Constants, Variables & Dreadlocks In Orbit Around Planet Klinsmann

By John Nyen

Engels: Invariably

Friedrich Engel, Georg Cantor, Grete Hermann, and Jurgen Klinsmann are related in a very odd way. Of course they are all German.

However, this would miss the implicit point hidden in the Klinsmann way.

That is that they are all German mathematicians.

There have been arguments written back and forth over the context in which Jurgen Klinsmann has been operating the US Men’s Soccer Team over his seven game tenure.

Critiques have flown in regarding player selection, playing time, the formation of the team and even the quotes by the coach himself. This has been exacerbated by losses and low scoring games. There could even be the argument made that USA soccer fans have become accustomed to winning first and foremost despite pretty play or form.

Up until 2011, Bob Bradley had a 62.9% winning record as US head coach. This meant that to those who ran through the Bruce Arena era (65.8 winning percentage) and Bob Bradley era that you were accustomed to turning on a USA game and watching them win or tie a good portion of the time.

El Capitan...

However, the expectations of Klinsmann when it came to winning were nothing compared to the expectations of how USA fans wanted their team to play. More “possession-oriented,” “attacking” and “taking the game to their opponents” stood out as buzzwords like the attributes of what the newest cleaning supplies can do.

These phrases were often uttered by the new coach himself as a way to show his future ideals.

However, these really are future ideals rather than immediate ideals. The eleven on the field are in essence a team of horses that have to be lead in the right way and shaped in the right way. At Klinsmann’s heart, it seems, is an attempt to logically and soundly “Solve for A.”

He is putting together equations with variables and constants in an effort to fix the issues with the team. Fans and observers tend to focus on the mistake or the success, the blown play, the goal scorer, or the own goal scorer. However, what we are missing at times is the formula, the expression which dictates how the mistake or the success happened. Klinsmann himself has expressed the desire to have his team stop focusing on the mistake and attempt to move onto the next play.

The US "Becks"

To many, the inclusion and playing of Kyle Beckerman is an example of either not properly evaluating talent, having a favorite or perhaps, for some, insanity–don’t worry Bob Bradley had that disease of the mind too as did every US coach prior.

But what if Kyle Beckerman’s inclusion is a tool for improvement, a statement on the ideal or even a a statement to the ideal player? Or a means to an end, but not the end itself?

We know that there are a number of players who can play midfield and we know that many of these players are similar in overall talent with a spike in different skill sets.

What we are not taking into factor is exactly what is being attempted here.

Klinsmann himself in a terrific interview with Brian Straus of the Sporting News is quoted:

“Some may say, ‘Why is there a Kyle Beckerman right now occupying the No. 6 (defensive midfielder) role, when we have Jermaine Jones playing for Schalke or Michael (Bradley) in Verona and they’re really good players?’
Right now, what I tell (Beckerman) to do, he’s doing it 100 percent.”

Beckerman is a constant in a Klinsmann formula.For those of you (like me) who gratefully dispensed with needing to recall constants and variables, let us re-examine…

A variable is a value that may change within the scope of a given problem or set of operations.
A constant is a value that remains unchanged, though often unknown or undetermined.

It would seem impossible to attempt to figure out where all the interlocking pieces fit into a jigsaw puzzle if you changed the puzzle every 45 minutes.  In the problem of fixing the US Men’s Soccer Team we must not only look at the goal, but the equation as well.

In the case of the Slovenia game what we have here are the usage of our Constants (Howard, Cherundolo, Bocanegra, Chandler, Beckerman, Dempsey, Altidore) and our Variables (Shea/Johnson, Buddle/Formation, Bradley/Edu, Goodson/Orozco-Fiscal).

Klinsmann has stated it, “Right now, what I tell (Beckerman) to do, he’s doing it 100 percent.” 

This is not saying that Beckerman is the future at DM or that he will be playing in the 2014 World Cup–both probably shouldn’t be expected.

What Klinsmann is saying is, “You want to be the #6. See this guy ahead of you? You may be better than him, but he’s doing it the right way. Watch what he’s doing and if you can grasp it, you’ll get your shot.”

Beckerman is a known value, and that he executes exactly what Klinsmann asks. He isn’t going to be making 50 yard runs down field and running willy-nilly into the box for a header. He will be cautious, intercept passes, break up plays and be where he is supposed to be most of the time. A major difference of the US midfield under Klinsmann and Bradley is that the tackle, when unsupported (during a counterattack for example) is frowned upon.

Yes, frowned upon.

Shading or re-direction–so the team can catch up–is the preferred method of defense. Ask Michael Bradley about the second goal last summer where Slovenia scissored through the Yanks’ defense. It began with an attempted tackle that went awry creating an odd man rush.

If we then step back and examine the last two games we can see the gears turning behind the lineup and formation.

This is the France game in which the Klinsman formula was to attempt to neutralize the French game by pressing the ball, carrying a higher line, and challenging France to play through the middle.

The Variables in that game (Shea, Williams, Edu, Goodson) did not have enough of a positive impact  to allow the US to control possession like Klinsmann would have preferred. The wing play was very stifled and the US became bogged down in the transition from defense to offense, often turning the ball over. Some of these troubles come from the French themselves who were very adept at using speed down the right side of the USA’s defense in order to get behind the back four. This speed and effort on the wings, by the French, made both Shea and Williams play defense rather than offense, which lead to a complete isolation of Altidore and Dempsey up top for the US.

After France we keep the Constants and change to new Variables (Johnson, Buddle, Bradley, Formation).

This change allowed the USA to possess the ball better, at times, but exposed the back line and defensive mid-field area. We have to remember that offense and defense are directly connected. Pull too much in one direction and the other side gets stretched out. The best teams have the ability to balance both offense and defense, which is something the USA has struggled with in the past.  Klinsmann is essentially setting out an equation to test and hoping for either failure or success, then moving on. This is exactly the reason why Klinsmann has publicly stated that he doesn’t care about wins right now. He is seemingly more interested in overt failure or success by his own metrics. This is also the reason why you commonly see like for like substitutions in USA games. If you sub in players with completely different abilities then you aren’t learning about how this type of player performs in the formation on the field.

Some of the Slovenia pre-game discussion between Taylor Twellman, Alexi Lalas, and Steve McManaman revolved around the Klinsmann changes. More specifically they revolved around whether he had implemented enough big and bold measures.

Anybody know what this guy is doing these days...

However, big and bold measures typically rest within the realm of club soccer, not necessarily international. The international roster you have right at that moment is by and large the only roster you have. You cannot go out and purchase David Silva or Xavi to run your side. The ability to be able to get the best out of the players you have available becomes paramount in this situation–just ask Gasperini what he’s doing these days.

In trying to bring up the intangibles of the US game in tempo, passing, and speed, Klinsmann is subtly attempting to change the mentality and makeup of the US team. The France game was (to a certain extent) a major change of tactic than the USA had used in the past. This tactic did not work offensively, but stifled the defence of France for a good portion of the game. This element of frustration manifested itself in the second half substitutions made by France which ultimately won the game for them. They needed to stretch the field and attempt to get over the heads of the back four. This, of course, has been something the USA have struggled with for quite some time (see: Ghana). However, the fact that France made this change is a good thing for the US.

So when we look at a friendly such as France or Slovenia, it isn’t so much what the fans have learned about a player, but how well that player fits into the Klinsmann equation. There may be games with two strikers, a 4-5-1, or perhaps a heavily staggered lineup to the right side of the field. With these attempts there may be more losses, or frustrating displays. However, a fan of the USA must believe that Klinsmann is attempting to find the equation he needs with the players he has. The big question becomes, will he find this in time?

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35 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by BH on 2011/11/16 at 9:00 PM

    My problem is using Beckerman as a constant. He cannot possibly be doing everything perfectly or to a level where you would want to base your evaluations of the rest of the team as it relates to him. He lacks the pace to press players in the hole between our mid and defense to stifle the swift counter attacks. you could really see slovenia and france and others blow by him on the counter when we did get forward. this causes other players to have to help him out. many people have noted how bradley was dropping deep to help beckerman cover space which isnt what klinsman wants but needs to happen to prevent goals.

    additionally if you have a really limited offensive player there you wont see how the team really performs because it will constantly be under more pressure than it would otherwise be.

    Reply

    • Posted by Berniebernier on 2011/11/16 at 10:27 PM

      To be a constant you don’t need t do it perfect, just the same. Klinsi can always switch Beckerman later on. Switching a couple things at a time doesn’t mean that you never change Beckerman it just means he might be more at the end of the road.

      The constant allows you to make more concrete conclusions. Ie Godson is not fast enough to allow us to play a high line without being at risk of over the top/diagonal through balls. If you change Jones for Beckerman then were the over the top balls a Godson issue or a Jones closing down issue. Beckerman to a large degree is doing the exact same thing game in and game out which means we can isolate it to a Goodson not being fast enough issue.

      Reply

    • ^^This.

      Right now Beckerman is the best #6 available in our player pool. Are there more talented CM players in the US player pool? Yes, there are players who are overall more talented (Bradley, Edu), but aren’t good enough at doing the things required to be the #6 in this system (one CDM protecting the back four). Who is the better player between Beckerman and Bradley? Bradley. Who is the better player for THIS system? Beckerman.

      Reply

      • Posted by arisrules on 2011/11/17 at 7:26 AM

        This assumes that Klinsmann really has thought through this “system.” Based on his record (with the german NT and Bayern), I doubt it.

        Reply

    • Posted by jesran on 2011/11/17 at 8:34 AM

      “additionally if you have a really limited offensive player there you wont see how the team really performs because it will constantly be under more pressure than it would otherwise be.”

      Exactly, notice how the USMNT offense opened up after minute 65 of the France game when Beckerman was taken out. How can you test the whole of a new machine when a vital cog is not functioning?

      Reply

      • Posted by BernieBernier on 2011/11/17 at 8:46 AM

        You assume that Klinsman is testing the entire machine. I am of the belief that he is testing pieces… ie who should be the second CB?

        Here are my suppositions… He came into the team with the idea of using a fast CB to keep a high line. He trotted out MOF a couple times as he was the best “talent” for this strategy and realized that wasn’t a great option. He looked at Ream and reached the conclusion that currently that is a worse option. He then tried Gooch but that experiment is incomplete since he couldn’t play in either of these two friendlies. He then went to Goodson and my guess is that he isn’t too excited about that result either.

        Reply

  2. Posted by Berniebernier on 2011/11/16 at 10:44 PM

    One thing I like in concept about Klinsman that I don’t have the patience for in practice is I feel like he let’s experiments run their course. Under Bradley we had a lot of wellnwe tried a 4-2-3-1for a half and it didn’t work. Under Klinsman things are given a chance. Edu gt enough time as 8 to never have me comment that I would like to see him there, same for Edgar Castillo at LB, and Danny Williams at RM. Some of these have worked out too like Torres. Bradley gave Torres about a half before he went milk carton on us.

    Reply

  3. Posted by SamT on 2011/11/17 at 12:04 AM

    Agree 100 pct. It must be maddening for Jones to see Beckerman in the starting eleven every time — but there he is, performing the role to a T.

    And that Engels pic… Funny, but I can see an unexpected resemblance to Todd Dunivant — perhaps at the end of a successful Movember.

    Reply

  4. Posted by Josh on 2011/11/17 at 2:33 AM

    Am I the only one in here replaying all of our 3 finishes right now?

    I’m sure I am. Edson & Clint, take a bow. World-class finishing.

    The US scores as many goals as my wife and I …

    Reply

  5. Posted by CJ on 2011/11/17 at 6:01 AM

    Great write up. I liked the mathematics comparison and how you were able to look beyond the surface and expose some of the gears of this new system. I’ll be taking what you said here as a measuring stick with me when I watch the next game.

    Reply

  6. Posted by KMac on 2011/11/17 at 6:03 AM

    Excellent piece. Very thought provoking. I find myself micro-analyzing players in the JK era, and your perspective forces one to see the forest and not just the trees. I would love to see your prognostication on the evolution of JK’s football calculus (ok algebra) at the moment beginning qualification, during qualification, and at the Big Samba in 2014.
    Thanks for another great read Matthew.

    Reply

    • I’ll be attempting to keep an eye on it for this cycle, thanks.

      I was not a Klinsmann fan, for reason of his record (amongst other things). However, I have found that if you don’t agree with something you should probably investigate it even more than if you did. In this fashion I have managed to see what I consider patterns in the coach, and patterns that are very intriguing to me.

      So I am neither pro nor anti-Klinsmann now, just liking the fact that there are nuances to watch and enjoy.

      Reply

  7. Posted by Eric on 2011/11/17 at 6:58 AM

    Ths may just be my random thoughts but I’m beginning to think we’re stuck in the Bradley mentality of player selection sometimes. Bob was always under pressure to get results immediately, and as a result he always had to play the best players possible regardless of whether or not they fit into his system well. As a result, we constantly expect the best possible player to be on the field at all times (not saying it’s unreasonable but bear with me).

    However, with Jurgen, he’s looking for players who fit his system best. That means that the best player for a position in his style of play (Beckerman at the #6 position for example), may very well not be the best overall player (We’ll say Bradley or Jones for a comparision to Kyle).

    Of course, it’s early, I’m in planning period and trying to avoid work so I may just be rambling and repeating things that make no sense or everyone knows.

    Reply

    • Posted by Jared on 2011/11/17 at 7:06 AM

      Bob rarely put out the best players available. How many games did Findley and Bornstein play for him? Findley was playing in the World Cup while not even being close to the second best striker on the squad. Bob was unable to adjust to the loss of Charlie Davies and so brought a poor version of what Davies was in 08-09. Bob put out the guys that he thought could play his system the best just as Klinsmann is doing now. Bob’s problem was that he was screwed from the beginning because he was everyone’s second choice.

      Reply

      • Posted by Eric on 2011/11/17 at 10:12 AM

        I don’t think Bornstein is a good example. As much as we hate on Bornstein, what were our options at left back really? Pearce? He hadn’t been playing well, or was injured a lot. Bocanegra? Good stop gap but lets not fool ourselves into believing that he’s meant to be a left back. Lichaj? Bradley eventually switched to him but I find it hard to fault him for not doing so earlier given that Lichaj had barely gotten any playing time for a team until the end of Bradley’s time with the Nats.

        As for Findley, again, there is a lack of options there. Say what you will about Findley, but there was a time when he was one of the more dangerous strikers in MLS. With charlie out, Findley filled a need and was the best player for it. Buddle and Gomez are probably better so I’ll give you that but still, the playing pool is limited.

        Reply

        • Posted by Jared on 2011/11/17 at 11:08 AM

          Boca was a much better option than Bornstein especially since he was regularly playing left back for Rennes.

          Findley was one of the most dangerous strikers but he was in a huge form dip when he was called for national team duty on a regular basis at the World Cup. In 2010, he scored 6 goals while starting 18 times and coming off the bench a further 14 for Salt Lake. Herc was scoring that many goals a month.

          Reply

          • Posted by Eric on 2011/11/17 at 1:31 PM

            I said I’d give you Herc. Not arguing that one but I can understand the idea of Findley still even if I didn’t agree with it.

            As for Boca, yes his positioning was better than Bornstein, but it was dangerous putting him out against fast wingers like we tended to face a lot. Boca’s positioning could not make up for his lack of speed at left back. Furthermore, Bocanegra contributed nothing to the attack from the outside back spot. At least Bornstein could get forward and make the opposing players think about that extra threat. I’m not saying it was effective (far from it) but I can definitely understand from a tactical point of view why Bornstein’s attributes could have been appealing to Bob given the limited talent pool at left back.

            Reply

  8. Posted by jesran on 2011/11/17 at 7:13 AM

    “After France we keep the Constants and change to new Variables (Johnson, Buddle, Bradley, Formation).”

    Disagreed. JK benched Edu after France which was a good move.

    Interesting article, but if the constant is JKs whims then we are in trouble as a nation. I prefer to think the formula is eloquently expressed in the 2011 US Soccer Curriculum by Claudio Reyna which describes the constants as attack minded possession and a ground based passing method amongst other things. Read it everyone!

    If JK has his devised his own formula then fair enough that should go into the next edition of the US Soccer Curriculum… and we’ll all see it. However, I do not believe that Beckerman-eque defend at the cost of possession will be a huge part of the plan.

    Reply

    • Posted by John on 2011/11/17 at 8:35 AM

      “A variable is a value that may change within the scope of a given problem or set of operations.”

      Bradley and Edu are variables, and Klinsmann is seeing which one works better in which spot.

      Benching Edu was due to his lack of effectiveness during the France game, it essentially was finding out that in the x + 10 = 11 equation (with edu being “x”) that the result wasn’t 11 but 10.5

      Reply

    • Posted by BernieBernier on 2011/11/17 at 10:08 AM

      The point I think is that by changing just Edu rather than Edu and Beckerman is by changing one you can see how much the removal of Edu changed our offense. If you change Edu and Beckerman and all of the sudden the passing gets better its hard to tell if it was Beckerman’s passing or Edu’s or both that was the issue.

      Reply

  9. Posted by Shane on 2011/11/17 at 7:51 AM

    I’m not buying it. First off, I think Klinsmann is determining his system based on the players available. Thats why he keeps calling up and playing so many midfielders. Secondly, Bradley tried to balance the pull between defense and offense, but he just simply did it better. I also watched the USA – Slovenia highlights and there was no botched tackle on the second goal unless it happened very far up field. If anything Bradley did precisely what you said by not making a tackle.

    I would say the math equation comparison is more accurate in describing what Bradley and Arena did only they had done a lot more of their homework so they knew their constants and variables more precisely. What Klinsmann is doing is not logical or precise enough for the equation analogy. He is more like like a chef trying a pinch of this and a pinch of that. Kneading, baking and hoping he can get his bread to rise even though he didnt use a leavening agent. Ironic that he’s a trained baker, isnt it.

    Reply

  10. Posted by Wook # 6 on 2011/11/17 at 8:22 AM

    Interesting take. The high percentage of like-for-like substitutions is a great point.

    When the team gets back together, I’d like some of constant positions to become variables. It was important to use intelligent, reliable/predictable, experienced players to introduce & experiment with the system, but there needs to be a balance with getting younger guys experience. Due to age, I’m in favor of trying out players in the spots occupied by Dolo, Boca, Beckerman and (gulp) Dempsey. I’d also make Jozy a variable due to his ineffectiveness as a lone, unsupported striker.

    Reply

  11. Absolute right. Those getting down on Beckerman are really missing the big picture. If we don’t have a player doing that job, we have the same central midfield that we did under Bradley. Interesting if we remember that Bruce Arena often had Mastroeni playing as a holding midfielder in his US sides and he often did the same job.

    Would the team be better off if someone was capable of doing the same job with a little more athleticism, pace and tooth in the tackle? Absolutely. Do you want a little better passing performance than 23 of 32 from your holding midfielder? Absolutely.

    With Klinsmann’s tactics, we’ve been less vulnerable to the shot coming from just outside the penalty arc, a frequent source of goals for the opposing team under Bradley. Beckerman’s sitting in that area, like Mastroeni did under Arena, has solved this vulnerability.

    Reply

  12. Also, It’s worth noting that the first two goals conceded in each of these friendlies came when Bocanegra went charging up the field too aggressively to try to win the ball. He has an aggressive ball-winning mentality, but that doesn’t
    sit well with Klinsmann’s defensive tactics described here. Playing a high line makes us more vulnerable to the ball over the top, especially if one of our CBs presses too high up the pitch without adequate cover from his partner.

    Sometimes it’s more effective defending to prevent the opposing player from turning than to win the ball. Both times Boca has gone all in on winning the ball, been beaten, and Goodson’s failed identify the danger and come across into a covering position behind Boca. You could see him just trying to hold the line against Slovenia when he should’ve been trying to get across to the striker in a dangerous area.

    Coming across to sweep up behind Boca is in the job description for the left center back in this system. It’s one thing that MOF did quite effectively in the games he has played. Obviously, our CBs still have some learning to do about how to effectively play a high line, but Boca is the constant in the back line now, even if it’s unlikely he’ll be there in 2014.

    Reply

    • Posted by Cory on 2011/11/19 at 12:16 PM

      This too is what I noticed as what causes the most problems for us defensively. I thought Bocanegra’s decision to challenge for the ball on the first Slovenian goal wasn’t exactly a bad choice, but he allowed the ball to be played around him too easily instead of keeping the play in front of him (perhaps due to his lack of pace). Chandler’s positioning and reading the play had been atrocious up to that point and it was no surprise that the goal came from his side of the pitch. He didn’t tuck in as soon as Bocanegra pressured the ball and the result was an obvious pass for a simple goal. I think Chandler is a good 1v1 defender and his ability to provide width and drive forward with the ball are exceptional, but his mistakes have been pretty simple concepts to grasp (even for someone playing on the opposite side). I think Goodson is a decent CB, his mistake in defending Loic Remy was losing his balance from being too aggressive in trying to win the ball.

      I think figuring out how to hide our lack of pace at CB will be the key to making Klinnsman’s high line work.

      Reply

      • Posted by Martin on 2011/11/20 at 6:05 AM

        You and Mr. Tuesday have hit the nail on the head.

        Fine article but at the end of the day soccer is a game that fiercely resists tactical and technical management. In English that means it still boils down to the player’s ability to solve whatever challenges arise.

        If Beckerman’s speed or lack thereof cannot be adequately compensated for by the current CB group, for example, then JK will either bring in Cameron at center back, or Jones for Beckerman. I’m not sure Jones is much faster but he does have other qualities that Beckerman does not. But either way giving the Beckerman experiment time to play out allows JK to make sensible, logical, systematic decisions.

        Reply

  13. Posted by Milan on 2011/11/17 at 12:27 PM

    This concept is pretty simple, the idea of constants in order to measure the impact of others. But another simple idea is to witness the limitations of the players put on the field, and use those that are performing at a higher level as constants going forward. I would love to see Dempsey, Jozy, Boca, Cherundolo/Chandler/Lichaj, Bradley, Shea and Donovan as constants, and allow someone like Williams to actually get some run where he is most comfortable, at the #6, rather than where he has struggled in 3 appearances, on the wing. I feel the same way about Chandler as well. It is great that Cherundolo and Beckerman are constants, but we may have more complete players who are not getting the chance to play at their best because we insist on keeping these limited guys as constants (Cherundolo is great, but his limitation would be health/age). By the time we choose to replace these two as constants another constant will have changed, quality opposition to measure ourselves against in a consequence free environment.

    Reply

  14. Posted by Alex on 2011/11/17 at 8:55 PM

    Every time I go to TSG (which is way too often) and don’t see an article such as this, I’m a sad bear.

    Reply

  15. Posted by Scweeb on 2011/11/18 at 7:11 PM

    K what role was torres in before he got hurt? Was he the #6 role that beckerman is currently in?

    Reply

  16. Posted by KickinNames... on 2011/11/19 at 7:29 AM

    John- Fanstastic argument for the “Klinsi Model” and excellent piece of writing. As with most systems entirely consisting of human variables predicting outcomes is dicey at best. We can (and will) argue about Becks .in the 6 role and William and Chandler etc
    You do a great job here laying out the formula that seems to be at work and we’ll see if JK can do the ultimate work of proving his own theorem.
    Thanks for taking the time and effort as this was excellent food for thought and discussion.

    Reply

  17. […] when he was fit, but he’s certainly not a Kyle Beckerman “defensive midfielder.” (And, as explained here- no, there is nothing wrong with Kyle Beckerman. He’s outstanding.) But Holden offers dynamism in the US center, and an ability to weigh and distribute more ambitious […]

    Reply

  18. […] skinny: Beckerman has been like Klinsmann’s binky. Always there for him when he needs him, thrown away whenever he sees a new […]

    Reply

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