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ASN Weekly Debate

What Is the Ideal Formation and Lineup for U.S.?

Two ASN staffers have a dynamic discussion about the state of the United States national team. Today, Noah Davis and Ryan O'Hanlon talk formations. Three center backs. For serious.
BY Noah Davis and Ryan O'Hanlon Posted
April 05, 2013
12:35 PM
Noah Davis: Hey Ryan. How's Santa Barbara? Great. Good to hear. Gimme your ideal formation and lineup for the U.S. team right now, assuming everyone is healthy.

Ryan O'Hanlon: Hi, great, okay! Are you ready for this? I don't think you're ready for this. But, based on the best players (I'm going to not use Stuart Holden because he's basically not even American! at this point), I'm playing with three defenders: Besler, Gonzalez, Cameron. Center midfield: Bradley, Jones (I don't know, either), and Dempsey.

Davis: We are trying to win games, you know.

O'Hanlon: Wing backs: Chandler and Johnson Then: Altidore and Gomez The US will win the World Cup and not concede a goal with that lineup.

Davis: So... you're basically playing like a 3-3-2-2? Or a 5-1-2-2? Or a 3-2-2-1-2? Also, you have no goalie, which I'm not against, per se, but just FYI.

O'Hanlon: We'll call it a 3-2-3-2. We'll also revolutionize this sport. And, Tim Howard is my goalie.

Davis: I assume you'll be going for it on fourth down with more regularity, too?

O'Hanlon: Yep, we'll also go for all two-point conversions, call plays in the last minute of basketball games, not have closers, and not fight in hockey games.

Davis: At least you're consistent. I have to say, the Besler-Gonzalez-Cameron thing is inspired. Stupid, but inspired.

O'Hanlon: Thank you. They said the same thing about Picasso and Metta World Peace.

Davis: I find myself speechless.

O'Hanlon: When confronted with brilliance, that is often the reaction.

Davis: I assume that's how opponents would react: 'Welp, they have three center backs out there. Better pack it in and go home, guys." The problem with that lineup is that it puts a huge amount of responsibility on the Bradley-Jones pairing. And I'm not sure they are there yet.

O'Hanlon: That's the plan. I don't want any games to actually be played. Yeah. That was—this lineup would never happen, let's get that out of the way—the toughest part about picking these names. Bradley and Williams would've been my thought before Honduras, which means it probably still should be my thought. And which also means it's still a big-question area for this team

Davis: Well, it's a big question for your ridiculous lineup that needs the two central midfielders to work in conjunction. It's less of a problem, I think, with a more traditional back four because all you need are midfielders who can thrash around and break attacks up but not necessarily do so with extreme coordination. Bradley and Jones have been better individually in the last two games, but they still don't look like Timberlake and JC Chasez out there, if that makes any sense.

Here's what I'd like to see:

O'Hanlon: You want to bench Clint Dempsey.

Davis: Hmm, I seem to have forgotten about him. That's awkward. Whoops. Edit: Sorry Sacha. Dempsey and Chandler stay wide but in advance of the Bradley/Jones. Johnson has freedom to roam up the left flank, especially since Dempsey likes to cut in, and bonus!—it means Cameron slides over a bit, leading to a three-person center back line of fear and magicalness.

O'Hanlon: So, in a way, in every way, pretty much, you're copying me. But that doesn't sound too bad. It's similar to what they played at the World Cup: a 4-2-2-2, if you will. You will. I still—and this is one of the more important questions—would like to see Dempsey in more dangerous positions and being more involved in everything, rather than just the things on his side of the field.

Davis: I guess I sort of am copying you. Yes. Whatever. Dempsey doesn't really seem to play "positions" though, so I think it's sort of a moot point. He pretty much has the freedom to do what he wants. And he probably should. He looked pretty involved in most things in Mexico, although he was tired.

O'Hanlon: As a professional youth soccer coach, I am qualified to ask: wouldn't it make sense to have a more defensive guy like Cameron behind him, then? Rather than Johnson? These questions don't really matter because these lineups are not real, but I think we're maybe getting at the more important questions for Klinsmann: who plays in the middle? what to do about Cameron-Besler-Gonzalez? and whether you stick to a style and fit players in or vice versa?

Davis: To me, the issue is that Dempsey is the team's best player but he's not quite good enough to build the offense around. (On a lesser level, this is Freddy Adu's problem, too.) So no, I don't think it makes sense to change everything to ensure that Dempsey gets his touches in "advanced positions"—that phrase!—but his skill set doesn't quite fit with the current tactical gameplan, whatever that is. So we—or at least Klinsmann and your youth team—are left with this weird sort of hybrid thing. But that's one of the differences between national teams and club teams, right? National teams play their best 11 guys; club teams put 11 players into a system, and sometimes the most talented man gets left out.

O'Hanlon: Yeah, or there's always controversy—see the Dutch, always—about how teams can't figure out how to play their seven best players, who are all wingers, at the same time. The teams, Spain and Germany, which have cultivated some kind of identity—whether through a youth system, having all your payers on one or two teams, or some combination of both—have been the best teams. In short: it would be really hard/terrible to coach a national team.

Davis: Still, it would be a good problem to have. I sometimes wonder if the U.S. would be better without Dempsey. But then I think "Who would score all the goals?"

O'Hanlon: Goals—they're averaging .666 goals per game right now, which means Clint Dempsey is the antichrist—don't matter and are evil.

Davis: Sometimes I think so watching the U.S.

O'Hanlon: Dancing Bear. Nothing is evil about the Dancing Bear.

Noah Davis and Ryan O'Hanlon do this every week. No one has asked them to stop yet.

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