First, let's just roll it out how it would look on my clipboard and then we'll discuss the details.
So... obviously, we like moving parts in this set or the job's not done; the fullbacks and wingers try to almost slide the flank as a duo, Bradley covers so much ground he can appear as a partner in defensive midfield or a late box crasher/through ball master in attack, depending on the situation. And like midfield mates Cameron and Dempsey, he provides added aerial presence for set piece defense to compensate for mid-size wingbacks.
Speaking of them, here's it pieces together on the wing. The running/dribbling combo of Lichaj and Johnson would cause a lot of headaches together. Parkhurst is more of a crosser, adding into the serves you'll get from Donovan to give playmaking balance. Those who've been here a while know I like one side to lean toward keeping the defender wide and then running at him, while the other is more likely to get to the touchline/side door of the area for causing havoc.
Most of Altidore's "cross goals" have come via the right, while many of his combo strikes happen on the left. We also want Dempsey to get close enough for combination play, and for the team in general to get Jozy the ball where he can face the top edge of the box as often as possible. When he swings out wide, as he is wont to do, Dempsey fills as an adequate central target, with Bradley creeping in late. The USMNT is at its best with aggressive movement off the ball and quick one touch combos, which is exactly why I've wanted this formation for years.
It all plays together in attack, with Deuce and Bradley sharing the duties of outlet sprays and area raids. More over, it's only natural to expect a fair amount of switching spots between Dempsey, Donovan and Johnson. We're fine with it, assuming this practice and the slippery skills of the three will earn bushels of danger free kicks above the box. When those occur, Altidore and Dempsey share the cracks at goal, while Donovan serves the box droppers. He'll also take corners from both sides, at least until a lefty enters the game. Altidore or Donovan take spot kicks.
Defensively, Cameron almost gives the team three center backs when it's time to drop back. With Besler and Goodson behind him, that's an awful lot of defenive headers won. The wing backs will be instructed to prioritize closing off the touchline area and blocking crosses; Parkhurst's anticipation and Lichaj's bulldog-ish-ness in guarding their corners aid this strategy. We don't just aim to get in their shirts to win the ball back quickly across midfield, we want to do that everywhere. Why? Because we want the ball back at all times.
And if we get our way in that, theoretically, the defense won't have as much to do on the day. The one aspect of the rearguard that could cause concern is the idea that possession eventually breeds mistakes with the ball and counters against you. Both Goodson and Besler have had some episodes of being beaten over the top after bad turnovers. To be fair, they've also had good recent days in the category and the Bradley/Cameron duo will be trusted with ensuring that doesn't happen so often. The 4-3-3 is all about patching holes with camouflage. If they can't find the way to your weakness, it can't hurt you.
All in all, it's not a great deal different than what Klinsi typically runs these days, certain personnel aside. Tomorrow, we'll name the "right now" 23 (as it were) and talk about all that entails.
- Greg Seltzer