Despite what many observers say, tactics in soccer do not just involve how you coach your team to play; they also involve player selection, formation decisions, and the balance of types of players started.
Tactical decisions involve what sort of players a coach wants to start or include on the roster, and tactical decisions also involve how and where players are used.
Jürgen Klinsmann likely finds himself with more questions than answers right now, as every game seems to reveal some new piece of information about the effectiveness of players he uses and where he uses them.
Front Six Decisions:
Most recently, without two of Klinsmann’s best players, Jozy Altidore went on a total rampage against Bosnia and Herzegovina, and he displayed that he’s arrived at the point where he’s harnessed his skill and athleticism against top international teams.
During the most recent set of World Cup qualifying games, Klinsmann likely felt that he had found an effective group of players, but things such as how Geoff Cameron partnered with Michael Bradley compared to how Jermaine Jones partnered with Michael Bradley likely showed Klinsmann how Cameron allowed Bradley more freedom to attack.
After the last wave of World Cup qualifying games was over, Klinsmann saw several players in the Gold Cup that likely made him reconsider what his best starting line-up really was.
Players like Joe Benny Corona, Mix Diskerud, and Alejandro Bedoya brought some needed creativity and final balls, which were two things that the USMNT had been missing somewhat in World Cup qualifying.
The other obvious difference that Klinsmann saw was how a player of Landon Donovan’s skill-level really deserved to be an integral part of the United States Men’s National Team.
Therefore, while Klinsmann had been sold on the idea of using Graham Zusi as a right midfielder, Corona, Diskerud, and Donovan made a case for their inclusion in the World Cup qualifying starting line-up as well.
Excluding the defense for the time being, Klinsmann finds himself in a situation where he has Michael Bradley, Geoff Cameron, Jermaine Jones, Clint Dempsey, Landon Donovan, Fabian Johnson, Mix Diskerud, Joe Benny Corona, Alejandro Bedoya, Sacha Kljestan, Graham Zusi, Jozy Altidore, Aron Jóhannsson, and Eddie Johnson all vying for six starting line-up spots.
That’s 14 players vying for 6 spots, and the 14 players mentioned don’t even include Brek Shea, José Torres, or players than Klinsmann hasn’t really included in his rosters.
Therefore, the coach of the USMNT has to decide if he wants to use two first strikers like Altidore, Johnson, and Jóhannsson, or if he wants to use three attacking midfielders behind just one first striker: Jozy Altidore.
The Bradley and Jones defensive midfield tandem seems to be Klinsmann’s preference, and assuming that he starts Dempsey, Donovan, and Altidore, then Klinsmann has to decide if Altidore needs another central forward with him up top or if some sort of playmaker is needed in between Donovan and Dempsey.
This set-up above leaves Klinsmann with the option of using a player like Corona or Diskerud as a playmaker, but it also leaves Klinsmann will the option of using Zusi, Dempsey, and Donovan as the line of three attacking midfielders. Additionally, maybe starting Landon Donovan, Clint Dempsey, and Fabian Johnson behind Jozy Altidore is an excellent way to go.
In a way, the victory over Bosnia-Herzegovina showed Klinsmann how using two center forwards was effective even without Dempsey and Donovan playing, so this really begs the question of how effective the USMNT can be with a midfield destroyer, a box-to-box midfielder, two attacking midfielders, and two center forwards.
As far as the Front Six goes, Klinsmann best course of action is to make sure that his roster has defensive midfielders, box-to-box midfielders, attacking midfielders, playmakers, second strikers, and first strikers, so that he has plenty of options for his starting line-ups and his substitutions.
The USMNT has the option of relying on the combination play of Cameron, Bradley, Jones, Dempsey, Donovan, and Altidore to create scoring chances and goals, or the U.S. can start a player like Corona or Diskerud to give Bradley, Dempsey, and Donovan more attacking support for Altidore and themselves.
As of yet, Klinsmann has not started Dempsey, Donovan, and a playmaker behind Altidore, so this might be the next logical step for Klinsmann in his attempt to close the gap with better soccer nations.
The best defensive back four is another set of decisions all together, even without discussing the introduction of several defenders that World Soccer Source has advocated starting such as Shane O’Neill, DeAndre Yedlin, and Chris Klute.
Should Klinsmann start Omar Gonzalez with Matt Besler at center back, or should Geoff Cameron start with John Anthony Brooks at center back?
Should some different combination of those players be used? What about Michael Orozco Fiscal?
In terms of outside backs, Klinsmann seems to favor using Brad Evans or Geoff Cameron at right back with DaMarcus Beasley at left back, but is Fabian Johnson really Klinsmann’s first choice left back? Would Klinsmann rather have Fabian Johnson starting as a left winger?
Will Jürgen Klinsmann use three defensive midfielders again?:
There is a very remote possibility that the USMNT could elect to go back to using three defensive midfielders since Klinsmann seems to view Bradley and Jones as box-to-box midfielders, as opposed to traditional defensive midfielders.
Maybe Klinsmann elects to use Cameron as a midfield destroyer with Jones and Bradley in front of him, so that they can have slightly less defensive duties and be more involved in the attack. With this formation, it would seem likely that Klinsmann would use Cameron, Bradley, Jones, Donovan, Dempsey, and Altidore as his Front Six.
Outlook and Prediction:
Heading into the next set of World Cup qualifying games, Jürgen Klinsmann has a lot of decisions to make, and it will be interesting to see which players are called up to the national team and which players start. There is really no way to tell who Klinsmann will call up, who he will start, or if he’ll do something similar to what he’s done before or something totally different.
There are more excellent American soccer players who are products of American youth soccer than there have been in the past, and there are also dual-nationals who are outstanding soccer players that have decided to play for the United States.