The United States has been stable in the center of the park this World Cup. Kyle Beckerman has been the holder, Jermaine Jones has been everywhere and Michael Bradley has been the focal point going forward. It worked well enough to get the U.S. out of a brutal group and into the knockout stages.
So why is Jurgen Klinsmann changing it up in the round of 16?
The U.S. manager has opted to drop Beckerman for the Americans' clash against Belgium, instead starting Geoff Cameron in the midfield. That is the same Cameron who has only played as a center back this World Cup.
The most obvious reason is a desire to go with fresher legs. The U.S. has played Beckerman, Jones and Bradley in each of their matches so far, which can lead to fatigue. If Klinsmann wanted to add some fresher legs into the midfield, he had to sit one of the three and there was no way he could sit Jones or Bradley. That makes Beckerman the default pick to sit.
Cameron is also a better match-up against Belgium.
At 6'3'', Cameron is big and strong, capable of matching Belgium's Marouane Fellaini and Axel Witsel. The two Belgians are massive and throw their weight around. They'll win balls in the air and run through opposing players. Cameron is also the same type of player and suited to play the kind of match Belgium are going to try to impose in the middle of the pitch.
There's also the matter of set pieces. Cameron's size and experience as a center back mean he can give the U.S. a bit more in the air on defensive set pieces and another scoring threat when they win corners and free kicks.
It's amazing to think that not starting Beckerman would be a surprise. He was on the fringes of the team a year ago and few figured he would be a consistent starter before the World Cup, but he's played superbly. Now he's being relegated to the bench, in part to guard against the weary legs a World Cup brings on and in part because Cameron is well-suited to the opposition.
To drop Beckerman and change a successful formula is a risky decision, but Klinsmann has never been scared of taking a risk. And if you're going to take a risk, going fresh and for the match-up isn't the worst way to do it.