One afternoon last week I was speaking with a friend when he all of a sudden asked, “am I crazy or would a 3-5-2 with Fabian Johnson and DeAndre Yedlin as wing backs be perfect for the USMNT?” After thinking it over for a minute I responded with something along the lines of it’s actually our most ideal formation, but I don’t think Jurgen Klinsmann will implement it on such short notice.
Well he did.
When I first saw the starting XI for the United States against Mexico my first reaction was: “don’t like this formation, LOVE it.”
When you break it down, the 3-4-3 that the US started the game in, and that Jurgen Klinsmann stated after the game would that the US would continue to use, is a formation that would maximize the individual talent of all of the US’s best players. A 3-4-3 formation addresses every problem that the United States has other than the whole Jurgen insists on starting Jozy Altidore every game even though he’s a terrible footballer issue.
Coming into every game Jurgen Klinsmann faces a challenge as to how to get his best players on the field in a system that allows them to be at their best. Jozy Altidore needs t0 play with a second striker. A second striker means that one of either Michael Bradley or Jermaine Jones has to play as a holding midfielder, even though they are both more of the box-to-box variety. The US doesn’t have a left back. They have Fabian Johnson but left back is the worst of his four positions, and playing him there is a complete was of his talents. A 3-4-3 solves all those issues and does one more important thing. It allows Christian Pulisic to play in a role where he has freedom to roam the field and be at his most dangerous.
We already know there’s a large anti-Klinsmann crowd among the media and the US fan base. They believe the US should win every home game and when the US lose the response is to always blame Klinsmann for something that he did. When the media saw the team sheet before the game, it was like Christmas come early, their stories were already written before the game even started.
But blaming Klinsmann for the loss is simply a tired and lazy narrative and if you watched the game you’d see how untrue it is. The US didn’t lose this game because of the formation, they lost it because their key players played some of the worst games they’ve ever played in a US shirt.
Yes, the US had a few issues at the back, specifically Omar Gonzalez, that were likely the result of unfamiliarity with playing in a back three. But most of the time those issues were caused because the US midfield was completely non-existent even though Jermaine Jone and Michael Bradley were playing the exact same positions that they would be in a 4-4-2.
That’s right, the formation isn’t the reason that Michael Bradley all of a sudden couldn’t string together a six yard pass. The formation isn’t the reason that he constantly gave away possession of the ball. The formation isn’t the reason that when getting forward Bradley seemed to always be right on top of Bobby Wood or Jozy Altidore, even though he shouldn’t have been that far forward in a 3-4-3 or a 4-4-2. The formation isn’t the reason Bradley lost the ball, and a deflected shot beat Tim Howard. The formation isn’t the reason that Bradley inexplicably didn’t play in Bobby Wood for a great chance late in the second half.
I’m definitely not saying Jurgen Klinsmann is perfect. Jermaine Jones never should have started this game after having played just one game since July. Sacha Kljestan has done more than enough to had earn a starting spot, and Klinsmann citing ‘experience’ in the big game as the reason for starting Jones seems hollow when Kljestan also has experience in a World Cup qualifier against Mexico. Klinsmann also seems to insist on starting Jozy Altidore even though Bobby Wood is more than capable of playing as a lone striker, which would allow him to play a no. 10 and four at the back.
However the criticism Klinsmann is taking makes it sound as if the fans and the media have never watched the Hex before. So many people were wondering “how can you experiment like this in such an important game,” this isn’t a friendly where you’re supposed to experiment, this was Mexico in a World Cup qualifier.
Those people have it all wrong, this was the exact right time to experiment with the new formation.
We already covered how thanks to CONCACAF, other than pride and bragging rights, there wasn’t much on the line in this match. The United States still has nine matches to pick up the 15 points that it will likely take to qualify for the World Cup. The US isn’t going to win enough games to be placed in Pot A for the draw, so whether they finish first or third doesn’t matter. The bottom line is the US needed to try out this formation in a match where they would get tested against a good team. This way they can learn what they need to work on.
Had they done this against Panama and won, the story would be “yea but it’s Panama at home, they hardly got tested.”
The US currently has one of the best teams that they’ve had in several years, but so does Mexico. And on this particular night, a good Mexico team beat a US team that saw several of their players have terrible nights.
Ultimately that’s why the United States lost, not because of Klinsmann.