A mere three matches in the books for the Herr to the throne; time to pass judgments and make ridiculous prognostications on how the US will fare in 2014 and who will be there.
Truth be told, the most recently concluded USMNT September camps did give US fans a very visible look-in on what to expect going forward with the team, not least of which is a measured and educational approach by the headman.
What doesn’t matter thus far is the results. In fact, US fans should care less if the US loses by the score of 4-0 or 40-o. Unless there is some mandate from USSF from a marketing perspective to “keep it close,” frivolous experimental matches before qualifying should not be used to push a winning mentality (or more appropriately “build” mentality) and being on the wrong side of the scoreline should not measure the coach.
New formations and new players should and are being explored with attempts to move the ball and play defense a certain way. And note, this a luxury probably never afforded to Bob Bradley whose entire tenure was marked by a results-oriented approach probably because of Sunil Gulati’s desire to replace him.
The question must be asked is: Did the previous cycle’s results-oriented approach in any way stunt or compromise the growth of the team? The answer in hindsight will be never be known, but that’s exactly the latitude that Bradley’s successor has.
Let’s get right to our dive chart:
We’ll break it down with:
• The Depth Chart
• Playing Mourinho
• Can the US counter? It sure can. So why rely on it in these matches instead of figuring out the other ways it can play.
Step back for a second and ask yourself this question: How many times–I counted at least seven–over two games did you see Brek Shea with a full head of steam hold up the play and drop a pass back for Maurice Edu, Jose Torres or another player, thus negating a counterattack scoring chance?
Other players held up as well.
Why? It sure seemed like a directive from Klinsmann was “Don’t Counterattack.” Actually, revisiting the game against Mexico in August, Klinsmann himself illuminated his early stage strategy.
“We want to build from the back” was the thrust of his post-game conference.
That instruction from the coach had two effects on team.
First, it forced the players to move off the ball and move within a system to bring the ball up the pitch.
A criticism of the Bradley era was the laggard off the ball movement of the front six.
Sure, that continued quite a bit in these matches, but movement was also noticeably better–notably Jozy Altidore off the ball.
Second and perhaps more importantly, when a team doesn’t counterattack, it reduces the chances of succumbing to the counter themselves.
Are you looking for the biggest difference in the three-match regime change here thus far on the pitch?
That would be the United States moving more uniformly as one–reducing the “lost shape” and “stretching” that is devastating for a team defending in transition.
The United States coughed up three clean sheets in their past three matches, only one–Costa Rica–was in transition–that from a blown defensive assignment by Jose Torres and because the defense actually was tardy in coming up to support the team and remove excess spacing.
Contrast that to the Gold Cup–especially the Final match–where the US employed their own counterattack and was shot down unmercifully in their two losses–to Panama and Mexico respectively–on the counter.
The US was stretched in those games–criminally–against Mexico with a tournament-weary Michael Bradley and Jermaine Jones frantically attempting to catch up to the play most of the time.
Klinsmann has added an extra man in the center of the pitch and is developing “the slow approach” to bringing up the ball–and that has improved the Yanks defense in return.
Media pundits scolded the US for the lack of chances and the fact that the counter attack was gone.
This is a team that really since the days of John O’Brien and Claudio Reyna collectively controlling the tempo has not been able to consistently dictate the game to opponents–and more worrisome hasn’t been able to do it against weaker ones.
The US can counterattack. That is known.
Remember when, at the end of the NBA season, LeBron James was harangued for being an incomplete player because he didn’t have a post-up game.
• Did anyone else catch that Donovan and Dempsey played the same role in different matches and weren’t particularly effective?
There is a classic question that the media loves to knead like pizza dough. It goes like this: “What will the US do after the Landon Donovan and Clint Dempsey era? Who will replace them?”
A fair question indeed and Klinsmann gave fans a little morsel, a little taste of what he was thinking in these two matches.
With Brek Shea (looking capable on the left) and Robbie Rogers (not looking like the answer on the right), the US created width up the field. A quick note here: To employ a classic two-striker system here would pretty much collapse what the US is trying to do up top, if it’s not a speedy striker-CF type alignment.
Back to our point. With the two younger wingers split out wide to the right. Clint Dempsey and Landon Donovan both played the attacking midfielder in the second band of the 4-3-3. Donovan’s dribbles against Costa Rica (see chart on right) showcase his positioning (although as a manner of habit he tended to drift out to the right back to his more comfortable position in the 4-2-2-2 under Bob Bradley).
Neither Dempsey or Donovan–in this case Dempsey less so–are true wingers in the Jurgen Klinsmann system that we are seeing right now.
Neither player loves to expressly take it wide–Dempsey loves to cut in from the left more so while Donovan prefers to take a direct angle right at goal from a wide right position.
In fact, the question will be how will both fit on the field for the US in the coming months and years in this system.
Sacrilegious? Wait, didn’t we want to find the answer after the double “D’s” up top?
With Shea looking futuristic on the left, that may leave–if Jose Torres is a mainstay, and we’ll get to this point–right attacking midfield role and right wing position for Donovan and Dempsey.
In the past, the players haven’t thrived playing on the same side together because they both like to dominate the ball in the attacking third.
And a major sub-point here, with Dempsey’s best position being “incutting from the left wing”, he is further compromised in the US system currently by the lack of a left back option. When he drags defenders in from the left, just who threatens the opponents up the wing?
This was the case last cycle and more so the case this cycle in that Klinsmann’s system favors width and wing play more than Bradley’s.
Should the US ensure that the new system they develop hold both Donovan and Dempsey as it’s key figures? No.
Good players (and their coaches) have a way of getting players on the field. As both players age, it’s wise to take advantage of a system that complements the future. Players like Shea, Joseph Gyau, Tim Chandler and Josh Gatt.
• Line-ups and player roles
Jeff Larentowicz on MLS’s Soccer ExtraTimeRadio this past week supported the theories behind Jurgen Klinsmann’s numbering, nameless jersey move. In short, it wasn’t just about “team.”
Here was Larentowicz answering Greg Lalas’s question on the radio program in regards to USMNT roles:
“…He [Klinsmann]…I’m not sure that people have noticed…the starters wear number one thru 11…and he wants distinct roles based on those numbers. The back four and ‘the #6′ is the role that Maurice has been playing. And he put a slide up and showed the depth chart of the players in each position and where you were on the field. And when we’re in training he trained specifically for each person to understand the role of each number on the field.”
John Harkes just wept in celebration.
With that nugget of information in mind, here’s how we break down…
The Depth Chart
GK: (1) Tim Howard, (2) Bill Hamid
The skinny: This position on the depth chart seems set for now with Hamid playing long-term apprentice to Tim Howard. I can see other young keepers coming in here like Sean Johnson and Cody Cropper to challenge for Hamid’s role in the coming months though.
This analysis leads me to this (not-too-bold) prediction:
Bold Prediction #1: Brad Guzan does not get another call-in in 2010 and will not get a call-in next year unless he is playing fulltime for a club.
LFB: (1) Eric Lichaj (inj.), (2) Fabian Johnson, (3) Edgar Castillo, (4) Zach Loyd
The skinny: But we haven’t even seen Fabian Johnson! Maybe he’s an Edgar Castillo in German Adidas! Maybe, maybe. But probably not as we remember that Castillo have been but a part time starter south of the Rio Grande and a streaky player at best.
At World Cup 2010, Brazil skipper Dunga used Michel Bastos–arguably a very offensive player in the mold of a poor man’s Florent Malouda–to beat back opponents on the left flank with the threat of his attacks. I think Klinsmann is thinking along the same lines here as in offensive chops will help compensate for defensive inabilities.
Quick, name the last true leftback star for the States? Don’t forget to eat, sleep, get your Christmas presents and pay your taxes while you sleuth.
Eric Lichaj gets dealt into the mix as soon as he’s healthy.
LCB: (1) Carlos Bocanegra, (2) Tim Ream, (3) John Anthony Brooks.
The skinny: What do three camps and no starts behind the Captain tell you? That means your a puppy and you’re in grooming but we’re hoping you’re a defensive German Shepard at some point with a touch like Van Gogh. Step forward young Tim Ream….when you’re ready.
John Anthony Brooks? A 4-year deal with the senior side at Hertha Berlin? I imagine you’ll start hearing his name a lot more somewhere in the next two to four months.
RCB: (1) Clarence Goodson, (2) Michael Orozco Fiscal, (3) George John (4) Omar Gonzalez
The skinny: You’ve got me here. And I think you’ve got Klinsy boy as well.
The run outs by somebody older like Orozco Fiscal–he’ll be almost 30 at World Cup 2014–probably tell us that Klinsmann is not overly confident in Goodson, especially with the Danish Leaguer’s composure under duress.
No Omar Gonzalez yet. Reason? Not strong enough distribution perhaps, but I also think Klinsmann wants a bit of Cannavaro in here and a little less Nesta.
George John? Wild card. No idea.
RFB: (1) Steve Cherundolo, (2) Timmy Chandler, (3) Danny Williams
The skinny: Stevie C hasn’t started the campaign all that strong yet for Hannover. Bold prediction time? Yes.
Here it goes: Tim Chandler will start more games in World Cup qualifying at rightback than Cherundolo.
CDM: (1) Maurice Edu, (2) Kyle Beckerman, (3) Jeff Larentowicz
The skinny: The so-called “#6 role.” An aggressive move by Klinsmann to attempt to cover with one over the backline; the coach hoping that an extra man in the middle plus “moving as one” would provide relief for the lone Ranger Edu.
Edu still got a big workout. Right now it’s his spot because of his ability and age, but Beckerman’s abilities on the ball make it a close race.
LW: (1) Brek Shea
The skinny: The skinny? Yeah, the skinny tall guy with blond misfit cut is a player it turns out. Pondered a question on Twitter last week. Brek Shea, more Gareth Bale, Ashley Young or Thomas Muller. Going with Bale for now–Shea’s long first step and his ability get wide on the left must have Klinsmann salivating right now.
Who’s #2? An in-cutting Clint Dempsey in the 2nd half perhaps?
CM-Hub: (1) Jose Torres, Stu Holden (inj./?)
The skinny: Maybe stop and think that Joe Torres is holding Stu-S-A Holden’s role–just a thought? As much as everyone–including TSG–likes to make of Torres, you would be blind to think that Torres should be mainstay in the offense. If his role were just to circulate the ball–that is not be tasked with the incisive pass–then you’re better off having Michael Bradley or Kyle Beckerman in there.
And bit of a concern here. Torres hasn’t won yet in a US kit and has not really set Pachuca on fire in the Primera. Look around that US team. Nearly every other player has once played in or plays in a winning program. Not a notion to slough off.
And of course when Torres gets injured–and his frame he has in the past and will–what happens next?
AM/CM: (1) Clint Dempsey (Landon) (2) Stu Holden *inj* (3) Michael Bradley
The skinny: The second half of the Belgium match gave some insight that Klinsmann will make this role very fluid depending on what the opponent’s tactics and game situation dictates. Kyle Beckerman entered the match and Robbie Rogers was sacrificed. This moved Clint Dempsey out wide and the US was now using more of a dual holding system with Beckerman and Torres attempting to keep order in the middle of the pitch.
This position could be more offensive–seeing Clint Dempsey or Landon Donovan in the internal attacking mid role or you could see Stu Holden, Michael Bradley or Kyle Beckerman in that role.
RW: (1) Landon Donovan, (2) Josh Gatt, (3) Robbie Rogers
The skinny: Landon, can he play wide. He probably will. He’s floating out there anyway.
Might Robbie Rogers have been a good comp for the late 2011 introduction of youngster Josh Gatt who is an emerging player in a similar mold?
I would think so.
Striker: (1a) Jozy Altidore, (1b) Juan Agudelo, (2) Teal Bunbury
The skinny: When you get to a “C” level executive in business, choosing your role and knowing when to choose your role (what company, what industry) is as important for you success and image as actually doing a good job.
Great case in point? Terry Semel, former CEO of Yahoo. Under Semel’s watch Yahoo made great strides in the early to mid 2000’s. Semel was revered for leadership. One problem.
A careful analysis showed that Semel’s Yahoo lagged the growth of tech companies who were finally experiencing their Renaissance.
Klinsmann’s got the US job and in Jozy Altidore–perhaps maturing in his fourth season in Europe, Juan Agudelo and Teal Bunbury (perhaps the US’s best option coming within the hashmarks), there’s actually some hope for a true striker.
Klinsmann made Adidas famous in the late 1980s-early 1990’s–can he make the US strikers fashionable here in the 2010’s?
We haven’t done our Mourinho column in awhile. So we’ll keep it brief here.
Best US line-up using Klinsmann’s 4-3-3 line-up? We offer that below. The Latin influence naturally offered here by Scottish-American Stu Holden.
A few notes here. First, there seems be much love for the 4-4-2, especially from my colleague Taylor Twellman.
Don’t understand it for a number of reasons.
First, I’ll qualify and say a 1-1 set-up up top (4-4-1-1) makes more sense than a 4-4-2.
That said, two up top makes little sense in Klinsmann’s width-based system for a few reasons.
First, the deep flanks are where the wide forwards and defenders aspire to get to. In a 4-4-2, this space is eaten up by down the line runs of strikers which are less necessary for Klinsmann.
Second, the US has no true speed option. Unlike a Manchester United who sees Rooney float below Chicharito or Spain who sees David Villa float ahead of any number of attackers, the US doesn’t have that player right now. Haven’t had it since Charlie Davies pre-injury.
Klinsmann’s current camp invitations speak to that notion and his desire to employ a single-striker target-player system. Edson Buddle, Teal Bunbury, Jozy Altidore and Juan Agudelo all can play the point themselves. When Klinsmann has brought in Agudelo in games; it’s been to replace Altidore, not in concert with.
Finally–speaking to Twellman’s desire for the 4-4-2–his comments were that the US needs someone to get on the other end of crosses. Well, yes if you’re coming down the right flank and either Cherundolo or Chandler is lofting one in. But in that case you have Shea on the other end as well as Altidore and perhaps Dempsey.
Flip the ball over to the left side, crossing to the right and….well, the Yanks don’t really have a strong left foot option save Shea right now who has been relied on more to gain the corner in an attack.
Our go at a potential “Klinsmannesque” line-up.