Much of the talk heading into the United States 2014 World Cup campaign has been focused on the central defense. The combination of Matt Besler and Geoff Cameron have a combined zero World Cup appearances and their backup, Omar Gonzalez, is in the same boat as well. However, the real key to American success in Brazil will be the other two defenders.
In the final friendly against Nigeria, Jürgen Klinsmann opted to start DeMarcus Beasley and Fabian Johnson. They will most likely start on the 16th against Brazil as well. Timmy Chandler and DeAndre Yedlin have also filled the roles.
The USMNT will head into the tournament with an understanding that its opponents are all incredibly dangerous in attack. Therefore, they will likely sit back a little more defensively than in recent friendlies as well as just about every qualifier. Obviously the defense must be organized in front of Tim Howard to keep these potent strikers out of dangerous positions, but it’s the outside defenders ability to get forward that gives the U.S. it’s advantage.
Beasley, Johnson and Yedlin have all shown in recent appearances that they are able to push up the field and join the attack. It’s that transition that will determine whether the United States have their backs up against their own goal for 270 minutes or if they’ll be able to get out on the break and apply pressure to their opponents.
Against Nigeria, Michael Bradley was the kingpin in transition from defense to offense. However, as the competition ramps up, it will likely have to come from a deeper position. That’s where Beasley, Johnson, and Yedlin come in to play. When Ghana, Portugal, or German turns the ball over in the final third, which they will, the outside defense must be thinking offense immediately. Get the ball on to the feet of Bradley, Jermaine Jones, or Kyle Beckerman, and then join the attack.
Clean transitions will be the difference for the USMNT. If they can quickly take the ball away, then get it going in the right direction, they’ll have many opportunities to score. If they can’t, scoring goals will have to come from brilliance in small spaces from Jozy Altidore or Clint Dempsey.
Expect Jürgen Klinsmann to utilize one of his three subs on this position in every group stage game. He must keep the legs fresh back there otherwise things can become nasty for Besler, Cameron, and especially Howard.
Don’t expect to see Beasley, Johnson, Chandler, or Yedlin on the score sheet, but when you’re watching the games, keep on eye on the outside defenders and you’ll be one step ahead.