116street Soccer

Footballing from a lesser authority...

Location: New York, New York

Monday, June 04, 2007

4-3-3 Fever

The 4-3-3, that beautiful, reflexive, attacking innovation of the Dutch, was finally embraced by a U.S. team that has been suited to it for quite some time on Saturday. It wasn't quite a flawless execution of the system by the Stars and Stripes, but it was a pretty fair attempt against an obviously weak opponent, and that is a good thing. Bob Bradley seems fairly dedicated at this point to introducing new variations to a once-predictable U.S. attack, and it was great to see our Nats playing imaginative, creative soccer without having to rely on a single playmaker (who might that be, I wonder?).
Bradley, pulling together a squad that still lacks a dynamic threat in front of goal but in possession of a plethora of wingers and central mids, is obviously pursuing every option available going into the Gold Cup (and by extension, the Copa America), and this 4-3-3 he had going against China seems to have created a little spark in the side. DaMarcus Beasley, in particular, seemed more at home in a USA shirt Saturday than at any time before 2006; empowered to go far forward at will, he was able to overcome an inconsistent performance with some truly dangerous runs. His goal was deserved. Clint Dempsey, seemingly unsure of where to go early in the match, similarly found his stride in the formation as the game wore on, and I am certain he would thrive as a wing forward in this formation.
Despite the solid contribution of his wingers, the most interesting part of Bradley's 4-3-3 was the midfield. The U.S. midfield, faced with the loss of Claudio Reyna, the inconsistency of Pablo Mastroeni and the lack of a dominant playmaker (count me in the camp that thinks Landon Donovan should be a forward for the Nats), is certain to undergo a makeover in the current cycle; thing is, much of the young U.S. midfield exists as neither clear-cut defensive or attacking, creating a logjam in more traditional 4-4-2 or 4-5-1 formations, but ideally suited for a three-man midfield. The poise and comfort displayed on the ball by Kljestan and Feilhaber was revelatory, and while Michael Bradley was unspectacular, he was also effective. It will be interesting to see what formation Bob Bradley goes with when Donovan, Ricardo Clark and Pablo Mastroeni come back into the mix.
The change to the 4-3-3 against China, naturally, does not mean a sudden shift in the playing style of the U.S. Men. In fact, I'm sure they'll be 4-4-2-ing it again in no time (although I hope we never have to see the 4-5-1 for as long as I live). It does represent a tactical shift in the American philosophy, however; it seems clear that Bob Bradley wants the team to play faster, attack more and become more confident in tight spaces. The team seemed unsure of just how to play in this formation, but was also willing to allow its instincts to take over, and it served them well on Saturday. It was refreshing to see an attacking, less rigid approach, and I hope to see much more of it in the future.


Anonymous Noel said...

Completely agree re: Donovan, the system of the future, and the opportunities afforded by our young players.

The clogged midfield of a 4-5-1 is looks constipated and hobbled at this point in the international game. We need to see some new tactical innovation which takes advantage of the offensive speed, defensive ability, and technical skill offered by the young midfielders and forwards.

I would go so far as to say that when we play teams who give up on true offense and try to stifle with a 4-5-1 (like Guatamala this last week), we should play 3 in the back for a 3-4-3 or 3-5-2. Ruiz et al doesn't need 4 of our defenders hanging around to watch him flop.

11:20 PM  

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