By Mike FossÂ
NEW YORK â€“ When the United States drew the World Cupâ€™s Group of Death in December, certain assumptions were made about how coach Jurgen Klinsmann would get his team into the second round of the tournament.
Assumptions like the team would play an ultra-conservative, highly defensive style to combat the offensive prowess of Ghana, Portugal, and Germany.
That mindset has served past teams in the Group of Death well. For instance, Portugal advanced out of 2010?s Group of Death by playing Brazil and Ivory Coast to 0-0 draws before unleashing a 7-0 decimation of North Korea.
It seemed like the U.S. was preordained to adopt a similar style in 2014. Germany is ranked No. 2 in the world, Portugal is No. 3, and the U.S. has lost to Ghana in two consecutive World Cups by a combined score of 4-2.
With just over two weeks remaining before the U.S.â€™s first match, Klinsmann is showing signs of an entirely different mentality by playing a formation known as the 4-4-2 Diamond. What is a 4-4-2 Diamond?
The 4-4-2 is one of the oldest formations in soccer and is made up of four defenders (a left back, two center backs, and a right back), four midfielders (a left midfielder, two center midfielders, and a right midfielder), and two strikers. The 4-4-2 Diamond removes the two outside midfielders, electing to play with four central midfielders.
What does it look like?
When the U.S. is playing, expect a formation like this .
Once the match is underway, that initial diamond shape is fluid and constantly changing. During game action, this is a more accurate representation.
Why should you care?
This formation sets the U.S. up to attack, to press their opponents, and most importantly maintain possession. It also creates spaces for the U.S.â€™s speedy outside backs like Damarcus Beasley, Fabian Johnson, and Timmy Chandler. Take all of that into account, and the style is essentially the exact opposite of the conservative approach many expected them to take.
â€œFor me, the coaching staff has looked at the personnel they have and itâ€™s worked,â€ U.S. midfielder Graham Zusi said. â€œThe way our strengths come out on the field, a diamond has worked very well.â€
An American team has won with it before
Real Salt Lake employed the 4-4-2 Diamond when it won the 2009 MLS Cup. There are few players on the U.S. squad more familiar with the style of play than RSLâ€™s captain Kyle Beckerman, who is making his first trip to the World Cup.
â€œI like it, of course I like the diamond,â€ Beckerman said. â€œThe way I look at it, it just adds to our arsenal.â€
The mastermind behind RSLâ€™s system was Jason Kreis, who is now in charge of MLSâ€™s newest club, New York City F.C. At Salt Lake, Kreis decided to embrace the players he had to create a system for their strengths.
â€œWe had a lot of good central midfielders but not a lot of good wide midfielders,â€ Kreis explained. â€œWhen I was traveling to Argentina, I saw them implementing a system that used a lot of central players and very few wide players.
â€œI decided to implement a system that was built for our players rather than force them to play an arbitrary system.â€
Klinsmann has adopted the same philosophy with his U.S. roster. Filled with skilled technicians like Michael Bradley, Jermaine Jones, Zusi, Alejandro Bedoya, and Clint Dempsey, Klinsmann has found a way for them all to coexist on the same pitch at the same time.
And it puts the U.S.â€™s best player in his best position.Â
The 4-4-2 Diamond forces Clint Dempsey to play in advanced positions up the field. Thatâ€™s a good thing, because thatâ€™s exactly where Dempsey belongs.
â€œWhen Clint gets the ball, we want him as near the goal as possible,â€ Zusi said. â€œAt times, he drops back and searches for the ball but now with the way we play, heâ€™s higher up the field and thatâ€™s where we want him.â€
Attacking is a buzzword around the U.S. squad right now. Every player to a man is up to attack. And while Klinsmann remains coy, youâ€™d have to imagine the former German striker wouldnâ€™t want it any other way.
â€œI think we have at least two or three systems,â€ Klinsmann said. â€œThat system right now suits a lot of our players because itâ€™s also based on their strengths.â€œ