Taking on Portugal… USA – Sunday…

There is quite a bit of information to consider in how difficult this game will be – I’m not sure I’ll scratch the itch about everything but here’s some information I think has relevance for those who intend to watch the game this Sunday.

To begin…


The correlation of possession percentage to average points taken in the World cup after yesterday is (R2) .37 – in other words there is no real correlation between possessing the ball and winning – or for that matter drawing.

And maintaining possession wasn’t the issue against Ghana – it was lack of passing accuracy – and that led to poor possession.  So as others may ponder or offer that the US needs to add another midfielder in lieu of Altidore they may want to reconsider.  Perhaps if put this way it may be better understood…

The USA accuracy in passing against Ghana was 73% – fourth lowest of all teams in the World Cup.  Said differently; given the poor level of passing accuracy it is ACTUALLY better for the USMNT not to pass the ball more in the midfield – as more passes in the midfield – with a poor trend in passing accuracy – means more opportunity for the opponent to get a quick counter-attack that is more likely to result in a goal scored against.

A bit cynical but perhaps more accurate?!?


The formation that averaged the highest amount of possession percentage so far was the odd one labeled a 4-2-1-3; run by Croatia in their 4-nil thrashing of Cameroon.

Next up in the formation scheme with the highest possession percentage was the 5-3-2; which when in attack usually takes the form of a 3-5-2.  Both Mexico and Argentina have been very effective in that approach.

Third in the overall formation scheme is the 4-2-3-1 (also the most popular formation).  And, oddly enough, the amount of possession percentage that teams have had running that formation gets as high as 70% (for Nigeria) and as low as 29.75% (for Iran)

Another oddity is that the team most successful in running the 4-2-3-1 is Columbia; they have six points in two games – and their average possession percentage for those two games is 46.84%; again indicating that the 4-2-3-1 is not indicative of a game where midfield possession has value.

And the team with the most possession, in the 4-2-3-1, is Nigeria (70% possession) and they could only muster a draw against another team also running the 4-2-3-1; Iran.
If anything – this ‘formation’ is highly deceptive and it really doesn’t indicate – or even hint at meaning that the team running it will have more possession in the midfield.

The Diamond 4-4-2:  

So far three teams have employed this ‘formation’ and both Uruguay (game #2) and the USA (game #1) won their games with less than 38% possession.

In both cases – both teams were playing against other teams known for possession-based play in the 4-2-3-1  (Ghana and England).

So what about Chile, the other team to employ a Diamond 4-4-2; they ran that formation in game one against Australia and took three points while having 66% of the possession.

As for Portugal – they ran a 4-3-3; which – if you follow soccer pretty closely – is a very close cousin to the 4-2-3-1; a primary difference for some folks is whether or not the Head Coach wants to advertise playing a single pivot central defending midfielder or a double pivot central defending midfield pairing.

Viewed either way it usually means there is one true forward on the team and any number of multiple players who can act as a #10 or #8.

Bottom line here is that the formation that is publicized, prior to a game, really has no bearing on what style of approach a team might take.

An approach – keep it simple…  

The less some players have to think about on the pitch – the better.

In other words instincts built up over time (repetitive training) suggest Klinsmann will run Dempsey up top with another striker/forward; whether it’s Wondolowski or someone else really doesn’t matter.

The key is keeping it simple; if the player can afford to think less about positional play that opens the player up more to think about creating and using spaces (knowing) that his partner will be near-by — and vice versa.

The Midfield…

In looking at the first game it seemed pretty clear that the lone attacking midfielder (really) was Michael Bradley.

Bedoya added value in attack but his presence was more about defending the midfield and supporting the back – four; recall that the real wide right pressure actually came from Fabian Johnson and Graham Zusi after Ghana had equalized.

And remember a wee bit ago – Klinsmann wanted ‘game changers’ to be available on his bench – Zusi was a game changer; not a soldier…  if you run the game changers through the normal run of the game they get tired and can’t add that value when others are tired…

Next up was the tandem of Jones and Beckerman – the good thing here was both players are used to playing narrow and both players could rotate into a double pivot or, individually, control a single pivot system – flexibility….

And with Beasley, out wide left, and Johnson, out wide right, the speed of those fullbacks allowed Jones and Beckerman to drop deeper to clog the middle when Ghana had the ball.

The challenge, in all that, was dealing with crosses – as expected – in that narrow formation – Ghana offered up 38 crosses; with none of them ending up being an assist.

So what about Portugal?

In their game against Germany they offered up 21 crosses – and like Ghana – none of them ended up being an assist.

They have a stud up top named Ronaldo; all hands on deck for this guy – but perhaps the greatest danger he offers is his ability to create space for others.

A tighter back-four with support from the Midfield should help minimize those open spaces; but if the USA commits too many players behind the ball they, then, minimize their counter-attacking opportunities.

And lest it’s forgotten, that first goal against Ghana really came from a quick penetration (when the Ghana defense wasn’t set) – exactly the type of scenario you look for in a counter-attack out of the Midfield…

In closing…

Klinsmann will go with what he thinks best suits the scenarios he wants to work from in beating Portugal.

However viewed it is likely he goes with simple, strong and steady to start the game and then, flash-and-dash with perhaps some panache, to finish the game, depending on score-line.

For me that means two strikers starting the game – perhaps Wondolowski, this time, to pair with Dempsey?

More to follow…

Best, Chris