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My Free Advice to Jurgen Klinsmann

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.

9 Responses to My Free Advice to Jurgen Klinsmann

  1. Charles says:

    Good article. The true test isn’t can the US win out of the box,
    but how much better they are a year from now. We are gambling no
    matter which coach we have that he will win when it matters, when
    we are playing in the hex.

  2. Earl Reed says:

    I honestly think that Klinsmann is pushing a mantra, not trying to beat a team like France.

    One of this team’s biggest weaknesses under Bob Bradley was early defensive lapses. They have now gone 5 games without allowing a first-half goal. The last time that happened was in their draw against Mexico here in Philadelphia. Do I think Klinsmann wants us losing 1-0 in these matches? No, I’m sure he’d love to see Altidore sneak a goal or two in here or there. But I get the impression he’s building a mentality and a system. I think that’s evidenced in Klinsmann scheduling opponents that are offensively gifted for the US to face in these friendlies. He wants to put these players to the test, and really wants them to learn to shut down the other team.

    Later on, when the games really matter, you bring in Donovan and Holden, maybe Bedoya, Adu, or Johnson, and you have a team that has some danger going forward. But it helps when you’re trying for goals to put you ahead, not goals to catch up.

    • dan says:

      Very good point. I think its smart thing but he needs to also start
      moving out players that arent working like Beckerman. I think we
      also need to establish a starting back 4 period and let them figure
      it all out, he is already doing that though and I think Onyewu is
      our best bet with Boca in the middle (soooo happy he is back to
      CB). One thing that really frustrates me is no Bradley, no
      Gonzalez, and no Agudelo! Gonzo and Agudelo should be getting off
      the bench experience here, Gonzo is the best freaking defender in
      MLS and he is still soooo young!

  3. Chris Riordan says:

    Nice piece Robert … I do disagree on one thing though, Landon
    Donovan. Maybe that number 10 isn’t his best spot, but we haven’t
    seen much of a chance how Klinnsman would like to use him there.
    So, I say we take a look, before shooting it down. Michael Bradley
    NEEDS to play … I like Edu and Beckerman, but I feel like Bradley
    gives us the most true “two – way” player in that spot.

  4. The original Tom says:

    I agree with Charles with a slight twist, none of it matters until
    World Cup qualifying begins next spring. I don’t really pay
    attention until then.

  5. dan says:

    Agree with everything but Donovan. He has played fantastic as a CAM
    role in the past. Perhaps the diamond midfield would be perfect
    while Holden is injured. However this does rely on a superb CDM.
    Why hasn’t Klinzy looked at Bunbury!?!?!?

  6. short passes says:

    Earl Reed — you should have written this column, great points.
    Robert H — I wouldn’t want your job in that generating these
    column on a regular basis has got to be difficult, however, man,
    you’ve got to do better !! First, he’s been on the job for 4 months
    and you raise issues as if he has been around for years. Second,
    anybody who has paid the least bit of attention to US Soccer knows
    that our player pool is of the “wading” variety — very shallow.
    think re-arranging the deck chairs on the Titanic !! JK knows what
    Bradley can do, so why do we need to see that much of him now? I
    wasn’t a big fan of Beckerman but I must admit that he isn’t doing
    that badly — keep in mind we need more than 11 players to go to
    the WC. Along with others, I believe that Rheam and Gonzalez, have
    a great future but remember they have flopped disastrously lately
    – a little patience is in order. Regarding Orozco, he was totally
    ignored and deserves a few more chances before closing the door –
    anybody remember Ricardo Clark?? Third, has anyone bothered to
    remember that one of JK’s stated priorities has been to play a more
    controlled game, carrying the ball out of the back, maintaining
    possession under pressure. Well it’s happening!! Not without some
    continuing bumps in the road but I would hope there would be some
    agreement that this is indeed improving. Guess what?? — that type
    of skill doesn’t arrive over night and god knows it’s been a long
    time coming. Finally, as Earl mentioned above the US has a real
    FIRST team that hasn’t played together yet: Howard Chandler -
    Bocanegro – Onyewu – Cherundolo Dempsey – Torres – Holden – Bradley
    Donovan – Altidore Sooooooo, let’s concentrate on identifying those
    diamonds in the rough — particularly defenders — and lighten up
    about the scorlines. BTW–Have any of you read about JK’s
    arrangements to place Beckerman, Rodgers, Aguedelo, Perry Kitchen,
    and Brek Shea with European clubs for training. Can’t hurt !!

    • Robert Hay says:

      Short passes:

      Three points. First to your Bradley point, if JK didn’t play players because he knew what they could do, then we would almost never see Dempsey or Donovan. In fact, we’d never see the mythical first team play together, because why would we, if we know what they can do. This leads to my second point: we don’t have a first team. Those players you listed could arguably be the first team right now (although I’d wholeheartedly disagree) BUT they are likely not the first team in 2014, and THAT is one of the two goals for this WC cycle (the other of course being to qualify for said World Cup).

      Third, your post has another contradiction when you talk about JK’s controlled game, saying “Guess what?? — that type of skill doesn’t arrive over night”. Absolutely, it comes from …. playing the game, something JK criticized MLS players for not doing enough. So if the style of play comes from getting playing time, then shouldn’t Bradley be getting more (which, btw he did in the US win over Slovenia)?

      Good point about MLS players training overseas, although I think I’d like to see Shea stay at the Emirates for a bit longer, say maybe 10 years

  7. Short passes says:

    Robert — regarding your 3 arguments, the best response is the term
    “reductio ad absurdum”. In your article, you were criticizing JK
    after only four months on the job, which I maintain is a bit
    ridiculous given that time frame, the state of the current player
    pool, and JK’s stated purpose of totally changing the US style of
    play. If after one year, the situation hasn’t changed, I would
    certainly agree to your points. BTW Please note my use of the word
    “now” in referring to Bradley’s current playing time; also the
    reference to having to find new, younger defenders. Now is the time
    for analysis, not for nit-picking!!!

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