Looking at the US U-20 and the 4-3-3

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Certainly a mixed bag for the US U-20 team: You can listen to the analysis of Daniel Feuerstein, Ignacio Rodriguez and our own Richard Farley and Kartik Krishnaiyer on the latest Major League Soccer Talk Podcast.

The mixed bag for the Yanks thus far matches the tournament as a whole. With several late withdrawals thanks to European clubs and the failure of two time defending Champion Argentina to qualify, the competition has been wide open thus far. Also interesting has been the decision by coach Thomas Rongen to deploy the 4-3-3 formation, often used by the Dutch National Team and Barcelona through the years.

The US backline has had some difficulty in this tournament. Kyle Davies injury in the first match did not help, and while Central defenders Ike Opara, and Gale have held up decently, too many opposition chances have come down the flanks in both matches.

In the midfield, Thomas Rongen’s changes from the first match to the second were comprehensive and successful. Dilly Duka and Brian Arguez not only both scored goals for the US, but helped dictate the entire flow of the match. In the first match Gerson Mayen and Brian Ownby were both badly off their games and the Germans took advantage of the dysfunctional American midfield.

Brek Shea, as our panel concluded on MLS Talk has been a disappointment thus far in the tournament. But Tony Taylor, signed recently by Miami FC and one of the best college soccer players in recent memory in the state of Florida has been very good in both matches. He’s still somewhat raw, like many in this age group, but the potential and tactical awareness is apparent every time he suits up for  college, club or country (or even in training or at the semi pro level where he featured for Lynch’s FC).

Thomas Rongen’s 4-3-3 formation was criticized, but with the talent and versatility this team posses, it’s difficult to see this side playing the default US tactics. In 2007, Rongen used a 4-5-1, largely because Sal Zizzo, Robbie Rogers and Danny Szetela were at the time peaking and Michael Bradley was an automatic selection, but his preference with that side may have been to play another striker alongside Jozy Altidore.

Rongen could have deployed Rogers and Zizzo as wide attackers in a 4-3-3 with a midfield of Szetela, Bradley and Freddy Adu. But that 4-5-1 was built to showcase Adu and Altidore’s talents to the world, and the US was successful, despite seeing several games bogged down in the midfield. This year’s U-20 team showed against Cameroon, that they could clear the ball and link up quickly if the 4-3-3 was played correctly. While the results in 2007 cannot be argued with, the style of play can be debated.

The 4-3-3, the US U-20s are playing currently could be the wave of the future for the program as a whole. Right now, the US doesn’t have enough talent on the senior level to play anything but a defensive oriented style. But, versatility and covering space are being taught at the youth level now here in the states, and the 4-3-3 depends on players constantly running and covering for team mates.

The 2009 U-20 team may be a guinea pig to see how far along we are in this nation to playing an attack minded, “total football,” type game. This is a very talented side (relatively speaking to the age group, this team is far more talented than the senior side) and provides a good laboratory for a new, attack minded US program.