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US Soccer: 3-5-2 tactical primer

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US Soccer has been experimenting with the 3-5-2 of late. Here's a good primer on the formation.

Steve Flynn-USA TODAY Sports

The buzz on the street is that US Men's National Team is toying with the newest fad formation in world soccer-the 3-5-2.  But what exactly is this formation, and how does it play? Here's a quick primer.

The 3-5-2 is built around a position known as the wingback. Wingbacks run up and down the pitch, performing the duties of both a full back and a winger.  In theory, this means the 3-5-2 is constantly shifting between its base and a 5-3-2, depending on which team has the ball.

In the 3-5-2, team shape and symmetry is everything. In the top row of the following diagram, I show how the back three and middle three are supposed to play relative to one another. The key here is that they stay compact and very close to one another, leaving little in-between space for attacking players to exploit.  The back line should be central at all times, and together. The middle three should gradually shift as a unit to the side of the field with the ball, however, they cannot get disjointed. They have to shift as a unit.

Before we get to the bottom row let's talk about why this shape is so important. The 3-5-2 is a formation that aims to control the center of the field. It does this by stacking two lines of 3 on top of each other. If these lines start to get too far away from one another or if players fail to stay within them,  control of the center is lost.

Now let's get to the wingbacks and how they should defend. The bottom row shows how the outside backs are supposed to position themselves relative to the lines. They must sit in-between, creating a triangle with outside cms and cbs. By positioning themselves like this, they can be an immediate option whenever the ball is given up.

So this is the base defensive shape.

The right and left centerback are responsible for marking the strikers, while the central centerback plays in the vein of a classic sweeper, closing down the ball. When the ball turns over, the wingbacks become outlets and the vehicles for transition.

Although one of the central tenants of the modern 3-5-2 is to not break the shape of the 3 central midfielders, Chile has been successful pushing their central cm forward in the attack, thanks to the introduction of a few wrinkles, mainly, the use of a hybrid centerback.

The hybrid back is able to step into the space vacated by the attacking mid, as needed, in order to provide deep lying distribution, and in order to provide passing options in the build up. This requires a centerback who is an adept midfielder who can read the game well enough to know when to step up. For Chile, this is Silva. For the US, this could be Jones.

Jones is already perfect for being the central center back in a 3-5-2 because it's a role that doesn't tie him to marks, and allows him to seek the ball, much like a dcm. The fact that he is also a former dcm with amazing ball distribution means that he fits the Silva role quite perfectly. The problem, however, is that this is a huge gamble. If the attacking mid pushes forward  and the outside midfielders push to far forwards, Jones get's isolated. If one of the centermids carelessly gives the ball away,  Jones gets isolated.

The Chilean system is like a finely tuned machine. It's beautiful in its intricacies; however, it only takes a breakdown of a single part for the entire machine to break completely. If the US try to emulate it, expect some hiccups along the way.