US head coach Jürgen Klinsmann’s war of words with Landon Donovan doesn’t appear to be fading away anytime soon. In the latest spat, Klinsmann insisted that the US won’t win the World Cup this year unless they are extremely lucky. Donovan and a quarter of the US population polled recently disagree believing the US can upset the odds and win the tournament. Realistically Klinsmann is right given the squad at his disposal but in the same breath, no one gave Denmark or Greece a chance when they upset the odds to win Euro 1992 and 2004 respectively. Getting a win in their first game was Klinsmann’s core objective and his tactics appear to have worked perfectly. Against Ghana, Klinsmann deployed a simple yet effective strategy. The US defended in two solid banks of four players with both full backs pulling in to limit the space. With the midfield taking up a strong line just in front of the back four, they cut out the space that Ghana so desperately needed to exploit. It proved an effective approach that frustrated their African challengers and eventually handed the US all three points.
However the US principle weakness is the execution of this formation and whilst it took Ghana over 86 minutes to figure this out, smarter teams should work it out quicker than that. The problem that is exists is with the back four and in particular the full backs. If the attack is breaking down the left hand side, the US closed down the player using the right back Fabian Johnson. At the same time left back DeMarcus Beasley pulled across, effectively making three in the middle. This left a gaping hole at left back that Ghana should have exploited if they had spotted it. The same happened when the attack was coming down the right side with the full back roles reversed – Beasley closed down and Johnson coming across. Smarter teams would have switched the play quickly from one flank to the other and split the US apart.
For the US to make this tactic work, they would need the left and right midfielders to play more defensively and plug the gap created. Whilst this happened early on, as tired legs set in this became more lax with the midfield trotting back rather than running to get into position. In addition the over eagerness of the substitutes to play their part almost cost the US the game and a valuable three points. When the superb Bedoya limped off with twenty minutes to go, his replacement Sporting Kansas midfielder Graham Zusi was too eager to push forward instead of protecting his defence which ultimately lead to Ghana’s goal. Exploiting the gap caused by a drop in tactical formation and general tiredness, Ghana’s André Ayew slipped between the right back Johnson and centre back Cameron to score.
The game was eventually rescued by a header from substitute John Brooks giving the US a deserved win but the result could have been so much different if Ghana had exploited their weakness earlier than the 86th minute. With 20 shots on goal, the tale of Ghana’s night was the lack of clinical finishing, something that benefited the US in the end. However Germany and Portugal will not be as forgiving heading into their matches so Klinsmann will have to tighten the back line further to get a result. He also might want to encourage his back line to hold further forward rather than on the 18 yard line as it heaps unnecessary pressure on Tim Howard in goal who had to react to any pot shots that the Ghanaians managed to squeeze in. If the US can perfect this strategy, along with a lot of luck along the way, there is no reason why the US couldn’t cause a major upset. They are still unlikely to win the entire tournament given the reasons mentioned earlier but with a strong defensive system in place, like Greece had in 2004, there is always hope.