As the U.S. men’s national team struggled through yet another 1-0 loss in an international friendly, Twitter was afire with criticisms of the team and the new boss. The most damning criticism might have been this: that the team played like a Bob Bradley coached squad. Harsher words have never been said!
However, we have to acknowledge two facts before we can delve into some solutions for the Klinsmann crew. First, these 1-0 losses mean nothing if the U.S. qualifies for the 2014 World Cup without any major missteps. Second, the inability for the U.S. to make progress against any level of competition is disconcerting, regardless of the reasons why.
So is it time to panic? I will give a cautious no (although the friendly on Tuesday could change that analysis). We know this team’s strengths (Tim Howard) and weaknesses (holding/central midfield) but also know that Klinsmann has not yet fielded this team in a competitive match with his optimal line-up (Dempsey AND Donovan with Holden). That said, there are some trends that have become apparent to many U.S. fans that need to be examined and discussed before they become deep-seated problems with this team. In no particular order, if you are reading Mr. Klinsmann please consider my suggestions for your team*:
Let Michael Bradley see the field
Would we be seeing more Michael Bradley if his name was Michael Jungmann or Michael Hernandez? Probably not, as I don’t think Klinsmann is so petty as to bench Bradley because of his dad. But the problems in midfield are apparent: our holding and central midfield options who have played so far have not done a good job of breaking up the oppositions’ attacks nor setting up the U.S. attack. To be blunt, it is not easy for a non-superstar non-European to make a Serie A squad so the fact that Bradley is playing for Chievo is a testament to his potential. We’ve seen that his passing while not perfect is good and he has an eye for picking out his teammates moving forward, while being adept enough defensively to at least pass as a holding midfielder. He needs to see some more playing time for this team, period/full stop.
Experiment with the formation
The knock on Klinsmann’s hiring was that during his previous managerial stops, he was not considered the strategic mastermind. Maybe this is the case; while the U.S. hasn’t fallen back into the tried-and-true 4-4-2 there’s something to be said about not conforming to the new in-thing. A 4-3-3 is an exciting formation (personally my favorite) as is a diamond 4-4-2, but if the personnel don’t fit why not go a little more unorthodox. Acknowledging that it may be a few years before the U.S. has a pool of world-class strikers, why not try the mythical, Jonathan Wilson-loved 4-6-0? Or maybe the (gasp) 3-5-2 to allow players like Chandler to roam the sidelines and provide cover to the midfield? Again, this could backfire, but maybe thinking outside the box could lead to some unexpected positive results.
Stop thinking Landon Donovan is Wayne Rooney
While the France match didn’t feature the usual number 10, Klinsmann has shown that he is increasingly curious about the idea of having Landon Donovan play as a withdrawn forward, kind of in a Wayne Rooney-esque position where he can create chances for open teammates while still getting his own chances to score. The problem with this idea is that this is not Donovan’s game; this type of role needs a player with almost supernatural instincts who can pick out just the right pass and right player, or decide to make the play on his own. Donovan, while extremely talented, is not this type of player. When he does return to the USMNT fold after the MLS Cup, Klinsmann needs to return him to the wing or figure out another way to use him besides being the anchor.
End the Kyle Beckerman/Michael Orozco Fiscal Experiments
The dedication to players such as these gives the head coach’s critics some major ammunition. I am a huge Beckerman fan, but he looks out of place on the national team and has struggled against better competition with his passes from the back. This is a no-no from his position. Additionally, when we have seen Orozco Fiscal play, he has been woefully over-matched. I know we want to give players multiple chances, but there are players who deserve another look and players who need no more looks. While every coach has these types of players he is inexplicably loyal to, that does not mean they are above pointing out.
*I acknowledge the fact that some of these suggestions are contradictory (like experimenting with a 3-5-2 while asking Donovan to play on the wings). However, each recommendation should be taken on its own as it is unlikely Mr. Klinsmann will adopt all of them.