The USA hosts 2010 World Cup quarterfinalist Paraguay tonight in Nashville. The match will measure American mettle against decent South American opposition. It will also let us compare equipment with the arch-rival Mexicans, who beat La Albirroja 3-1 last weekend. Vibrant 18-year-old striker Juan Agudelo will make his first USMNT start. A preview after the jump.
The U.S. will return to Anglo-Saxon soccer’s missionary position, the 4-4-2. Agudelo start up front with Jozy Altidore. Bradley and Edu in the middle. Donovan and Dempsey on the wings. Young Timmys Chandler and Ream will start in the back four with DeMerit and Jonathan Bornstein.
Marcus Hahnemann will get a change in goal. Though, with unlimited substitutions, we may see German-born David Yelldell get his first cap.
Paraguay were impressive in the World Cup, reaching the quarterfinal. But, they have been in indifferent form since the World Cup, unless you count their epic friendly triumphs over New Zealand and Hong Kong. They should play a similar formation to the United States, a 4-4-2 with two holding midfielders. They are generally more disciplined defensively, though they didn’t show it when Mexico torched them.
Predictions for friendlies are stupid as the results are irrelevant and teams will substitute players. But, with neither team fielding a ball player in the middle, this game won’t be one for the aesthete.
On the 4-4-2: I’m not a fan of the 4-4-2. The honorable Ives Galarcep offers a defense of it here. He notes the passing deficiencies of the American back four and their preference for long balls. The second striker gives them another target and places more pressure on the defense. That view has merit against an opponent such as Argentina where the U.S. is overmatched. Holding possession isn’t an issue because Argentina aren’t surrendering the ball. Getting outnumbered in midfield isn’t an issue because everyone is behind the ball anyway. Working the ball out of that position is arduous. You might as well have an additional target for ball hoofing.
What I don’t understand is the argument the U.S. must field the 4-4-2 as the bog standard formation every match and abandon experimenting. In a situation where the U.S. can impose itself on a game, that formation most often has not been effective.
Even if your defenders are better at it, booting the ball forward does not hold possession. It’s haphazard. Usually, it’s just giving the ball right back. The argument for fielding a 4-4-2 is that the U.S. can’t pass it through the midfield. The U.S. can’t pass it through the midfield because they are fielding a 4-4-2 and have no midfielder who can play the ball. It’s circular logic.
Playing a 4-4-2 against a team not playing a 4-4-2 is ceding control of numbers and possession in the midfield. In virtually any strategy game, that makes your life more difficult. This is why the U.S. seldom dictates games and rarely scores goals from open play except on the break. Even with the world’s most talented players this seldom works. Watch the last 40 years of the England national team.
Yes, in recent friendlies, the U.S. has started with 4-5-1 and gone back to 4-4-2 and looked more comfortable. However, the one time they looked like a coherent soccer team during the World Cup was the second-half against Algeria, when they played with five midfielders.
Flexibility is useful. Different formations work in different situations. Stuart Holden is injured. Andrea Pirlo in his prime isn’t walking in to replace him, but the U.S. has some attacking midfielders with skill on the ball. It’s worth experimenting to see if a five-man midfield can work, especially in international friendlies three years away from a World Cup.
The U.S. may have the missionary position down pat, but there’s a whole world out there to explore.
[Photo via Getty]