Why a First-Minute Goal Was a Blessing and a Curse for the U.S. vs. Ghana
Tactics do not always equal beautiful soccer, but the higher the stakes the more you will see tactics utilized to gain results — a draw or win — in major tournaments. The United States' first World Cup game was no different. We will take a look at the 2-1 win vs. Ghana, a few of the tactical decisions that played out and what we can expect on Sunday vs. Portugal.
Bradley played deep, but was it part of the plan?
We will start with the 4-1-2-1-2 formation, which essentially boils down to a 4-4-2 with a diamond in the midfield. The U.S. had Kyle Beckerman sitting in the holding midfielder role in front of the back four with Alejandro Bedoya and Jermaine Jones set up in front on both sides of the diamond and Michael Bradley playing up top in the midfield.
Bradley, however, took up more of a center midfielder position and played deeper in the midfield, sometimes going all the way to the back four to receive the ball, and then Clint Dempsey assumed more of a withdrawn forward role and played under Jozy Altidore. Only coach Jurgen Klinsmann would know if that was the plan coming into the game, or if it was the natural reaction to going up 1-0 after 29 seconds.
Defensively, the formation worked well when Bradley sat deeper and Ghana attacked down the middle of the field. When Ghana opened up play and started switching the point of attack quickly, Bedoya was getting caught inside and it was leaving DaMarcus Beasley isolated one-on-one on the right flank, where Ghana had the bulk of their success in the first half.
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Playing a diamond demands a great deal from both Jones and Bedoya, but Jones definitely rose to the challenge and was arguably one of the best players on the field for the American team.
Offensively, the formation struggled because of how deep Bradley was sitting defensively. There was simply no option in the midfield for Beckerman or the center backs to play the ball into to break the defensive pressure that Ghana was applying, especially when Altidore went down. Jozy is the one player that can truly play as a target, is capable of holding the ball up top and helping the team get forward with possession.
Altidore will be missed
Altidore's presence was sorely missed in the second half. The formation shifted to a 4-5-1 and the one up top was Johansson. Dempsey played almost exclusively as an offensive center mid and the U.S. was hoping to hold on and win a 1-0 game. When the opportunity presented itself to commit numbers forward and sustain an attack, the U.S. seemed reluctant and Johansson incapable of holding the ball. Despite sitting in most of the second half, the U.S. continued to get broken down on the flanks, leading to the Andre Ayew finish off a back-heeled pass within the American penalty area.
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As quickly as everyone forgot about Landon Donovan not being on the roster when Dempsey put the U.S. ahead in the first minute, it was evident that the Americans could have used him in the second half of that game to calm things down and break the relentless pressure by the Black Stars. Fortunately, John Brooks was able to capitalize on a set piece and the U.S. escaped with three points.
What to look for moving forward
With the Portugal game less than a week away and Altidore appearing to be finished for the balance of the tournament, obvious changes will have to be made. The Americans could see themselves all but through with a tie or win against Portugal, whose tournament would all but end with a loss. Look to see the U.S. come out in a 4-5-1 with Dempsey up top as the target and Graham Zusi getting the start in center of the park. Bradley will take on a larger role offensively and look to get forward into the attack. It would be great to see Brooks get the start at center back and Geoff Cameron moved out to left back to make room for Beasley on the bench.
Klinsmann will make some lineup adjustments and craft a tactical plan improving the midfield play and denying service to Cristiano Ronaldo and the U.S. should have a better showing against a Portuguese team that is injured and on its last legs after a 4-0 loss to Germany. Here's hoping that a goal in the first minute of the game doesn't scrap that plan and leave the U.S. fighting to survive over the last 60 minutes.