Bold experimentation has been a cornerstone of Jurgen Klinsmann’s time in charge of the national team. It fits, too; the man has always been a free spirit, the blessedness of trial and error hard-wired into his DNA.
As a head coach, Klinsmann delights in nudging individuals from their comfy zones, which you cannot do unless experimentation, a.k.a. “trying new stuff,” isn’t a major element of your larger attack plan.
Generally speaking, we’ve mostly nodded with approval. Remember how we were all excitedly pressing our noses up to the U.S. Soccer glass to see those fresh ideas from this different kinda cat back in 2012?
Well not to overstate the obvious, but it’s not 2012 anymore. It’s 2015, as you know, and the United States begins its latest ambitious schedule on Wednesday evening with a match at Chile. (6 p.m. ET from Estadio El Teniente in Rancagua, Chile; FOX Sports 1 and UniMas.)
So what I want from Klinsmann and, by extension, from his program is what I think a lot of U.S. supporters want: We want to see the bigger plan start coming together in more concrete ways.
I suspect a lot of U.S. supporters feel this way: We’re not disillusioned. Not yet … but it is time to see more. We’ve trusted – now we want to verify.
After three-plus years of decisions that seemed to fall somewhere between “bold choices” and just throwing darts, we’d like to see a little more of where the heck it’s all going. To be quite blunt, it’s time to see something that looks and smells and feels just a little less like throwing things against the wall.
The Klinsmann vision needs to begin to coalesce as this next World Cup cycle begins.
Most of us have generally been willing to trust Klinsmann when he talks in the abstract about philosophy, about imposing will on opposition, about playing smoothly out of the back, about higher pressure up the field, etc. It all sounds just swell.
He’s been talking about it for three and a half years now – right up through a World Cup that we’re all, still, not quite sure how to feel about. It certainly wasn’t a failure; most of us checked the box marked “underwhelming success.”
So Klinsmann and his constant tinkering have mostly been afforded benefit of the doubt. He earned it, after all, with a brilliant playing career, by always being a “thinker” along the way and by delivering in a fairly substantial way with Germany at World Cup 2006.
Obviously, in terms of personnel, there will always be a big “research and development” element to any national team program. Evaluations must be made on combinations and on the important issue of who can cut it internationally? For instance, as 2015 begins, we’re all excited to see what Lee Nguyen can do – even if Wednesday’s match comes against a highly watered down Chilean side, a far cry from the tidy version that so impressed last summer in Brazil.
That’s not what we’re talking about here. We’re talking about a bigger plan that we don’t have to squint so hard to see – if we can see it at all.
Take a look at the 23-man roster in Chile; Klinsmann called in DeAndre Yedlin late just to have one proper fullback. With a cluster of center backs, it looks like we’ll see a three-man back line Wednesday, something mostly unseen in a U.S. shirt since Bruce Arena went that way for the 2002 World Cup.
A three-man back line experiment? Well, OK! Let’s see how it works. Taken on its own, there’s nothing wrong with it.
Same with all the other experiments. Michael Bradley playing higher in the formation, away from his more natural, connecting role in midfield? The playmaker role never looked like his best spot, but maybe it was worth a look-see, right? (Although, seriously, did that “look” really need to be in a World Cup?)
Jermaine Jones as a center back? Sure, worth a look, I suppose.
A continued, contradictory doctrine of “train, train and train some more,” even against the mounting evidence that players suffered because of it? Well, uh …
And a reshuffle of coaches so close to a World Cup? That one made a bunch of us grimace.
None of those individually made us wonder if there really was a bigger plan in place. But taken altogether … hmmm?
To be fair, along the way plenty of his head-scratchers worked out, which has certainly prolonged Klinsmann’s honeymoon period. But for every one that has worked, there was a “Greg Garza sub” to consider (just to grab one example).
If Garza is going to be the answer at left back, well great! The young man does show lots of promise. But why pull him in the 70th minute of a close match (as Klinsmann did late last year against Colombia) for … DaMarcus Beasley? What are we learning there?
Some other questions we’re looking to answer as 2015 gets going:
What is Mix Diskerud’s best spot? Holding mid? Connector? Playmaker?
Can Jozy Altidore begin to deliver regularly once again?
Can Klinsmann build around his best player, Bradley, as opposed to slotting him in somewhere that fails to get his best?
Is Jones a center back? And who is his best partner in a four-man setup? (Recall, the pairings were Jones and Matt Besler in the 1-1 draw with Honduras and then Jones and John Brooks in the 2-1 loss to Colombia.)
Does Clint Dempsey have another cycle in him? (I mean, we’ve always assumed so … but he’ll be 35 at the next World Cup, so it’s worth asking the question.) Along those same lines, does it still make sense to more or less construct an offense around Dempsey, the ultimate ‘tweener?
Does Brek Shea still have an international career?
Thing is, because of another ambitious schedule, there will be plenty of worthy tests from which to evaluate these things, among others.
Back to the bigger picture. Prediction: 2015 is a big year for Klinsmann. If the plan doesn’t start becoming clearer, then the team had better overturn a run of unsightly results. Don’t forget the dead fish of a finish to 2014: draw at home to Ecuador; draw at home to Honduras; loss on neutral ground to Colombia, and; a big ass-whuppin’ from Ireland. Yuk, yuk, yuk and triple-yuk!
If results improve, we might just smile and shake our noggins and mutter something about “quirky ol’ Klinsmann” getting it done in his unorthodox ways. Then we’ll order another pint and not worry about it.
BUT … pressure will rise if those results don’t fall right. On one hand, he doesn’t owe us explanations on his vision. He doesn’t need to reveal the “whys.” That’s not part of his job description, to get us onboard. Then again, retaining public and media support does count at some point – even in a land where he says media are “pussycats.” (Which we are, by the way, compared to the aggressive media wolves of lands beyond.)
Media helps shape public opinion, and any coach that fumbles away public support has found his way to that proverbial slippery slope.
It’s 2015; we want to see this man’s golden plan start coming together.
Editor’s note: Steve Davis writes a weekly column for World Soccer Talk. He’ll continue to share his thoughts and opinions on US and MLS soccer topics every Wednesday, as well as news reports throughout the week. You can follow Steve on Twitter at @stevedavis90. Plus, read Steve’s previous columns on World Soccer Talk. .
200+ Channels With Sports & News
- Starting price: $33/mo. for fubo Latino Package
- Watch Premier League, World Cup, Euro 2024 & more
Many Sports & ESPN Originals
- Price: $9.99/mo. (or get ESPN+, Hulu & Disney+ for $13.99/mo.)
- Features Bundesliga, LaLiga, Championship, & more
175 Premier League Games & PL TV
- Starting price: $4.99/mo. for Peacock Premium
- Watch 175 exclusive EPL games per season