Eddie Johnson, Not Landon Donovan, Is Who Klinsmann Misses Most Right Now

[Scene: September 2018. Living room of Jurgen Klinsman, with the coach and a New York Times reporter present]

The United States men’s national team coach sits back in his chair and looks longingly out the window. The reporter begins this interview in the wake of the end of another interesting World Cup, this time in Russia.

“Coach,” he begins, “you just finished your second tour as the U.S. national team head coach. Looking back on these past seven years, what is the biggest lesson you’ve learned?”

Expecting the coach to talk about how far the U.S. program has come or needs to go, the reporter begins to write but stops suddenly when Klinsmann answers, “I will always regret not bringing him to Brazil with me.”

“You mean Fox Sports analyst Landon Donovan?”

“No, but that’s what people thought at the time. When Jozy Altidore pulled up in the Ghana match, I knew we were in trouble. There was no way he was going to play the rest of the tournament, and I knew that I had made a tactical mistake by not bringing a forward who has the skillset I needed to maintain the tactics I had drilled into that team.”

“No, with Jozy out, I had to wedge this team into a 4-2-3-1 system that was tight in the midfield and rely on Clint Dempsey as my only forward supported by the inexperienced Mix Diskerud. Or I had to bring in Aron Johansson (which prepared him for the Russia World Cup) or Chris Wondolowski, both of whom were scorers that had vastly different skills than I needed. I should have brought a forward that could have played up top my formation and held up the ball, or swapped with Clint at times and made runs out wide. Instead I brought guys I thought I would only need in the late stages of games.”

“I should have brought Eddie Johnson with the U.S. national team to Brazil.”

“If I would have done that, I would have been able to move players around the midfield to address the deficiencies I saw in that Ghana game, in particular moving Michael Bradley farther forward. However, with Diskerud as my playmaker, Bradley had to move back and was woefully unable to control play like he should have. We couldn’t beat a battered and injured Portugal team and we were pounded by the German machine.”

“But if EJ were in camp with the team, we would have lost Jozy’s incredible talent but I still could have kept my formation and tactics. EJ also had the experience to handle a World Cup match unlike my other forwards and has experience playing well in big games.”

“People kept saying that I should have brought Landon, but tactically that would not have helped me. That would have left me even more deficient defensively, and our midfield would have been shredded on the wings. No, EJ was the guy I needed to place Clint, Michael, and Jermaine Jones on the field in the positions where they would have succeeded.”

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  1. Grayson June 19, 2014
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