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Bradley's 4-3-3 experiment falls flat vs. Colombia

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CHESTER, Pa. – Bob Bradley entered the lab on Tuesday night.

The United States national team started their friendly against Colombia at PPL Park with Jermaine Jones, Michael Bradley and Maurice Edu playing a triangle in central midfield.

Call it a 4-3-3 or a 4-5-1 or whatever you want; the numerical distinctions are just semantics. The point is that the inclusion of a central midfield trio necessitated a different look than anything we've seen previously from Bob Bradley's side.

The result? Decidedly mixed.

"We didn't find a good rhythm of playing out of the back [in the first half] and playing forward fast enough and have some good options," the American manager said after the match. "We felt like we really couldn't put passes together that took us anywhere."

Early in the match, the trio of central midfielders struggled with its positioning. On occasion, both Michael Bradley and Jones – who played ahead of Edu – checked back to receive the ball after it was controlled by the American back line or the Rangers midfielder.

The pair improved its communication as the half wore on, but failed to create much of anything in the attack.

Because of the difficulty in attack, the rest of the US team didn't spread out to create passing angles. Stuart Holden drifted into the center of the field as he did against Poland last Saturday.

Part of this tactic was by design, as Jonathan Spector frequently advanced up the flank, but the Stars and Stripes often lacked width when they gained possession and looked to counter.

Bolton's newest star admitted he ventured too far into the middle at points.

"I was trying to find the ball," Holden said after the game. "I didn't want to just be stuck out on the wing and not getting any of the ball. I may have flowed inside a little too much, but I was just trying to get on the ball and trying to connect things for us."

First-time cap-winner Brek Shea, who looked a bit out of sorts with the speed of the game, had the opposite problem with the formation. He wanted to spread out, but couldn't find the space.

"The way I was tucked playing a 4-3-3, so the guy was right on top of me," the FC Dallas winger said. "If I went left or right there was a guy. I didn't have the free space of being out wide."

"I definitely feel more comfortable in a 4-4-2. I’m not saying in the 4-3-3 I can’t play, but I haven’t played there in a while especially being nervous with my first cap."

With Shea struggling, Jones shifted further and further left and up field until he was playing even with or ahead of the young FCD midfielder at times.

As a result, the formation resembled a 4-1-4-1 with Edu and Jozy Altidore playing the solo roles. The striker looked lost, both because of his poor first touch and his lack of support.

The three central midfielders didn't mesh well together, but it was their first time together and there were moments of potential. Jones' speed up the left side created a nice chance in the 17th minute.

After partially blocking a Colombia free kick, he raced up the flank and received a punt from Brad Guzan. The Schalke 04 midfielder was fouled on the play, setting up a dangerous free kick. (Oguchi Onyewu got a head to Holden's excellent service, but missed wide. The replay showed Bradley had a better angle on net.)

At the 28-minute mark, Jones once again got free on the left side before crossing to a streaking Bradley who continued the switch to Holden.

Although the sequence ultimately came to nothing, it showed how the formation could work with Jones leading the attack and the tireless Borussia Mönchengladbach midfielder trailing the play as he's done so effectively in the Bundesliga. (Both Bradley and Jones covered an impressive amount of the PPL Park field.)

But overall, the new formation failed to pass Bob Bradley's stiffest test.

"We only gauge things on our ability to create chances," he said.

The coach made four substitutions to start the second half including removing Edu for Eddie Johnson who pushed up and paired with Altidore. The final 45 saw the US adopt their more traditional 4-4-2, which looked more dangerous.

The experiment was over ... for the night.

Noah Davis covers the United States national team for Follow him on Twitter @noahedavis.

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