By John Nyen
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.
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.
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.
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?