The USA’s World Cup hopes rely on Pulisic and Adams and could spring a shock – predicted line-up and tactics

THE USA have been drawn in Group B in Qatar, which will see them face England, Wales and Iran for a place in the knockout stages, and they have a very real chance of making it that far.

They also have previous experience of competing in the latter stages of the competition, having finished in the top two of their group in both 2010 and 2014, so know what it will take to be in the last 16.

Let’s have a look at how they play which will, obviously, have a bit of an impact on England in Qatar.

Predicted starting XI

Head coach Gregg Berhalter has tended to favour a 4-3-3 formation since taking charge of the national side in 2018, with it being used on 87% of occasions this year.

The fact that their next most-used structure, a 4-2-3-1 setup, has only been seen in 4% of their matches highlights how much faith they have in the balance that comes from a 4-3-3 lineup.

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In goal, they have several good options to choose from, with Middlesbrough’s on-loan Manchester City stopper Zack Steffen and Nottingham Forest’s Ethan Horvath, who is spending the 2022/2023 season at Championship side Luton Town, both good players to have in the squad.

However, the player most likely to be given the nod between the posts is Matt Turner, with the Arsenal and former New England Revolution goalkeeper currently in firm possession of the No. 1 jersey and tending to start when he is fit.

In front of him, the USA look for a balance of defensive and attacking quality, enabling them to be hard to beat but also to play out from the back when they can.

The full-backs are especially important to this, and they have tended to mix around in recent games due mostly to injuries but also to test different combinations out ahead of the World Cup.

How the USA could line up at the World Cup


However, the two that are most likely to start are DeAndre Yedlin and Antonee Robinson.

With those two players likely to get up the pitch, the USA need to have good defensive strength and awareness in the centre-back partnership, and Aaron Long and Walker Zimmerman fit those profiles perfectly.

The midfield trio is made up of one defensive-minded player and two who can both defend and attack, with the USA’s tactics centring around their transitional work and ensuring that they have players who are comfortable with the ball at their feet.

Juventus’ Weston McKennie is not the most effective player to have in the final third, but he can be relied upon to make intelligent passes and provide those on either side of him — in this case, the Leeds duo of Tyler Adams and Brenden Aaronson — with the ability to get forward and work closely with those ahead of them, which is where they are at their best.

The forward line is made up of two wide attackers and one striker, although in reality all three are expected to contribute goals and make the right movements at the right times.

There is likely to be a good deal of competition for those positions, but it is likely to be the star duo of Borussia Dortmund’s Giovanni Reyna and Chelsea’s Christian Pulisic who are given the nod in the wide attacking roles, while Jesus Ferreira is likely to start between them.

Both Reyna and Pulisic have shown themselves to be capable of changing direction on the spot and of delivering accurate crosses into the middle.

Attacking phase

The way to describe the United States’ style of play is patient at the back and then fast and decisive passing when they get the chance to move forwards.

They always wait for the right opportunity to open up before moving forwards and don’t take shots until they are closer towards the opposing goal, minimising the risk of it failing to find the target.

They also prefer to move the ball through the thirds instead of playing long balls forward.

Everything they do is precise and shows good attention to detail, and this means that it will not be easy for England, Wales and Iran to win the ball back once they lose it, putting more pressure on them to not make mistakes.

The USA play in a precise and patient way

That precision and attention to detail are indicated here, with the USA’s setup meaning that they have covered all bases and ensured that they have a way of progressing play regardless of what their opponents, in this case, Saudi Arabia, choose to do.

The key players to look at here are the two full-backs, as Yedlin has moved higher up the pitch whilst Barcelona’s Sergiño Dest has stayed closer to the two centre-backs.

This presents a slightly unbalanced picture, but it gives the USA options on the ball, as they can now play a longer pass towards Yedlin, which would gain them a significant amount of territory, or they can be conservative and play a shorter pass in Dest’s direction.

This setup has been a common feature in the USA’s matches and is clearly something that head coach Berhalter has worked on with them.

The USA speed up play in the attacking third, here against Grenada

When they do move the ball into advanced areas, the USA immediately increase the tempo of their play as they look for the best way to hurt their opponents.

In this case, Grenada have caused their own problems, with their high back line inviting the USA to position players on the shoulder of the defenders and to send passes into the spaces behind.

Ferreira scored four times in this match from similar situations which demonstrates that any mistakes or gaps left open will be capitalised on.

Defensive phase

When out of possession, the USA look to make themselves as tough to score against as possible, and they performd highly for defensive duels, aerial duels and recoveries made per game.

However, there is a clear difference between the number of aerial duels won and the number of defensive duels won, which suggests that the way for their opponents to beat them is to keep the ball on the ground.

This is how they line up with in defence, showing a disciplined 4-3-3

This situation illustrates their setup once they have lost the ball, with the lines indicating their 4-3-3 structure.

By setting up this way, they have put a significant amount of ground between the ball and the goal, making it as difficult as possible for Japan in this case to advance up the pitch and create a goalscoring opportunity.

However, the key detail that makes this so effective is that their formation constantly changes, with individual players either moving forwards or dropping back.

This structure could at any time change into a 4-3-1-2 or a 4-4-2, and that makes the USA unpredictable and therefore harder to beat.

The USA can be caught out when they lose possession

However, the thing about the USA’s defensive tactics is that they only work when their players have time to get back behind the ball, and this situation shows how they can be caught out when they lose possession and can’t get numbers back.

In this case, McKennie has made a poor pass in his own third which has invited Junya Ito to advance towards the USA’s goal.

On this occasion, the USA were saved by the fact that Kamada was ruled offside when he took the shot at goal, but this is not the first time that they have found themselves in this type of situation.

It is very much a “risk and reward” way of playing, with the positives obvious but the negatives indicated here, and it is something that their opponents will recognise and look to exploit once the World Cup gets underway.

Transitions

As mentioned, the United States on the whole play a measured style that sees them keep the ball and then strike when the right moment arrives.

That is helped in no small part by the movement that individual players make around the field.

To explain, if players had one role and stayed in just one area of the pitch, then it would be easy for their opponents to mark them and prevent the ball from moving around.

The USA often play a safety-first system that is based on keeping the ball

However, because the USA’s players keep switching positions, they become less predictable and teams find it harder to close off all available passing options against them.

It is important to remember though that the USA don’t take risks when moving the ball around, and that is once again on show above with their players looking after it as their priority.

The first thought is to send it back towards his defensive line indicates that it is a case of “safety first” in everything that they do.

The USA rush back to their own goal, which provides cover but allows the attackers plenty of space

Once they lose possession, as mentioned, their focus immediately turns towards getting back and protecting their goal area.

However, the key point to make here is that these four players are now only focused on protecting their goal, which means that none of them think about coming out to slow Morocco’s progress down.

Attackers

The United States want their wingers to be capable of cutting inside and supporting the striker as much as possible, but that relies on the player in that central role having the right profile.

Otherwise, the team will end up with players getting into the same spaces and rendering their attacking chances ineffective.

The two players most likely to play in the central role are Ferreira and Norwich City’s Josh Sargent, who has started the current Championship season in good form.

Midfielders

When it comes to the central third, the main characteristics that Berhalter looks for are the ability to make accurate passes and to get shots on goal, with those who start in those positions expected to push forwards and contribute in the final third.

When it comes to passing the ball around, the player with the best accuracy out of those likely to be in these positions is Luca de la Torre, with 89.1% of his passes finding their intended target.

However, the three players named in the predicted starting XI are not far behind him.

Defenders

There are two things to consider when analysing the different options in the USA’s defensive line.

Firstly they need full-backs who are happy to play in advanced areas and who will help to move the ball up the pitch.

Secondly they need centre-backs who are tough to beat and would be comfortable being left on their own when their side has possession, with that last point being something that they have struggled with, as previously analysed.

Dest and Yedlin are capable of this whilst Cannon and Robinson also have ability in this area.

In the middle of the defence, Long is likely to be the leader with his experience with Carter-Vickers, Zimmerman and McKenzie all adding options. We expect Zimmerman to start.

Key player

Leeds star Tyler Adams offers everything that the USA need from their players in the central third, including an ability to link up with those behind him, offer passing options and get up the field at speed when his team are in transition.

GettyLeeds star Tyler Adams is USA’s key man[/caption]

The USA’s will depend on him being in top form in every game.

Being a box-to-box midfielder means that players need to be just as good at the back, with them needing to offer defensive protection when it is required.

Adams is happy to play his part when his team need someone to drop back and cut spaces off.

Tournament prediction

The United States are a team with an abundance of quality and that cannot be underestimated, with England, Wales and Iran needing to be at their best when facing them once the tournament gets underway.

If they get every detail of their play right, including personnel, tactics and substitutions, then progression into the knockout rounds is very much within the USA’s grasp.

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However, there are areas where they can be hurt. 

Despite this, progression to the knockout rounds does look fairly secure for the USA.

For even more detailed analysis of all 32 teams in the FIFA World Cup 2022, download your copy of the November Total Football Analysis magazine here

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