a 3-4-3 with Christian Pulisic having the freedom to roam with two strikers up front,” Klinsmann said. “We trained that and it went really well in training, but the key in that system is that your center midfielders need to get into these one-against-one battles. It’s something that was not happening in the first 25-30 minutes. No Michael Bradley or no Jermaine getting into these battles and their players could roam and that gives you difficulties. That gave them chances.

“We changed it back because we train different systems and we have that always available. They calmed down the situation and I think the second half was really good. If you go back to set pieces, we had our set pieces, especially with Omar’s open header which could have been easily a goal. They scored two minutes before the end of the game, and that’s the way it goes.”

According to Klinsmann, the tactical change was not something done to counter Mexico’s own setup. The USMNT boss insists that the U.S. was prepared for what they offered, but felt that, given the pieces in camp, the three-at-the-back choice was a fitting one.

Just moments in, it became very obvious that it wasn’t. Defenders seem confused, not quite sure where to be marking. Midfielders failed to leap into the passing lanes, allowing Mexico free rein in the attack. All in all, it was a failed risk, one that left the U.S. with a mountain to climb early.

Klinsmann says it’s a system that may be seen again in the future. The formation gives Pulisic room to roam, allowing the young playmaker to truly test the opposition’s backline from the left, right or center. Jozy Altidore, who had an assist on the USMNT’s lone goal, was also a fan of the setup, even if it didn’t work well on the night.

“I thought it was a good formation for us three up front, but maybe not the whole team at the back,” Altidore said. “In the second half, we moved to something we were a bit more familiar with and I thought we dominated the game. I thought the second half was ours, but it just takes one second at this level.

“I think what happened for the first half was that we were up for the fight and tried something a little bit different and we just came out a little bit timid. I thought the second half was phenomenal. The effort, the soccer we played. One minute, at this level, if you switch off, you get punished.”

That punishment leaves the USMNT with less wiggle room heading into Tuesday’s clash with Costa Rica. Just one game into the Hexagonal stage, the U.S. is now chasing.

With that in mind, Klinsmann says there were positives to takeaway from Friday, even if the tactics and the play that followed certainly wasn’t one of them. It was a mistake, one that cost the U.S. dearly, but it’s also one they will hope not to make down the line.

“The second half was outstanding. The only thing that was missing was a couple of goals,” Klinsmann said. “It could have gone either way. At the end, it went their way, but overall it was an intense, exciting, good quality battle, and now it puts us on our toes going to Costa Rica and heading there for three points.

“There’s nothing that I can complain about towards the team. They gave everything they had and we kept the tempo high. We had enough chances to put it away. It’s as simple as that, but we didn’t.”

40 comments
  • Mo

    Thanks Klinsmann, Thanks Trump. Not to worry folks – Bob Bradley will be available for hire real soon

    Like

  • Boob Bradley

    Omar G was the worst player on the field. Im not saying he is a spy for Mexico, but he is.

    Like

  • Grande Sudamerica

    Breaking news!! Donald Trump is hiring Jose Mourinho as secretary of state to build a wall around the US goal for the remaining qualifier games

    Like

    • MiamiAl

      Three players I wouldn’t even have on the team, much less on the bench, are Michael Bradley (who can’t pass or handle a set piece worth a damm) Tim Howard and Brad Guzan.Sticking with those three players will ultimately lead Klinsmann to be sacked.

      Like

    • MiamiAl

      Sorry didnt mean to put my comment under yours..But also agree with you, this site is for soccer and not politic

      Like

  • out with old

    I don’t think any formation s will work if the center midfielders get abused over and over against quality opponents

    Like

    • JK

      .How dare you!!!!!!!!!!! Mexico is not quality. And if you think so, you are not very intelligent. I screwed up again like always: putting the wrong formation, making wrong substitutions starting old farts like M. Bradley. I need to be fired.

      Like

  • Joe

    I’m all for trying new tactics that seem to fit the team you have. But trying them for the first time aganist Mexico in the Hex is madness. Howbout trying them with the EXACT SAME PLAYERS in a friendly or two before asking those players to make things happen in the biggest game of the Hex. Crazy

    Liked by 1 person

    • Citronomics

      Nah. Why bring common sense planning into the WC preparations now when there is no accountability for constant formation and lineup tinkering.

      Like

    • bottlcaps

      Agree wholeheartedly!! Trotting out a new formation, with only a few days training, against Mexico, in one of the most important qualifying matches of the year, speak to Klinsmann’s hubris, much less his tactical or strategic acumen. The US now has to WIN two of its away games in the Hex to return to the “status quo” of winning at home and drawing on the road to accumulate the same number of points, as a path to the top of the Hexagonal.

      Liked by 1 person

  • Ivan

    Last night was Obamas fault for letting in all those bad hombres in ‘Murica, especially the 2 who scored the goals! President Trump would never let that happen!!He will bring Dos A Cero back again, this was part of his election promise, actually…

    Like

    • bottlcaps

      Actually the Donald will be quite cross with Herr Klinsmann if he screws up the USMNT qualifying for Russia, where most likely Putin will be waiting with to greet the US team at the new Moscow Trump Towers.

      Like

  • Ivan

    Beyond the obnoxious political jokes, it was a high tempo and a highly entertaining game to watch; better team on the night won; bad timing for Klinsman to tinker with formation, game should have been over after 45 mins…Pulisic – what a talent…could the US have its first genuinely world class player? Kid is only 18…

    Like

    • Only Results Matter

      The only think that matters is winning. Especially against Mexico. I can’t care less if we bunker and have one chance and win 1:0. All this entertainment gives nothing with 0 points. Now if we get the same in CR we will be fighting for the 4th place and it’s not obvious we can beat the Asian team. Then it would long 4 years. Simply disaster.

      Like

  • SilverRey

    I can see what Klinsmann was trying to do to start the game but there were huge gaps between the front line and back line in the first half and nobody was stepping to the ball. The ‘master tactician’ strikes again.

    Pulisic was a wonder to watch in the first half, but as soon as we switched back to 442 he got lost. There was no connection between him and Besler, and for some reason we kept trying to make Chandler the starting point of our offense. The ball never got back over to the left again.

    Like

    • slowleftarm

      Agree – Pulisic was much more of an influence in the first half but the overall performance in the first half, in the new formation being used for the first time by JK, was dreadful. We were lucky not to be down 3-0 at halftime. In the second half we were on top although Pulisic was not as influential. A draw would have been a good result given the performance.

      Like

      • wazzzup

        While I agree, Mexico also flooded his side whenever he had the ball in the second half. Tough to be influential with 3-4 players swarming you. Shows the amount of respect they displayed for his talent during their halftime speech.

        Liked by 1 person

  • slowleftarm

    USMNT continues to go backwards under the clueless one. Hopefully we can qualify for Russia despite him. At least this cycle fourth place means a playoff against the AFC team and not a CONMEBOL side. That may become important.

    Like

    • CU24

      One game in, against the best Mexican team in years and you are already putting into question our ability to qualify…

      Like

  • Rob

    First half formation had nothing to do with the second half loss. That’s just ignoring the facts.

    Like

  • Lance Williams

    If USA don’t get a point in Costa Rica it SHOULD cost Klinsmann his job. Going to a three back set for the first time prior to a huge game is hubris at best.

    Like

  • Chris the LSU tiger

    First home loss to Mexico in qualifying in over 40 years. I’ll start blaming the players when they are actually given a framework within which they can succeed. No tactics, poor positioning, new formation, and it’s no surprise that we lose a game we normally win. Has our talent pool decreased? No, it has not. The coach is the difference maker, and my what a difference he has made! I swear if anyone here is still a fan of Klinsmann they must have the worst case of Stockholm syndrome ever reported.

    Liked by 1 person

    • CU24

      I mean when your “best” player and captain gives the ball to the other team every other pass, there’s only so much you can do. While I don’t particularly like Klinnsman, tell me what manager would be able to do more with what he has. Folks we this player pool is the weakest we’ve had in years. Outside of wood, pulisic, Johnson and Brooks, there’s not a lot there.

      Like

  • Jack

    I think we’re really going to struggle much the way Mexico did in the last Hex. I feel like we are a talented team but have fewer ideas and a real lack of an identity right now.

    Like

  • Benjamin C.

    If Pulisic is going to be deployed on the wing, he needs an outside back behind that is at least a threat to overlap and get into the attack, to either distract or drag defensive players away from him, or allow him to punish the opposition for concentrating so much on him individually. Besler isn’t that guy. I felt, in a couple of earlier games, that when Fabian was at LB, Pulisic was on the left wing, and Sasha was an attacking mid, those three combined to torch the opposing defense (though it was admittedly against weaker opponents than Mexico). I doubt Jurgen trusts his own players enough to do that in the Hex, and I would suspect the players realize they have a coach that doesn’t fully believe in them: he trots out a formation that they are not used to because he thinks he is the star and will make all the difference, not them, and starts two defensive midfielders in Jones and Bradley, neither of which can hold possession consistently at this point in their careers, and which have never particularly worked well together. When the attacking talent that we have in Jozy, Wood, Pulisic, and Johnson started showing some belief in themselves in the second, chances were created. Finally, inserting someone like Sasha or Gooch or Green, someone attack minded, instead of Orozco at the end would have sent a message to the team that they are going for three points, and what happened in the first half (or even a few minutes earlier when Chicharito almost scored) no longer matters, let’s win this one. Instead, he made a like for like sub that made little sense and showed a sense of fear concerning his team that Jurgen always has had and still possesses in big games.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Bryan

      To be fair on the Orozco sub, Besler was clearly cramping up and looked like he could leak a goal.

      Like

      • AMPhibian

        Why not move Fabian over there and bring Yedlin (who was also a bad sub at RM in my opinion) back to cover RB? I think Bedoya or Green should’ve come on for Chandler instead of Yedlin.

        Like

      • Benjamin C.

        Theoretically, if the team had wanted to ‘go for it’, you could have slid Johnson to LB and inserted Green (which I can understand would have been risky) as a winger or Sasha as an a-mid, pushed Wood a little more wide, and gone to a 4-3-3 (which also has it’s risks in switching formations that late and for a second time).

        Like

      • Amru

        Yeah my question is if Besler wasn’t 90 mins fit why was he given the start in the first place? Jones was a total non factor the last 20 mins as well and the game was begging for Kljestan to sub in. That way even if you concede (which happened anyway) at least you have another attack minded player on the field

        Like

  • Hot Karl

    Are we just all going to ignore the fact that Michael Bradley was horrible in both formations? I know he’s the captain, and he has had a good run, but starting with the 2014 World Cup he always plays terribly in big games. He either disappears or turns the ball over entirely too much in games that matter. Last night when he wasn’t invisible he was turning the ball over. I’m not saying he’s done, but I think it’s time to put him on the bench for one game or start subbing him off to light a fire under him.

    Like

  • Ronniet

    I have been culpable in the past for blaming JK for team loses, etc but I can’t put this one on him. Yes, the 3-4-3 might have been a bit aggressive considering the time frame we had to implement it but at some point we have to star putting more of the onus the players. The midfield was overrun and Bradley needs to be sat to prove a point. His inability to competently maintain possession of the ball after stealing the ball away before that first goal was almost the equivalent of the Portugal game when he turned it over and it resulted in s goal. The turnovers are a thing with him now and anybody who thinks he hasn’t regressed on this level is blind. I will never know why it is that Gonzalez cannot complete a basic pass out of the back, you would have thought that part of his game would have improved in Mexico so to me he is a liability if that is what Jurgen expects from our CB’s(which he does). No matter what formation we are put into the posters have to do their jobs and Friday nights first half our group didn’t do what they needed to do, it’s really that simple in my opinion.

    Like

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