It’s not just Landon Donovan’s exclusion from the US 23-man squad for Brazil that should make people take notice. It’s far deeper than that. Jurgen Klinsmann is taking his formula from years gone by and updating it, just wearing different colors. In order to understand this US roster, we must first look back at Germany’s from 2006 because a close examination will make nothing released today seem surprising.
The turnover for both rosters was extensive, especially when considering the change from one World Cup to the next. The 2006 Germany squad had 10 returnees from ’02. The 2014 US squad has only 6 returning from ’10. It seems like unnecessary shock therapy, but first remember the context of the situations. After Germany’s cataclysmic performance at Euro 2000, changes were made across the system in order to improve young talent coming into the fold. Many of those early examples, like Bastian Schweinsteiger, Lukas Podolski and even Per Mertesacker were included in the squad at the expense of older players of Rudi Voller’s time because it was more than necessary to make those changes, despite the shock.
Fast forward 8 years, and the 6 players returning from 2010 are the core of this US team as they were the last one. And consider that 5 of them are likely starting against Ghana. And at the fewest, 4 will. There was still a holdover core from Voller’s 2002 squad that transferred over to 2006, and Klinsmann kept most of them intact and starting. Players like Metzelder, Frings, and Ballack all stayed in the main frame, despite all of the transition. Germany’s 2006 World Cup roster had an average of 32.2 caps, and this US roster has an average of 33.4, so the difference in numbers is miniscule while the trends emerging are numerous. But there is more to it than just numbers.
Rudi Voller played with a backline of 3 as was customary for German teams of days past. Klinsmann moved to a back 4, which was (and still is) a major tactical switch for most players, which is part of the reason why turnover was so great. Jurgen of 2014 isn’t dramatically switching systems like that, but he is trying to play with more of a high-pressing high-possession system as opposed to the soak up and counter methods of managers before him like Bruce Arena and Bob Bradley. Therefore, most of the players who fit the old systems had to be phased out for newer ones, which often means going younger and inexperienced. In 2006, players like Bastian Schweinsteiger would probably not have fit in to a 3-5-2, as opposed to Jurgen Klinsmann’s 4-2-3-1, for example. For a corollary, imagine Carlos Bocanegra of today playing the high-line high-press now in vogue. And if you’re having night terrors, you’re right because we’ve seen that go wrong already. The situations are not completely analogous, but the similarities are there in simple selections based on tactics and age. Then, we get to the controversial decisions, and it’s almost like listening to a recording with “translate” turned on.