And yet, this is exactly what the U.S.’s leading man, Klinsmann, should be doing. Before, when the U.S. was less prone to wild experimentation in friendlies, did consistency serve the greater good? Perhaps, but perhaps not as much as giving Herculez Gomez more time before the 2010 World Cup would have. When Bradley trotted out 4-4-2 after 4-4-2, did the U.S. become a better team? Probably. The U.S. mastered the system that served it so well that cycle, but it also left the team inflexible, reliant on one approach, and short on answers when injuries and poor performances called for new solutions.
Klinsmann hasn’t exactly solved those problems – though it’s hard to dispute the program uses a much deeper player pool than it did before. He is trying, though. Instead of looking at matches against Brazil and Peru as points of pride, tying himself to an obligation that only serves to obscure the program’s real goals, Klinsmann has started DeAndre Yedlin in midfield. Instead of looking at the Gold Cup as a be all and end all, he rolled the dice with a defense centered around John Brooks and Alvarado. And instead of bringing players like Geoff Cameron and Bobby Wood into camp this summer, he felt the team’s long-term goals would be better suited by letting them battle for time with their clubs.
In that sense, constantly selecting hamstrung, experimental teams seems like a sound strategy. In the short-term, though, it makes for a terrible product. In flashes, the U.S. can be very entertaining to watch, with the rest of the world justifiably enamored with Klinsmann’s perceived transformation of the program. But what the rest of the world gets in distilled highlights, hardcore U.S. fans have to wrestle out of 90 often arduous minutes. The flamboyant displays we see against Germany and Holland are actually just stints in a broader, less convincing spell of performances.
That’s the type of description you give to a team that’s struggling, but to say the U.S. is struggling would be harsh. Yes, the team just lost 4-1 to Brazil on home soil, but we’ve been here before – starting second-choice teams against a world power, leading to a “well, we’re just not sure” conclusion. Be it in training or when players are back at their clubs, most of the team’s progress goes on outside of what we see in their occasional 90 minutes on the field. To draw conclusions from games alone seems to make sense, but particularly under Klinsmann, it may be a small piece of the picture.