TSG goes diving again into the USMNT… something Klinsmann was very good at during his playing days…
Wow, haven’t graphed out one of these charts in awhile.
What a difference a year makes. No, it hasn’t been that long, but a review of last year’s depth charts showed just how far in many cases–and not far in others–the USMNT has come under Klinsmann in his year and a quarter tenure.
For qualifications sake, this depth chart is an amalgamation how we expect Jurgen Klinsmann and his staff see the depth charts, interspersed with some selections from TSG. Hopefully it doesn’t make it confusing.
Doubt it. Let’s go.
G: (1) Tim Howard, (2) Brad Guzan, (3) Nick Rimando
Peering in: Bill Hamid, Sean Johnson, Tally Hall
Once again, Batman & Robin between the posts for the USMNT…
The skinny: For the first time since, since he was made king in 2007 there is a legitimate challenge to Tim Howard’s throne. Though that’s where the it ends…at the challenge stage, less the battle.
Howard has been somewhat pedestrian this year for Everton, while Brad Guzan is by any account the most in-form, uninjured keeper in the Premiership.
For Howard it’s been a case of maturation that seems to have bred some of his troubles.
The book on Howard is that he’s always been a fantastic keeper when facing a high volume of shots (USMNT and Everton fans know this very well), but his main foible was he was too aggressive coming off his line. Howard’s aggressive positioning has typically served him well for the States as the USMNT used to play on the counter and Howard would typically see a swarm of the opponent coming back at him.
As Howard has aged, he’s gotten a little bit more conservative about his line and that’s allowed him to make a few extra saves here and there, but it’s come at the tradeoff of Howard being even more tentative at commanding his box and coming out.
He’s allowed in a few more of “those Kuyt goals” (you know what I’m talking about) and he’s also had a little bit more difficulty on set pieces.
Guzan–who many thought was erring on the side of lunacy in re-upping with an Aston Villa club that had nary gave him a shot in the Premiership during his lengthy tenure there–is on course for most improved player in the Barclays.
He too has come up big this season in match after match–most notably and recently a stonewalling of Liverpool in early December–to see his Villains to victory at Anfield. (Let’s chalk up recent sha….lackings by Chelsea and Liverpool as 3-man-in-the-back-bonehead-move-mulligan.)
Guzan is working behind a newer, less mature but speedier backline at Villa. His leitenant ahead of him this year was thought to be veteran plodder Richard Dunne, instead it’s been young Cieran Clark who presides with fellow youngster Aussie Chris Herd–Eric Lichaj’s good friend–and Nathan Baker. All in their early 20’s.
Guzan by fan and teammate account has been the team’s MVP to date and his showing is starting to make USMNT fans confident that the royal lineage of US goalkeepers is in good stead.
And Guzan will come after Howard.
For Howard, 2014 is his World Cup. He’s the veteran and a cleat to the chest by Emile Heskey in Game 1 of World Cup 2010 ransacked him of being tip-top for the US stretch of games. Howard is the recognized leader on the pitch. He knows the competition and his veteran presence will be sorely needed to keep the defense disciplined.
Nick Rimando is the emergency keeper. Good with his feet and keeping the seat warm until Bill Hamid, Steve Clarke, Tally Hall or Sean Johnson shows they’re the real thing or until Jurgen Klinsmann gives a player like Dan Kennedy a shot.
This pairing is retired.
LCB: (1) Carlos Bocanegra, (2*) Geoff Cameron*, (3) Matt Besler, (4) Michael Orozco-Fiscal
RCB: (1) Geoff Cameron, (2) Clarence Goodson (3) Omar Gonzalez
Peering in: Oguchi Onyewu, Maurice Edu, Seb Hines, John Anthony Brooks, Tim Ream, Austin Berry
The skinny: The US’s muddled centerback position is just like an onion. It’s full of many layers of intrigue and the more issues you peel back the more it makes you cry.
As with his predecessor Bob Bradley–who was so flummoxed in his selection process that he choose a not-fully-healed Oguchi Onyewu to start to World Cup group stage games in 2010–Jurgen Klinsmann has some serious work and contemplation to do here.
The head domino…
It starts with Carlos Bocanegra and the US situation would be solved if the States could turn back the clock on Bocanegra by about five years. The veteran keeps himself in shape, is aggressive in the box on both sides, and–perhaps his best, but least-cited trait–knows when to inflict a foul to disrupt tempo or send a message.
No one–no one–uses fouls as wisely as Bocanegra.
That said, as the mileage piles on, the captain’s lack of speed and challenges with the ball at his feet, in possession or clearance, has made him a near-liability. Why near? Bocanegra’s still smart enough to outfox B-level strikers, many of whom the US will face during qualifying. It’s his resume against slick moving players (Dos Santos, Ruiz) that leaves him wanting.
The parallels to Dutchman Johnny Heitinga are precise.
The US needs to replace Bocanegra; the changes and data of the global game beg that.
Where once the centerback position was dominated by more mature players who stayed at home for the entire game and owned their tuft of land and that was that, now centerbacks are tasked with a lot more as more and more teams are attempting to challenge for the ball on defense up the field and as more teams have went to pushing more players forward, 4-3-3.
Centerbacks must initiate attacks, must occasionally support the flanks–as a CDM drops deep–and have to cover more ground behind them when defending the counter–especially in Klinsmann’s desired system. It’s no wonder that the average age of a centerback at Euro 2012 was one year less than that of a central midfielder and no centerback at Euro 2012 was as old as Bocanegra will be in 2014.
Lump in that Bocanegra once impeccable record in the air is starting to creak by strikers with size–Asamoah Gyan for example–and the US is facing a situation where there most experienced and perhaps smartest player is a liability.
It doesn’t end there.
Bocanegra’s selection, or lack thereof, has a ripple effect in the back–and its likely why you see Clarence Goodson still being mercilessly trotted out.
Through some excellent camera work by ESPN during the USA-Jamaica game in Columbus back in October, Bocanegra could be seen loudly telling his backcourt mate Geoff Cameron to “Settle down, Geoff.”
Cameron is a right fullback now at Stoke City and Klinsmann should count his lucky stars that Dom Kinnear in Houston at least gave him observations of Cameron at centerback.
Head of the class now…
Cameron has been well to above average by just about any standard playing in the middle of defense for the US. His angles are mostly solid, his footwork good and his ability to turn upfield with the ball without hoofing excellent and keenly valued.
However, what Cameron lacks and what he won’t get now that he’s at rightback for Stoke is experience in the middle, specifically an education in calling his line.
It’s a big task to ask Cameron in the next year and a half to come up to that level and it’s why Tim Howard in the back–if Bocanegra is sacrificed–is so vital as well. Cameron is just not that guy. He’s your “chaseback,” your Cannavaro cliche. He’s needed for other things.
The CB who Klinsmann is looking for is the oak tree, the Oguchi Onyewu to pair with Cameron and he’s got 500 days to find it.
Clarence Goodson seems to be the first reliever these days–only he’s awful at keeping a line himself and has battles with concentration and confidence. With Goodson’s reps against better competition, it’s easy to see why Bob Bradley kept him on the bench in South Africa two years ago despite Gooch’s bad wheel.
The two best US hope for a pairing with Cameron are Matt Besler and Omar Gonzalez and recent commentary by Klinsmann has his begging for Gonzalez to show himself as that player.
Looking forward to 2014?
Besler is a terrific organizer and he plays the back line a little bit like Chris Paul plays point guard. He covers for his teammates, instructs them on where to go as his first order of defense while make the play himself as a secondary order.
He’s also comfortable playing on the left–unlike Goodson or Gonzalez.
Why is this important? The US typically plays a two-man game up the right or works the ball through the central midfielders to the left.
Most of the time, the US leftback–through design or ability–is tasked with remaining at home. Keeping Cameron on the right–as Bocanegra allows him to do currently–puts Cameron on his strongest foot to manage possession and ignite attacks. It’s a subtle, but still key point.
Beyond Besler, Gonzalez is the next hope for a vintage Cameron pairing, but he absolutely must improve him organizational and positioning skills to challenge. It was both a compliment and a challenge that Jurgen Klinsmann singled out his selection of Gonzalez coming into January camp. A compliment in that he needs Gonzalez’s unparalleled-in-the-pool aerial strength and line anchoring desperately. Its’ Gonzalez or bust (Goodson?).
If you’re Gonzo, your time is now. Like, right now. It’s going to take a full year if Boca is going to be replaced. So the understudy better be ready now with reps to gel. Not reps to get ready.
A return to form sees George John in the fold as could a return to form of Oguchi Onyewu who just doesn’t seem to have the same defensive prowess after his knee surgery. You just can’t count out Onyewu if he starts humming. 2014 could be his 3rd World Cup starting in Game 1 and nobody beats him in the air.
John Anthony Brooks. If you’re looking for any player to sparking out of the woodwork for World Cup 2014, it’s Brooks, alas he’s not that backline communicator either.