In the pulsating World Cup game between USA and Portugal, the United States changed its midfield shape reverting to the 4-2-3-1 formation that was used in qualifying. Head Coach Jurgen Klinsmann had set up with a midfield diamond in each of the previous five matches including in the Group G opener against Ghana. Graham Zusi was inserted as a left-sided midfielder. Clint Dempsey was deployed as a lone striker in this formation. Once again Klinsmann got his tactics spot on.
Having defeated Ghana despite a major disadvantage in possession time, Klinsmann felt that a five man midfield would create fewer opportunities for the Portuguese to control the flow of the match in midfield.
For the first twenty minutes Portugal’s midfield did well tracking runners and maintaining the flow of the game. The United States midfield left huge gaps between the defensive line of two (Jermaine Jones and Kyle Beckerman) and the attacking line of three (Graham Zusi, Michael Bradley and Alejandro Bedoya). But after minute twenty, the United States began to dominate the midfield.
Portugal midfield did not track runners well in the midfield and much like the game against Ghana, Jermaine Jones became a dominant figure in this match. João Moutinho did virtually nothing in this match largely due to Jones’ influence and also the fine play of Kyle Beckerman.
Michael Bradley’s performance, much like in the Ghana match, was poor. Ultimately his bad giveaway cost the United States passage to the knockout stages but prior to the stoppage time error, the Toronto FC man was poor. His movement was excellent but his touches on the ball were troubled at times. The system with Beckerman and Jones both in midfield might have created difficulty for Bradley to really assert himself on the match but still his play was once again suspect.
Following a dominant start to the second half, Klinsmann controversially inserted 20 year-old DeAndre Yedlin into the match. Yedlin was an inclusion in the squad that was highly polarizing among US supporters. However, the sub worked brilliantly as the pace that the Seattle Sounders youngster brought to the pitch changed the shape of the match and led directly to the second goal that Clint Dempsey finished.
Portugal’s tactics, by contrast, were simple after the midfield was overwhelmed in the second portion of the first half — get the ball wide to Cristiano Ronaldo or Nani, and allow them to create attacking opportunities from crosses or long mazy runs at defenders. Portugal lacked the guile in the center of the pitch to do much of anything else. Head Coach Paulo Bento realized early on his side was struggling and looked to a plan B, which was to exploit the flanks.
When the post-mortem is written on this match, it will be said that the United States blew a wonderful opportunity to clinch advancement to the final 16. But in the tactical battle, Jurgen Klinsmann again showed his quality, giving a less talented United States side every opportunity to take all three points.