A 4-2-3-1 against Honduras (Updated)

Flying in formation; Photo by commorancy

Flying in formation; Photo by commorancy

It’s getting close to game time and I’m ready to talk tactics. The loss of Clint Dempsey removes one of our best players from consideration but could also be the catalyst for some tactical adjustments that would have been difficult if he had taken his regular spot on the right wing. Being a Liverpool fan, I’ve see a lot of the 4-2-3-1 and I think it fits well both with what the US team should be trying to do tactically, and the personnel available for the match.

Currently in the last automatic qualifying place, Honduras probably goes into this match thinking that they need a win to ensure a trip to South Africa. With Argentina occupying the playoff spot in South American qualifying, no one wants to risk that route to the World Cup. Honduras faces a tough final game on the road against their fiercest rival El Salvador who is yet to lose a game at home in qualifying. Costa Rica, currently one point back of Honduras in fourth, play at home against bottom Trinidad and Tobago, and despite their recent string of losses, should get the win. Meaning a draw for Honduras against the US will leave them in fourth needing results to go their way in the last game to avoid a potential matchup with Argentina.

Playing on the road against a team desperate for a win to secure its first trip to the World Cup since 1982, the US team has three top priorities: solid defense; counterattack; and the often overlooked need to relieve pressure by controlling and possessing the ball when it is cleared from the back line. It seems likely that if Dempsey had been fit, Coach Bob Bradley probably would have stuck with the 4-4-2. With Dempsey out and the players that Coach Bradley is likely to select, the 4-2-3-1 gives the US the best opportunity to do all the things necessary to win.

The backline looks pretty set, with, from left to right, Bocanegra-Gooch-DeMerit-Spector will have to go through some tweeks because Jay DeMerit is out. I agree with Max that with Bocanegra joining Gooch in the middle, Spector should switch to left back and Steve Cherundolo should take over on the right. Bradley also is likely to stick with a more defensive central midfield pairing (despite their recent poor performances) of Michael Bradley and Ricardo Clark. Clark and Bradley’s biggest problem isn’t defending or breaking up the play, it’s that they can’t keep hold of the ball, and in international soccer possession is the most important factor in any game. Coach Bradley could be tempted to add another central midfielder to the mix to help, but that would necessitate a 4-5-1 formation that is far too defensive and that this US team has never been able to make work.

The best option is to go to a 4-2-3-1, with Bradley and Clark both sitting in front of the central defenders then have another line of attacking players between them and the center forward. The American’s best attacking player is Landon Donovan and his best position is as a slightly withdrawn striker, putting him in the “hole” as the central pivot of the line of three takes the most advantage of his skills.

Putting speed and a high work rate on the flanks is critical, because those players have to both track back and defend on the wings, but provide counterattacking options on the break once the US regains possession. I would put Charlie Davies on the left and Benny Feilhaber on the right. It’s a little deeper role than Davies is accustomed to, but he usually attacks from the left and no one can doubt his pace. Feilhaber is one of, if not the most technically gifted American players. Having him as an outlet will ensure more possession for the US team and more opportunities to counterattack.

Up front I would put Jozy Altidore. He may not be getting 90 minutes for Hull, but he is on 19 and should be in fine shape. Plus he is strong, fast, skilled, and has a knack for scoring big goals. The other option up top is Brian Ching – erroneously thought of by many in the US camp as a target striker. He is big and that would be great if he did the kind of things that target strikers are supposed to do – hold up the ball and win headers. But Ching doesn’t do those things at all. And he doesn’t score goals; he only has 10 in 43 games while Jozy has nabbed 8 in just 19 matches. Here’s how my lineup looks:

Altidore

Davies – Donovan – Feilhaber

Clark – Bradley

Bocanegra Spector– Gooch – DeMerit Bocanegra – Spector Cherundolo

This is strong defensive set up but still has good options for a quick counterattack. The ability to counterattack is predicated on HAVING THE BALL. How many times have we seen US teams go into a defensive shell and when the back line clears the ball it comes right back at them because either the strikers or central midfielders give it away? With this structure, the three four players most likely to receive a clearance from the defense are Donovan, Davies, Feilhaber, and Altidore, all solid with the ball at their feet.

The most important figure in this lineup is Donovan, our most experienced and best player. Instead of being sucked deep or wide out on the left, he is right in the middle of the pitch able to control the director and pace of US play. If I’m going into a tough game in a hostile environment, that’s where I want my best player.

All will not be lost if the US doesn’t play this formation or loses the game. Regardless of what happens in San Pedro Sula, the US will go through with a draw against Costa Rica at home and could get through even with a loss if Costa Rica fail to win (a one goal loss by the US would put us 3 points ahead of Costa Rica if they draw with a huge advantage in goal difference meaning we’d have to lose by 4 goals at home). But the one thing that I’ve been looking for the US team to improve on is controlling the ball and keeping possession – even during the successful Confederations Cup run. Switching to a 4-2-3-1 gives them the best shot at doing that.

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One Response

  1. […] Brian Ching: The Anti-Counter photo by: BrianChingphotos I couldn’t agree more with Ken’s post on the formation that the U.S. should deploy against Honduras. There is a school of thought that whenever the U.S. […]

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