Formation and Substitutions: What Went Wrong For USMNT in USA vs Mexico

CONCACAF World Cup Qualifying
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Editorial (November 12, 2016) – So the United States Men’s National Team lost 2-1 to the Mexican National Team in the opening match of the Hexagonal. While Bobby Wood played well, the USMNT had a few problems that need to be addressed. In particular, head coach Jurgen Klinsmann made some decisions that put his team in a bad situation. Let’s break it all down.

Formation and Substitutions: What Went Wrong For USMNT in USA vs Mexico

First off, U.S. Soccer twitter, you should all calm down. It’s going to be okay. This was just the first game of the Hex. It was one of the three toughest games the USMNT are going to play (along with at Costa Rica and at Mexico). One loss isn’t the end of the world. The Yanks are still one of the best teams in this group on paper and they should advance to the World Cup easily.

By performance, it should have been a draw. Shots were almost even (12-11 Mexico). El Tri had more possession, but the U.S. had more set piece changes. Still, give credit to Mexico. They got the job done with the goal off a corner from Rafael Marquez. Now, on to the problems.

Formation And Lineup Disappointments:

The Americans came out in what was reported as a 3-5-2 (3-1-4-2 possibly). I’ve expressed my displeasure in the past with Klinsmann’s tinkering, but for the most part, it’s done wonders in 2016.

But for this system to work, the wide players need to have a good game. Timmy Chandler wasn’t involved enough in the offense as he needed to be for his position. While Fabian Johnson settled in later in the game, he was poor in the opening hour or so. Neither got forward enough, and Johnson’s service was off most of the night. While Chandler isn’t the most offensive full back, Miguel Layún is a mismatch all day.

The center backs also took time to settle in. Klinsmann has been pretty consistent with his center back pairs. Geoff Cameron and John Anthony Brooks have played a lot together. So have Matt Besler and Omar Gonzalez. Gonzalez and Besler were on opposite sides of a three man back line, and neither have spent much time at center back paired with Brooks.

The three looked disjointed and their poor spacing played a role in Mexico’s first goal.

I did like that Christian Pulisic was given more freedom offensively, but it was from a more central position. That forced him to attack into the teeth of the Mexican defense. He looked like a deer in headlights at times. He’s been better on the wing for both club and country.

All of these issues fall on Klinsmann and his lineup/formation decisions. The U.S. did have several key injuries that handicapped them. Still, the 4-3-3 from Copa America Centenario could have been used with Alejandro Bedoya, Michael Bradley, and Jermaine Jones in the midfield. There didn’t seem to be a good reason to come out in a 3-5-2, especially with Chandler starting over DeAndre Yedlin out wide.

If Klinsmann was so set on starting three center backs, he could have done that in a 4-3-3 or even a 4-4-2. Put one of the center backs on the same side as Johnson to allow him to run forward with limited defensive responsibilities. Klinsmann could have done the same thing with Jones as well. Both of these formations would force Pulisic into a wide role, where he would have been more successful.

Klinsmann tinkers. While it can find new things that become great tools for the future, occasionally it blows up in his face. Last night it blew up.

Unfortunate Substitutions:

Both teams had to make unplanned substitutions in the first half. Andrés Guardado came out after just 28 minutes off play with a leg injury. The Americans had to make a first half goalkeeper sub when starter Tim Howard went down with an injury following a goal kick.

Brad Guzan and Howard are interchangeable as far as I’m concerned. Guzan is younger and a bit more athletic. Howard’s better at organizing the back line and is better off his line. What really messed things up is that the USMNT had to use a first half sub on a keeper down a goal. That limits what you can do substitution wise for the rest of the match.

Still, Klinsmann subbed on Yedlin and Michael Orozco for Chandler and Besler with the match tied 1-1.

Those subs scream ‘I’m playing for a draw,’ and were very uninspiring. Sacha Kljestian, Alan Gordan, and Julian Green were all on the bench. All of them provide a more offensive boost than a full back substitution.

Just like the starting formation and game plan, Klinsmann messed up with his substitutions. Playing for a draw at home in a World Cup Qualifier isn’t acceptable considering where the USMNT is in CONCACAF.

There’s Still No Reason To Panic:

Yeah, playing at Costa Rica on Tuesday is going to be tough. But even if the Yanks lose, they’ll have gotten two of their three toughest matches of the Hex out of the way. This team still has lots of talent and depth. They should be able to tear through CONCACAF at home and survive on the road.

It’s the first of 10 games. They still have everything to play for. They’re still in great shape to qualify for the World Cup in Russia. Everyone take a chill pill.