Klinsmann’s Puzzling Personnel Choices

Heading into the last two matches of CONCACAF’s third round of WC qualifying, USA is even on points (7) with Jamaica and Guatemala. A win in the final game against Jamaica and a draw against Antigua and Barbuda should be enough to advance to the Hexagonal round. But anything less than 2 wins would be a disappointment given the gringos’ talent relative to their group, and with Jurgen Klinsmann making what seemed to be obvious errors of judgement in earlier third round matches – particularly against Jamaica – qualification for the Hex is anything but assured. While we think Klinsmann has generally done a good job picking formations, his personnel selections have left a lot to be desired.

His newest round of choices certainly has its fair share of head-scratchers. Here’s the list, followed by our commentary.

* Shea and Donovan have withdrawn due to injury.

Midfield

Jurgen has often backed himself into a corner when he loads his squad with holding midfielders.  Fielding 3 holding mids in Kingston (Edu/Jones/Beckerman) was a self–defeating drag on any offensive momentum. Not even a withdrawn Dempsey was crafty enough to pull the work of a missing trequartista AND a second forward. Game two against Jamaica at home saw a more positive start with the inclusion of Torres and Zusi, but when both creative players exited, Klinsmann’s reversion to a midfield of holders deadened the attack as the game drew on. With Torres and Zusi on the field, the gringos created 12 shots. Without them, they created none.

To make matters worse, there was only one winger on the bench against Jamaica. Despite Brek Shea’s lackluster year in the MLS, while wearing the USMNT jersey over the last year, he has shown just how effective a direct, hard-driving natural winger can be, particularly in conjunction with an inverted winger on the opposite flank.

Current Roster: Unfortunately, the current roster looks pretty anemic in the ‘creating chances’ arena. Sacha Kljestan’s presence is encouraging, but Klinsmann simply swapped him with Torres, meaning the squad is just as inflexible as ever. There’s one experienced creator, Kljestan. One up and coming creator, Zusi. And one Clint Dempsey and one Michael Bradley. Unless Donovan and Shea are replaced, Zusi, Dempsey, and Bradley will shoulder the entire creative load.

Defense

The introduction of Fabian Johnson and Geoff Cameron has provided hope for USA’s 2014 backline. But there’s still more work to be done, and, again, it’s an issue of calling in the right personnel.

If Jurgen isn’t going to include wingers in his formation, marauding fullbacks are required to pin back opposing outside mids and fullbacks. Jurgen brought in just a pair of attacking fullbacks against Jamaica (Johnson and Steve Cherundolo), and when Cherundolo got hurt, it killed the attacking threat on the right flank. What boggles the mind is that Klinsmann had an option available – Eric Lichaj – and simply didn’t bring him in.

Klinsmann had this to say of Lichaj, an attacking fullback we’ve been prepping for 2 years: “Eric has always been on our list and the more he plays, the closer he gets. Right now it’s not the right time to bring in a bunch of new players.” Ok, so it’s not the time to bring in new guys. We get that. The interviewer then asks why Josh Gatt, a new face, was called in. “If a player at maybe a smaller club gives a specific edge for a specific game based on their characteristics, you can make some exceptions.”

Lichaj gave you an advantage against Jamaica! An attacking outside fullback used to chasing down flighty wingers in the Premier League could have been incredibly useful against Jamaica, a squad with plenty of speed on the flanks. And did we mention Jurgen picked a formation that relied exclusively on the fullbacks for width? Stop contradicting yourself, Jurgen.

Current Roster: To Klinsmann’s credit, he brought back Edgar Castillo instead of Jonathan Spector. While we rate Lichaj over Castillo, there is flexibility at the fullback spot, with Castillo and Parkhurst providing different options off the bench. And since Klinsmann is listing Maurice Edu as a defender, there’s also a bit of variety at center back. Cameron and Edu provide the passes, while Bocanegra supplies guile and Goodson a physical presence (each of these players provides more than just that one quality, of course).

Forward

Oh boy, here’s where the fun begins for this roster. Though the failure to bring in more creative players is, in our opinion, the biggest risk, the most obvious talking point for this squad is Jozy Altidore’s absence. We think this is another Klinsmann error.

No, Altidore has not produced goals recently for the Nats. But, again, we think that is more a commentary on the midfield than on Altidore. Klinsmann’s squads haven’t exactly been lighting up the score board. And Jozy has been scoring goals in bunches for AZ Alkmaar. Altidore also set up Clint Dempsey’s historic game winner against Italy. Aside from Herculez Gomez, it’s not like any of the other forwards have been playing well either, which, once more, says more about the midfield than the forwards.

Current Roster: Ok, let’s give Jurgen the benefit of the doubt. He sees something in other players that show they deserve a shot, like, say, MLS scoring leader Chris Wondolowski. Befuddlingly, Wondo didn’t get a call up, but his teammate, Alan Gordon, did. Gordon’s had a great year in MLS, but he’s hardly international caliber. Oh, and Eddie ‘let’s dribble it past the endline’ Johnson is back.

We don’t get it. At all.

Unless it’s some plot to insult Altidore and drive him insane. Then it makes sense.

Conclusion

Michael Bradley and Clint Dempsey have a lot of work to do.

Gringos, were you as perplexed by this roster as we were?

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2 Comments Post a Comment
  1. James says:

    As a general concern, it is worrisome that with Donovan and Shea down, along with the more recent news on Fabian Johnson and Castillo, that Klinsmann has *apparently* decided to stick with who is left and issue no additional call ups. The case with Lichaj is most perplexing because he wouldn’t be exactly new to the squad and would seem to fill a big hole in the roster. I feel like there is some personal issue there, or perhaps Klinsmann just doesn’t rate Lichaj.

    From a coaching perspective, what happens if we suffer another key injury or two against A&B? Wouldn’t prudence dictate that you have called up replacements just to practice and travel with the team… just in the worst case?

    As for Altidore, I’m not exactly against the decision to drop him. But I do question the approach on making the reasons why so public. I fear that a more Bradley-esque non-response might have served him better. I don’t think the US has such a mountain of talent that we can simply dismiss our perceived head cases out of hand. Altidore is a talent. Isn’t it Klinsmann’s job to figure out best to utilize that talent?

    This game against tiny, insignificant Antigua and Barbuda could be Klinsmann’s most important game in his US career. Should we do the unthinkable and lose, consider the ramifications.

  2. James says:

    Well, I guess his personnel choices paid off in Antigua & Barbuda. But I still don’t know whether I should laugh or cry… I can’t shake the feeling that we are regressing under Klinsmann, but I hope I’m wrong.

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