With a victory over Portugal today, the US men’s soccer team can advance to the second round–an accomplishment few had predicted. To move on, Jürgen Klinsmann and the US team must on offense deal with the loss of Jozy Altidore and on defense slow down Cristiano Ronaldo, the reigning FIFA player of the year and most dangerous open-field player in the world.
Instead of trying to replacing Altidore, Klinsmann should leave Clint Dempsey up top as the lone striker and add a fifth midfielder to the line-up going from a 4-4-2 (4 defenders, 4 midfielders and 2 forwards) to a 4-5-1 formation. There are 5 reasons why he should do this:
The US team can’t replace Jozy Altidore
With Altidore in the line-up, the US has had success playing a “target” offensive scheme. In this system, the target forward plays high up the field, holds the ball and lays the ball off to his teammates. This target player is preferably a big player, with the physical strength to hold off defenders and distribute the ball to teammates who play off of him. Aron Johannsson and Chris Wondolowski are both very talented and dangerous goals scorers and the most likely replacements as this target player. However, their skills and style are very different from Altidore’s and not suited for the target role.
The team should rely on its leaders and most experienced players to assume new roles
With the loss of Altidore, certain players are going to be asked to change their role. Who do you ask? Dempsey is a leader and one of most experienced players on the US squad. Who better than a guy who grew up and developed his skills on a patch of dirt in a trailer park in the Texas to taken on that role. Just as he fought through a broken nose against Ghana, Dempsey will not only handle but embrace this latest challenge.
The US must get Bradley comfortable and back on his game
Other than the last 15 minutes of the game against Ghana, Michael Bradley was not his normal self. The long-time anchor of the midfield and key playmaker was much less part of the play than normal, missed on an unusually high number of his passes, and never created much of a scoring threat. Bradley seemed confused and missing something–I think that something was Altidore. For the US to win, it is critical that Bradley gets back on track and focuses his efforts on getting the ball to Clint Dempsey, his long-time reliable teammate.
Don’t give Ronaldo space
In a tactical game of patience and possession, Cristiano Ronaldo is a great player. In a wide-open game of counterattacking, Ronaldo is the most dangerous player on the planet. The US team can’t give him space. As stated in the Wall Street Journal, the style of the World Cup plays right into Ronaldo’s strength: “In the space of just seven days in Brazil, the patient, possession-oriented style of play that has dominated this sport for the last six years has given way to a breakneck brand of soccer that looks like it has been outfitted with a jet engine.”
If the US allows Ronaldo to get the ball in the open field he will use his speed, strength, and skill to tear through our defense. Adding a fifth midfielder will shrink these gaps and limit Ronaldo’s chances to get going.
Lastly, take advantage of Portugal’s injuries and suspension by creating chaos around the Portugal goal. Three of Portugal’s four starting defenders (including both central defenders), are all in question for Sunday’s game. The American team should capitalize of this vulnerability. As Breitbart Sports highlighted, chaos has led to many goals in this World Cup: “This year’s World Cup sees more goals, more shots, and more excitement as teams push forward. With this push there have been more deflections for goals and own goals (kicking the ball accidently in your own goal) as chaos has ensued from the pressure.”