Playing with three central midfielders in a 4-3-2-1 could also offer protection for a back line that can have its relative lack of quickness exploited.
This summer, we have seen strong performances (Spain) from a United States central defense that featured Oguchi Onyewu and Jay DeMerit, but if you get either of those two moving laterally, they can be consistently beaten. Having three central defenders who can play deep helps keep the opposition from easily moving through the back line’s gaps.
With three central midfielders, you can are also less-reliant on players like Bradley, Feilhaber, and Beckerman being ball-winners. Again, we turn to AC Milan for an illustration. Andrea Pirlo has played a deeper role for the recent Milan sides, but he’s never had to be a hard man. That’s been Gattuso. That’s been Ambrosini (to a certain extent).
Michael Bradley, in a 4-3-2-1, could play slightly above players like Jones and Edu and Clark. With a more ambitious deployment, the USMNT could better utilize Bradley’s skill, helping the team to better link-up play through the middle of the pitch.
Having three players in the deeper positions of midfield would allow one (or more) of the Jones, Edu, Clark trio to jump into attack, leaving up to two players back to protect. The midfield trio could pick-and-choos their opportunities to get forward without leaving the team exposed.
The Need for Flexibility
The 4-3-2-1 could turn into a better option for the 4-2-2-2. It’s a better fit for the program’s personnel, and it allows for more on-field, tactical flexibility than the current set-up.
But the current approach has been proven to work. The players have developed a certain expertise, allowing them to give performances like the one we saw in Honduras. Even so, the ability to switch to a 4-3-2-1 could be a valuable in-game tactical option, whether it be to preserve a lead or to augment play when the United States struggles though the midfield.
Even if the 4-2-2-2 remains the preferred option, the fitness and form issues that have plagued the United States’ attackers make a 4-3-2-1-option a beneficial fall-back.