If we have learned anything about Jurgen Klinsmann during his four years as U.S. coach, it's that he isn’t afraid to experiment. Whether he is trying players at different positions, or giving newcomers chances in starting roles, or tinkering with tactical systems, Klinsmann has shown a willingness to shake things up.
Klinsmann’s latest attempt at innovation has him deploying three central defenders in a variation of the 3-5-2 that has grown in popularity in recent times. Klinsmann need only look at CONCACAF’s fellow powers, Mexico and Costa Rica, for teams who have enjoyed success implementing a similar system. Built around three central defenders and two wing backs, the formation can function either as a more attack-minded 3-5-2 or more defensive-minded 5-3-2.
Klinsmann’s desire to try this new approach suddenly puts Wednesday’s friendly against Chile into better perspective. Klinsmann is getting the chance to see a team known well for its implementation of the 3-5-2 up close, even if the team the U.S. will face will bear little resemblance to side that looked so good at last summer’s World Cup.
Chile’s best players won’t be there on Wednesday, but head coach Jorge Sampaioli will be, and his high-pressing 3-5-2 system should be on display, giving Klinsmann’s squad a close-up look at the setup to which the Americans could be ready to transition.
is the 3-5-2 a suitable system for the U.S. to install? A look at the player pool suggests it just might be a better fit for the personnel available to Klinsmann. The lack of a true playmaker made the 4-4-2 diamond experiment a mixed bag, while the attempts at deploying a 4-3-3 have produced little in the way of excitement or goals.
With fast wide players who could help contribute the pressure and pace vital to succeeding in a 3-5-2, Klinsmann may be on to something. Fabian Johnson was a good right back in a 4-4-2 at the World Cup, but he isn’t being used at right back with his club team and in recent national team appearances he has looked like more of a defensive liability. As a wing back in a 3-5-2 Johnson would have less one-on-one defensive responsibility, while having more freedom to attack and be dangerous in the final third.
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Then there is DeAndre Yedlin, who is an exciting player when he is attacking, but continues to seriously flawed as a defender at the right back position. Klinsmann showed at the World Cup, and in matches afterwards, that he saw Yedlin being more effective further up the field. A role as a wing back could suit Yedlin’s strengths perfectly. Other players such as Tim Chandler and Brek Shea could also do well in wing back roles, with Shea a player who appears set for a more defensive role at his new club Orlando City.
The 3-5-2 could also suit the central defenders in the pool as well. Jermaine Jones has made a full transition to central defender for the U.S, and he is perfectly suited for the central role in the three-man defense. His leadership qualities and ability to read the game could make him the perfect organizer, even if he is on the older side at age 32. The other center back roles in the 3-5-2 could suit the likes of Matt Besler and Geoff Cameron very well, though players like John Brooks and Omar Gonzalez might have a tougher time in the transition.
Then there is the central midfield, which is the engine that will ultimately dictate whether a shift to a 3-5-2 can really succeed. Michael Bradley will be one cornerstone of the central triangle, with Mix Diskerud likely to play a key role as well. Those two players playing in support of a playmaker like Lee Nguyen could prove very effective, particularly with Clint Dempsey allowed to slot into a forward slot alongside Jozy Altidore.
The versatility of a 3-5-2 could not only allow Klinsmann the luxury of more defensive stability against tougher opponents, but also allow him to find a way to put players like Yedlin and Johnson on the field in roles that can amplify their strengths while covering for their weaknesses.
We will find out Wednesday just how serious Klinsmann is about installing the 3-5-2. If it is something we only see later in the match, then perhaps it is still just a variation to have in the bag of tricks. But if we see 90 minutes of the 3-5-2 against Chile, then that would be a good sign Klinsmann is serious about making the new system work in 2015.