SALVADOR, Brazil — When I asked Clint Dempsey about the struggles of playing as a lone striker, I was expecting to hear him go on about how he doesn’t have a problem with the set-up he has been deployed in by Jurgen Klinsmann over the past two World Cup matches. What Dempsey did say, left you wondering whether we just might see a tactical change from the Americans when they face Belgium on Tuesday.
Dempsey stated that we could see two forwards, or one forward, and that either system could work against the Belgians. The real question is whether a four-man midfield would give the Americans enough support to deal with Belgium’s stacked midfielders.
So why would Klinsmann consider a 4-4-2 after having relative success with a 4-5-1? It could have something to do with Belgium’s defensive injuries, which have caused manager Marc Wilmots to do some lineup shuffling, and will likely mean the absence of Vincent Kompany along with Thomas Vermaelen.
Who might Klinsmann turn to as Dempsey’s strike partner? This was a popular question before the Portugal match, but Chris Wondolowski and Aron Johannsson were both forced to settle for a place on the bench. This time around though, Klinsmann might be ready to deploy Johannsson with hopes that his quickness could trouble a short-handed Belgium defense.
I still think a 4-5-1 is more likely for the Americans, with Graham Zusi and Alejandro Bedoya joining the midfield trio of Michael Bradley, Jermaine Jones and Kyle Beckerman. That would give the Americans the support on the wings to help the U.S. fullbacks deal with Eden Hazard and Dries Mertens.
Perhaps Klinsmann is ready to attack, and be more proactive with his lineup selection. If so, we could see a 4-4-2, which would take some of the pressure off Dempsey, and give him some more freedom to operate, like he enjoyed in the opening win against Ghana. Dempsey is clearly more effective when partnered with a second forward.
As we have stated before though, how the U.S. does in the attack will depend in large part on how Michael Bradley does. His passing in the final third has been off this World Cup, and Klinsmann has already stated publicly that he wants Bradley to push further up the field rather than dropping deep and helping Jones and Beckerman defensively.
If Klinsmann goes with two forwards, and if Bradley finds his passing touch, the Americans could definitely create chances against the Belgians, and just might have the firepower to pull off the Round of 16 upset.