Throughout the Copa America Centenario, USMNT manager Jurgen Klinsmann has uncharacteristically been sticking with the same lineup. Klinsmann became the first US manager since 1930 to use the same starting XI in three straight matches. In game number four, Klinsmann made just one change, which was a necessity as starting right back DeAndre Yedlin was suspended.
However, when the US meet Argentina in the Copa America semifinal Tuesday, Klinsmann will have to make several changes to his lineup as he’ll be without Jermaine Jones, who is suspended after getting a red card against Ecuador, Alejandro Bedoya, and Bobby Wood, with the latter two being suspended for yellow card accumulation.
That leaves Klinsmann with some major holes to fill in the US team. He has a few options as to how he can go about it, but along with the positives of each option come some potential major flaws.
When it comes to Jermaine Jones, one of the safest bets in the history of sports is that Kyle Beckerman will simply step into the lineup and push Michael Bradley up the field. But that still leaves Wood and Bedoya, meaning Klinsmann would have to find a replacement for a striker and a winger/central midfielder depending on how the US lines up.
When it comes to Wood, the most similar “striker” the US have to him is Gyasi Zardes, who has been playing as a winger in the team’s first four games. The popular school of thought is that Zardes will likely push up and line up next to Clint Dempsey as the teams second striker, leaving two wing spots that need to be filled. Veteran Graham Zusi is all but guaranteed to line up as one of the wingers but what about the other side?
In order to answer that question, we need to ask what formation the US will play. The first choice is to go with the same formation they played against Ecuador, which was a hybrid between a 4-4-2 and a 3-5-2. When the US were defending they did so with two blocks of four. However when they went on the attack, the formation changed to a 3-5-2 with right back Fabian Johnson pushing up in the attack while left back Matt Besler tucked inside to form a back three.
After a solid showing from Besler there’s a good chance Klinsmann can decide to go down this route again, allowing Besler to keep his place. DeAndre Yedlin, who returns from his suspension, will step back in at right back, which would allow Fabian Johnson to push up and play on the left wing, the position that he plays for club side Borussia Monchengladbach. This would allow the US to have a strong side going forward, while Johnson can also come back to help Besler out. Of course the draw back is Argentina’s pacy attackers running at Matt Besler, which is a scary proposition, but to be fair Lionel Messi running at any US defender is scary.
If Klinsmann wants to keep Fabian Johnson at the left back position he occupied in the first three games he’ll have to find another winger opposite Graham Zusi. Unfortunately, his options aren’t great as it would likely come down to the inexperienced Darlington Nagbe or Christian Pulisic. Nagbe’s natural position is in the middle of the field, and he’s far more effective in the middle then on the wing. I can’t even imagine Klinsmann considering giving his first start, as throwing him out into the deep water against Argentina is hardly a way of putting the 17-year-old in a position to succeed and build his confidence.
Putting Pulisic on from the start could very well be a disaster as it would be very easy for the moment to be too big for him. However if the US are down in the second half, Klinsmann wouldn’t be afraid to bring him on as a sub, where there is significantly less pressure. Either he helps the US score and becomes a hero, or the team was already losing anyway.
Klinsmann does have one other option. He can keep Zardes as a winger and simply change the US’s formation to a 4-4-1-1 or to the 4-2-3-1 they used at the World Cup by playing Dempsey as the lone striker with Darlington Nagbe underneath him. This would allow the US to have two natural and experienced wingers, while Nagbe would play where he could be most effective, centrally.
Taking on Argentina would be a tall task for the US even if they had all their players available, but the bottom line is they don’t. Klinsmann now has some important decisions to make heading into this match. Personally I think he’ll go with option one of keeping Besler in the team and pushing Fabian Johnson into the midfield, but as we’ve learned with Jurgen Klinsmann, it’s never easy to predict what he’ll do next.