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May 31, 2014
Will diamond be USA men's best friend in Brazil?

By Michael Lewis, Editor

NEW YORK - As it puts its finishing touches preparing for the World Cup, the U.S. national team has plenty of questions to answer.

--How will the USA fare without Landon Donovan?

--Can striker Jozy Altidore get out of his goal-scoring funk?

--And the most-raised question to surface during Friday's media day at the Marriott Marquis in Times Square:

Will a new formation with a diamond midfield be the USA men's best friend in Brazil?

Underdogs in Group G with Ghana, which has eliminated the Americans the past two World Cups, Portugal, which boasts the best player in the world in Cristiano Ronaldo, and Germany, rated by many to reach the semifinals and perhaps the final, the USA will need any type of help it can find.

The Americans have deployed a new system as they will try to beat the odds and get out of their group at the World Cup, aka the Group of Death.

After using a formation that featured four defenders, five midfielders and one striker in a 4-3-2-1 setup for most of his three-year tenure, head coach Jurgen Klinsmann has decided to deploy a more traditional 4-4-2 lineup during the Americans' three "Send-Off" matches.

They used that formation in Tuesday's 2-0 win over Azerbaijan in San Francisco and they are expected to utilize it against Turkey in the second "Send-Off" game at Red Bull Arena at 2 p.m. Sunday.

The unit features two midfielders, Michael Bradley at the point and Jermaine Jones as the defensive specialist, two wing midfielders and two forwards. Altidore, who struggled during a nightmare season at Sunderland, is the front man, and Clint Dempsey is the No. 2 forward.

Klinsmann, however, isn't making such a big deal about the new system.

“There is no such thing as a best system,” he said. “It doesn’t really matter really if you play a 4-4-2 diamond, or a flat four or a 4-3-2-1. It doesn't really matter because it’s the whole team, how it shapes up and how it works as an entire unit, how it attacks collectively and how it defends collectively.

"You can win a tournament like Spain did two years ago (at Euro 2012) playing a 4-6-0, leave all the strikers out, and have the midfielders score all the goals. So it really doesn't matter what system.

"We want to be prepared in different ways on how we approach the teams. We have at least two or three systems. The system right now suits a lot of our players because it's also based on their strengths. ... Every system requires different characteristics. The diamond requires fullbacks that go down the line. ... It's good for us that we work on different ones and hopefully use different ones at different moments in Brazil.”

For the players, whatever system is used is no big deal as well.

“Both systems work fine for us," defender DaMarcus Beasley said. "It depends on who we are playing, and I’m sure it will change in the World Cup. But that doesn’t make a team. It’s the 11 players. It doesn’t matter what formation we play.”

And whatever system is used won't alter Bradley's style of play.

"I think a lot of times, 4-4-2, all this stuff gets a little bit blown out of proportion," he said. "For what I am all about as a player, whether I am playing in your words at the tip of the diamond or whether I am playing next to somebody, it doesn't change what I'm about as a player. Obviously, there are little details that can be adjusted, depending on the game, depending on who I am playing with.

"For me, it doesn't change my mentality, it doesn't change what I am trying to give to the team. So I think Jurgen will use the work that has gone in over the past few months, use the next two friendly games and I'm sure the closed-door match in Brazil against Belgium, the best group and the best way to get that group on the field against Ghana."

The USA has some two weeks to refine their diamond and hope it sparkles when needed because it opens its Group G quest against Ghana in Recife on June 16.

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