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New-look system and lineup pay off in USMNT win vs. Nigeria

Kyle Beckerman

photo by John Todd/


JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — A day after Jurgen Klinsmann said that too much is made of formational decisions, the U.S. Men’s National Team made a tactical switch that left plenty of people talking.

Klinsmann deployed a 4-3-2-1 formation that transformed fluidly and constantly throughout the course of the Americans’ 2-1 win vs. Nigeria at EverBank Field on Saturday. It would at times look like variations of a 4-4-2, 4-2-3-1 and 4-3-3, but the foundation of the alignment was the defensive play and shape of the three midfielders – Alejandro Bedoya, Kyle Beckerman and Jermaine Jones –  that sat in front of the back four.

Bedoya, Beckerman and Jones were tasked primarily with running all over to close down the gaps that Turkey had exploited so easily in the Americans’ previous friendly, a 2-1 win at Red Bull Arena on June 1. The trio did just that, putting in a solid and blue-collar effort that paid dividends for a U.S. team that is preparing for tough opposition and hot and humid conditions in Brazil.

“We played a 4-3-2-1 today and I think the main job of me, Jermaine and Kyle was pretty much first of all to help the back four, keep it tight,” said Bedoya. “We talked about Nigeria. They have type of players that like to combine through the middle and as long we stay compact in the middle, force them out wide, then that’s what we were going to do.

“That involves a lot of running  between me, Kyle and Jermaine. We shift into one side making sure that we stay compact and then if they switch it (we have) to get back over there, as well as the connections between me and Fabian (Johnson) and Jermaine and (DaMarcus Beasley) at left back. It’s a work in progress, but I think defensively we did pretty well.”

After a rough opening 25 minutes in which head coach Jurgen Klinsmann admitted his side could not keep possession, the U.S. found its footing offensively. Jones played a part in that, drifting wide left when the Americans were in the attack. It was a tactical wrinkle that had not been seen previously, and allowed the veteran midfielder to roam forward and join the attack while also giving him defensive responsibilities that he could not ignore.

On the other flank, Bedoya’s industrious game was on full display. He put in a ton of work on both sides of the ball, was constantly seen harassing Nigerian attackers, found good positions when the U.S. was in the final third, and interchanged with Johnson when the right back pushed forward.

The players that spearheaded the U.S. attack also had a little more freedom than previously seen. Clint Dempsey, Michael Bradley and Jozy Altidore constantly filled in for one another by swapping positions, and that kept Nigeria’s back line guessing while also leaving the Americans organized and with numbers behind the ball when they lost it.

It was the type of unpredictability that Klinsmann had alluded to a day prior, and what he could turn to when the U.S. faces Group G opponents Ghana, Portugal and Germany in Brazil.

“We really didn’t even have a formation,” said centerback Matt Besler. “We just talked about individual responsibilities and we wanted to make sure that we got guys behind the ball and into the right shape as soon as we lost it. For the most part, I thought we did a very, very good job. The guys in front of us got into shape, they were working their butts off tonight. It’s a lot of credit to the entire team defensively for not giving up much at all.”

Another intriguing aspect of Klinsmann’s lineup was that it allowed for both Jones and Beckerman to get on the field together. The general consensus in recent years is that there is only one position for the two of them, but the veteran duo looked to have a good understanding and level of comfort with one another against Nigeria.

That was prevalent on one play in the second half. Beckerman – who sat in and covered behind Jones and Bedoya when the U.S. was in the attack – made a mistake that resulted in a dangerous-looking counterattack for Nigeria. Jones hustled back from an advanced position and wound up clearing the ball out for a corner deep in the Americans’ final third.

“He’s got such a motor, he’s so powerful and he likes to drive and get into the attack,” said Beckerman of Jones. “If I’ve got to sit in there and watch his back, it’s all good. But I know he can cover a ton of ground. Hey, I’m all for it. We can play together. Sounds good.”

Said Jones: “Kyle is there always. He’s there when he has to be there. If the coach needs him, he puts him in and he makes always a good job. This is important and you need in the team and you need 100 percent for the World Cup.”

The fitness that Klinsmann has stressed over the past few weeks was evident vs. the Nigerians, as the U.S. midfielders covered plenty of ground. It also played a part in helping shore up a back line that had not convinced many observers in recent weeks, giving Klinsmann and the Americans plenty of confidence as they head to Brazil for the games that truly matter.

“We’re playing against really good teams and they’re going to have some possession at times,” said Beckerman. “If we can limit their times when they’re dangerous, that’s going to be big for us.

“Tonight, we did a really good job of when they did have some possession, they weren’t too dangerous and then we were able to win the ball at times and really break and get them exposed without some numbers. It was what we worked on and it was good that it came to fruition tonight.”


  1. Good result for the U.S.A but the first 30 minutes was a bit sloppy as for passing and retaining the ball. They must work on that.

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  2. Finally they are playing more compact. I had spread the message over and over about playing compact on defense and offense. The coaches and players now talk about it. I see MLS and USL PRO teams doing it too.

  3. He was also supposed to come up with a plan for player development and like Sunil “jerry jones”Gulati said “Jurgen was the CEO of German Football and that’s what we want him to be here”.
    He sold us on the attacking 4-3-3 and now he realizes that the other coach had it right all along.
    Can’t trust a word this guy says. He is a spin doctor and a liar.
    For 2.5 mil, I don’t want just a win against Ghana and a ‘new” 4-2-3-1 formation.

  4. Good tactical move, but wasn’t Klinsi supposed to bring us attacking football with a Latin influence or some such euphemism? I can’t help but think that if Klinsi had started preparing a 4-3-2-1 right after the draw, we would have been very awesome at it by now. They were very good after one game, think how good they could have been after 2.

  5. +1 again my man. how about that Christmas Tree we sent out there? pretty good stuff. best I’ve seen the US perform under Jurgen

  6. Seems like Klinsmann’s been searching for the right way to get Bradley more into the attack, and he’s finally found a way. The 4-4-2 with Bradley as the top midfielder in the diamond seemed largely aimed at moving Bradley up, but of course it left us to vulnerable on defense. This is an improvement on that.

    Our ability to strike quickly on the counter with Bradley in the lead will worry opponents. I counted 12 full-fledged goal-scoring chances in the second half alone, many of them on the quick counter. If we could finish better, I’d feel we have a good chance of moving to the second round. Should have won 3-1 or 4-1 though.

    • If we play like we played yesterday, and we can finish chances, we are a very dangerous team. And not just for the group opponents. For anyone we play thereafter.

      People are slightly overrating our group opponents and slightly underrating the US squad.

      I’ve watched a lot of these friendlies on espn3 and BeIn — There are very few sides that looked as dangerous as we did yesterday (and usually against inferior competition).

      • Yea what I liked was the way we those lanes opened up in the 2nd half..but inside the final 25-30 yards we gotta be better.. iron that out and we have a legit shot at this group..

  7. Not that the formation is really all that important in the grand scheme of things but i feel the 4-2-3-1 ,with Beckerman and Jones holding, offers this team the best balance. We won’t be dictating much possession so being efficient on the counter is a must. How we defend as a unit when an outside back is pushed up will also determine how far we make it

    • STFU already. You change your positions after every game and pretend to know what you are saying. Today you say that Beck and Jones together work just because the game was won. But, next week when we get our a$$e$ handed by Ghana, you’ll criticize it just the same, maybe under one of your many aliases.

  8. Have to admit not as worried about the WC as much, think we can do it, will take hard work, but it is do able. Still wish LD was going. Still makes no logical sense why he got left off.

    • He was left off so that he could help the Galaxy grind out 1-1 ties again those international heavyeights, Chivas USA.

  9. It was nice to see how we played, but it was just one game. The team and the fans need to keep that in mind. The real test will be a week from Monday. I hope we come out and play hungry! Go USA!

    • “but it was just one game.”

      And that’s the point really. Ghana is just one game. Portugal is just one game . Germany is just one game.

      Win two out of three and they are in. Not easy but doable.

  10. Very interesting article from Ives on Ives you allowed MB to clarify what professionals think of Altidore and his goal drought. MB and Dempsey are probably the most qualified to speak on the subject since they have played at higher levels than most others(I should include Howard as well.). But Dempsey would probably by biased from a goal scorer’s perspective. MB clearly states that Altidore’s play is worthy of inclusion on the team sheet EVERY TIME OUT. For me that should settle any doubts that the ney-sayers (sp?) could have. But of course it won’t. None the less, I enjoyed all the send off games. Great finish. Can’t wait for Ghana game.

    Thanks for all your work Ives, and the others who contribute! Enjoy it a great deal.

  11. It was a good adjustment from JK and is the way that we can be successful in Brazil.
    How is this any different than what BB did? Absorb pressure and look to counter.

    • When we gained possession under Bradley, far too often we hoofed it to a forward and tried to catch a quick counter.

      Yesterday I saw a team that dispossessed the opposition, then tried to build their own play with short passes through the midfield. I think that is what Jurgen has been trying to instill in the squad, and we can do it better than we did under Bradley.

      • Quick counters has always been our thing. For what we lack in speedy athletic wingers we make up for in CM’s (this cycle) so it only makes sense that build up play would shift. IMO US soccer should not sacrifice efficient counter attacking in the name of slow buildup but rather look to combine the two. We should be preaching flexibility

      • We just had a bad team under Coach Bradley. Findley, Clarke, Gooch, DeMerit and a young Jozy who had no business starting for any WC team. Not to mention Boca playing LB and having Borny as the back up LB. That team just wasn’t a good one

      • Demerit was very good for the U.S. in 2009-2010. He also held his own in the EPL against some great players, so please to put him in the same category as Findley and Clarke. I think talentwise the biggest difference is depth and having Jones alongside MB. Also, Fabian Johnson. But, clearly the team is playing more attractive soccer now and much of that must be attributed to Klinsman.

    • If you can’t tell the difference in the way the team has played under JK from BB’s style, then you’re not paying attention.

    • It isn’t a lot different than BB. And by the way, it isn’t a bad strategy against certain opponents. Defend and counter is different than bunkering. Nigeria wasn’t assaulting us yesterday — we gave them some possession but didn’t allow them the opportunity to be very creative with it. That’s the difference. At the same time, we got forward in numbers in a way that very few bunkering teams can.

      The primary difference in our style now is the extent by which we build an attack forward from the back. Keeping the ball on the ground and moving it quickly.

      I really believe our style right now suits American soccer because it allows us to impose our athleticism and work rate on the game, while still being creative in the final third on the break.

      And yes — this is a style that Landon would excell in. Certainly in the Dempsey role if Clint ever had to come out. Possibly in bedoya’s role as well. I’m not sure any if the guys on the bench can play this system as well as LD. The fact that we are playing well does not excuse the LD omission, it highlights how shortsighted it was.

      • excellent post DCUPedro, thank you

        expect to be called names…fanboy is the favorite put down label used here on SBI

      • Hello fanperson…JK
        DCU/Bum, I’d say on the surface it may not look very different-but we’re seeing a lot of differences.. which goes against Bigredfathead’s narrative, but I agree with your points about the difference between bunker vs. Defend & Counter..that’s well put. As well as playing more out of the back.
        With BB, we played a lot of predictable double pivot empty bucket blah blah blah with our 2 best guys on the wings. A lot of that was our available personnel which is fine.
        Prior to JK, I’d say our 2002 team was a more free flowing complete team (not just the 5 games in the WC)
        The interesting thing to do is listen to the players, not JK or people with large heads, larger egos, and largerer mouths.
        -DMB whose been around has talked about why he sees us differently now, to own your position and express yourself
        -The 3 man midfield dudes said in another interview this morning that this was something they started tinkering with 3-4 days ago (Bedoya doesn’t have the hair to stay in that group..look for Zusi without the hairbun)
        -When sarcastically asked about different styles he sees, Timmy H talked about it being different proactive etc…

        My biggest takeaway is that our “style” is whatever it takes to win.. we’re not Spain or Brazil that plays 4 backs and a myriad of free flowing switching multi-personnel attackers.. but we ain’t playing kickball no more either. (Shhhhhhh, don’t tell Alexi, according to him set pieces are All-American!!)

        I’m stoked at what we saw yesterday..not because it may all comin together.. but because we’re adapting and improving every time the cards look like a 2-7 offsuit…
        So I’m ok with our style being undefined to the outsider if it means our style = whatever it takes to make $h!t happen!!

      • hey Bac, always appreciate your thoughtful reply. I love listening to the players talk about their love for their team and always have. There’s no begrudging Jurgen his accomplishments from me. I think DCUPedro nailed it.

        –Fanperson 🙂

      • Building from the back is really now possible because of the baseline skill level of our newer players (Jones-Besler-FJ-Cameron) to possess. Gooch fanboys take note, and Klinsman pushing the team to do this, despite it being a rough transition.
        Mostly agree about Landon- he could do well in Dempsey’s role and I always saw Dempsey as Donovan’s real competition on the team. If his head was all-in, I think he’d be better than Dempsey there, who I don’t think has been playing great, but he is the captain and his leadership is important to the team. Landon does not have the motor or desire to play Bedoya’s role. Hence, Klinsman correctly put him in competition as the second striker role. Really Dempsey is the anti-Landon and if Landon can’t clearly show and fight out Wondo or AJ in camp, then it’s better that he doesn’t go. He’s would undermine what Klinsman is trying to instill in the squad and the U.S. soccer as a whole.

      • I did not mean workrate when I said “… what Klinsman is trying to instill…” I think it’s about a mentality and accountability.Klinsman said that “character” was also something he was judging the players by and some of the stuff Donovan says, his past actions, and his inability to get the most of the talent he has (cough cough Beckerman, Wondo, Davis). All Donovan had to do was score goals and do what he should do easily in MLS prior to camp, and outplay Wondo or AJ. It seems like he couldn’t do that. No one is entitled. It’s a shame, because I like Donovan’s game and I really think he’d be better in Dempsey’s role but I am ok with him being excluded if I am reading the situation somewhat accurately.

      • “He’s would undermine what Klinsman is trying to instill in the squad and the U.S. soccer as a whole.”

        Perhaps the most ridiculous statement we will all read today

      • Agree with the LD comment. He cannot do the running needed as midfielder. He lost his competition to wondo, aj, jozy and Dempsey.

      • DCUPedro,
        I loved this post. I wrote something in a similar vein on a different thread (did not see this one) and I feel almost ashamed for not responding here. My take is not the same as yours (in many ways I think we disagree) but there is nothing wrong with that. Good problem to have.

        I am really torn on how LD would fit here. On one hand, it seems obvious that a guy with his vision and counter-attacking prowess would have to be valuable. On the other hand, I’m not sure where he would fit. The thing is… the “Dempsey role” you have identified is really the most challenging to describe. His role seems to be part-Bradley, part Altidore. I am seeing Bradley/Altidore/Demspey as a marauding unit , but Clint’s role is not so easy to define in conventional terms as MB/Jozy. I think the correct answer is probably “it doesn’t matter”, but I’m curious how you see it.


    • There isn’t a team in the world that won’t press a counterattack when it presents itself, and that’s what was happening yesterday. You think Spain or Brazil wouldn’t push forward aggressively in the same situations, with the ball already past the opponent’s midfielders and defenders retreating on their heels? That’s just good heads up soccer not a counterattacking “style” – the point of offense is to score goals not accumulate style points.

      When it wasn’t on, we had long sequences of working the ball around, up and back and building up to goal. It was one such possession, about 20 passes covering most of the pitch, culminating in a great chance, that marked the change in flow of the game at about the 23rd minute. Having both arrows in the quiver is the difference vs BB. I rewatched USA’s matches from the 2010 WC last week and it was almost painful to see the one-trick pony of quick counter at every possession.

    • The short answer is that under BB, once we got the ball, we relied more on the long ball. Under Klinsmann, we make fewer long outlet passes to kickstart our offense and when we do, the recipient generally looks to combine with at least one teammate. Under Bradley, we tended to play more “home-run balls” over the top of the defense — sometimes to great effect, sometimes wastefully.

      All but a few teams in the world have to defend and counter sometimes, so the fact that we still play that way isn’t all that remarkable. The main different between Klinsy-ball and Bradley-ball is that Klinsmann has encouraged our players to hold onto the ball once we get it and build our offense slowly. This doesn’t just benefit our offense, which can now create more realistic scoring opportunities, but our defense as well, since it gets an occasional breather from absorbing pressure.

      • Since I know Bradley, I can say for certain that hitting long balls over the top was not his preferred style. At every level he coached at, he pushed his players to make those little combinations and stay connected to support each other. But often the opposing teams dictate what your team can do successfully.

        The difference is now, the players on the USMNT are simply better in a lot of soccer skills than the players of past years were.

        It is unknowable if BB would have done the same, better or worse than JK with the same players, or even if he would have had the same players to dhodr from (Green and FJ and perhaps AJ probably chose to represent the USA because of JK).

        Giving credit where it is due, the players are better. Of course, they are not at the level of Spain, so it is essential that they take care of defense first, that much is still true. Despite JK’s preaching of attack, attack, attack, it is his new found emphasis on defending that has made this team look much more likely to have a chance in the WC. You could argue that he used 4 players , Jones, Beckerman, Bedoya and Bradley who have played as defensive midfielders for large parts of their careers, It was nice to see how well those guys seemed to understand each other. It was also not hard to find times when their defensive positioning was crucial to thwarting Nigeria’s attack(even for Bradley who was nominally the attacking mid). So give credit to JK for realizing that without a strong defense WC success is unlikely and doing something about it.

      • I think it is fair to say that without the successes Arena and Bradley had, the USMNT and US Soccer would not have grown up to the point where it made sense to bring in a Klinsmann and give him the resources he has at his disposal.

      • I’m not entirely sure how much combination play Bradley really encouraged (we’ll have to agree to disagree on that), but it’s worth stopping to clarify that my comment wasn’t a criticism of Bradley. Honestly, I think that Klinsmann built on the foundation that Bradley put in place; without the dependable and active defense that Bradley and Arena built over time, Klinsmann would have had a lot more work to do. I just think that Klinsmann answered the question “OK, we won the ball, now what do we do with it?” and, in so doing, took the team to the next level in terms of attacking ability. Now we have a reasonably reliable team defense and a reasonably potent offense to go with it. Are we world-beaters on either end? No. But we’re certainly a better team because of what both men have done as manager.

    • Johnny D
      “How is this any different than what BB did? Absorb pressure and look to counter.”

      It’s a good question.

      JK has more to work with in every respect than BB did. I would not say BB had anything like the kind of support for his efforts like JK has gotten.

      I would say that JK’s teams are more versatile. As JK is fond of saying you need to be able to shift formations depending on the situation.

      This team has more of an idea on how to transition from defense to attack. BB’s teams did not have much more than the counter. And in Jones, Mikey, Dempsey, Jozy , Fabian and even in the subs like AJ, Mix and Wondo, JK’s team are more sophisticated, versatile and lethal than what BB had.

      And Howard is better than he was.

      And there is more depth. BB loses Davies and it hamstrung the team permanently. JK can afford to leave Donovan home. If that does not tell you everything you need to know about this team’s depth I don’t know what else to tell you.

      If the Nigerian game is any indication they are on their way to playing with the kind of compact shape that JK probably first learned in Italy.

      You could argue that the 2014 edition is not that much more individually talented than the 2010 edition but it does not take too much to make a significant difference. Besides it’s not a question of going down the 11, assigning each man a numerical value and then adding them up.

      That is not how it works.

      It is how they are organized and what the coach asks them to do.

      If you want to know what JK is shooting for and what he means when he talks about maintaining shape and being compact get on You Tube and watch the AC Milan 4-0 slaughter of a supposedly vastly superior Barca in the 1994 European Cup final.
      Capello was the manager but they were basically practicing Arrigo Sacchi’s version of what JK is now preaching. Sacchi always claimed he could beat your unorganized 10 with his organized 5 on a practice field.

  12. A few errant passes from Beckerman, but overall: great to have him back there as a pure #6 to let the other guys roam.

  13. Get over it you Donovan fanboys. Get over it. Let’s move on. his NT career is dead.

    he’s our best player ever and should be given a honorary testimonial but let’s save criticism until the WC is over. he’s not Xavi or Pirlo or Messi or Ronaldo or Zlatan. and since he’s not 1 of those 5, his exclusion shouldn’t be met with such chaos

    • “he’s not Xavi or Pirlo or Messi or Ronaldo or Zlatan” – No, he isn’t. But since he scored more goals than all of them combined in the last World Cup, do you really think he wants to be?

      • Top Goalscorer WC 2010:

        Name // Goals // Penalties // Assists

        1) Thomas Müller // 5 // 0 // 3
        2) David Villa // 5 // 0 // 1
        3) Wesley Sneijder // 5 // 0 // 1
        4) Diego Forlán // 5 // 1 // 1
        5) Gonzalo Higuaín // 4 // 0 // 0
        6) Róbert Vittek // 4 // 1 // 0
        7) Miroslav Klose // 4 // 0 // 0
        8) Luis Alberto Suárez Díaz // 3 // 0 // 2
        9) Landon Donovan // 3 // 1 // 0

      • No, Brian meant “Xavi or Pirlo or Messi or Ronaldo or Zlatan”, as referenced in the O.P., and Ann provided the supporting data. Thank you, Ann.

    • Hollister atcha boi arrrrgh!… a lot of people don’t know this, but while you PHANBOIZ were watching the US basically lose to Madagascar yesterday, Landon Donovan won the Belmont Stakes.

      argh… call my beeper. lots to discuss.

    • OK, I’ll bite. The US offense looked to be missing creativity without LD. And, LD generally adds a spark to our offense that makes it more fun to watch. That said, our offense turned in a solid performance to get the job done. We missed a couple opportunities, but none of them too glaring. Dempsey looked good, Altidore looked good, but they didn’t look well coordinated with each other. MB very solid.

    • Agreed with Mr A. I’ve been as vocal a Klinsmann critic and Donovan supporter as anyone, but I think I’m finally ready to put it to rest after that Nigeria performance. They looked very good: fluid and dangerous on the attack (and counter-attack), and stable in the back with Jones and Beckerman providing cover. Seems like JK has, at last, found the right mix, and I’m genuinely excited to see what they can do at the World Cup. I will say (sorry, can’t resist) that I think LD could have executed on a few of those attacking chances better than Bedoya. But then again, he certainly couldn’t have provided the same work rate.

      Go US, things are looking up!

  14. When I first saw Beckerman I think in the gold cup 5 years ago I liked his style but never thought he would be a key player for the US first team. Now I think he can and should start in the World Cup. I think Klinsman has shown great trust in him and given him the confidence that he can play with anyone. If we do well in Brazil he will be a major reason why. I don’t think a lot of teams in Brazil will have an experienced 32 year old in their line up with the motivation of someone also playing in their first World Cup. He is blue collar and would run through a wall for this team. I hope he turns some heads this summer and people around the world will know who he is.

    • I hope that’s sarcasm, because “american” isn’t a language. But I am sure you are just kidding, since you love all Americans. Hope you enjoyed Jones’ wonderful game yesterday.

      • to be fair native americans did not create the country known as the united states of america, so this is irrelevant. the salient question would be whether you are 100% english american.

      • He is right. This great nation and the conditions that made it great were created by white people, mostly of English descent. How can you not acknowledge that? Do you actually believe that buildings, cars, airplanes, television sets, and everything else in America grew out of the land or appeared magically? No retardo, it was the people inhabiting the land who created it, and it certainly was not the Native American Indians, for whom I have a lot of respect, but understand their limitations.

        If an experiment could be made, and the population of Japan was replaced by Mexicans or Salvadoreans or Haitians, in a year or two Japan will be looking like the slums those places are. Understand now?

      • Chris.

        Sit and spin my friend. Those great white forefathers would have had a tough timing growing all that tobacco, cotton or sugar cane without their little brown helpers. And by helpers I mean imprisoned, tortured, multulated abused and raped into submission so George Washington could have a bigger house.

      • No, I am 100% Caucasian which were the first inhabitants in this continent. See Kennewick Man, and the Solutrean hypothesis backed by the findings at Delmarva Peninsular in Maryland. Also, look at the Windover Bog People. See link below, specially from 6:19 onward.

      • Are you a descendant of those first Caucasians to reach this continent then?

        That’s great, because Jermaine Jones is also the descendant of an American.

    • I know where does that german accent come from? Is he from Lancaster Pa.?

      Oh, slow how many USA themed tattoos do you have?


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