The Starting XI that Jürgen Klinsmann would use and the Starting XI that the USMNT should use are two different things.
Just because Klinsmann was an outstanding player doesn’t mean that all of his coaching preferences and decisions are correct. Much of the improvement of the overall play of the United States is due to the continuing improvement of players like Michael Bradley, Clint Dempsey, and Jozy Altidore.
Nevertheless, it is possible to make an educated guess about the Starting XI that Klinsmann will use. Tim Howard is the first-choice American goalkeeper, and Klinsmann has essentially stated that he will be using DaMarcus Beasley as a left back.
Predicting the other three members of the Back Four is harder to do because Klinsmann used Geoff Cameron and John Anthony Brooks as center backs against Bosnia and Herzegovina, but before he was starting Omar Gonzalez and Matt Besler.
Klinsmann’s first-choice right back has been Brad Evans, but Evans was replaced by Michael Parkhurst due to injury. Even though Parkhurst was given Evans’ roster spot, Klinsmann could start Geoff Cameron or Michael Orozco at right back.
As the United States is looking to cap-tie John Anthony Brooks to the United States, Brooks could either start at center back or be used as a substitute. Either way, it’s hard to guess which two center backs will start.
Assuming Klinsmann continues to use the 4-2-3-1 formation, Jermaine Jones and Michael Bradley will be used as the defensive midfield tandem, and the assumption has to be that Klinsmann starts Landon Donovan, Clint Dempsey, and Fabian Johnson as a line of three attacking midfielders behind Jozy Altidore (unless he is still injured).
Klinsmann’s line of three attacking midfielders is set-up to use second strikers and free-roaming attacking midfielders as playmakers, as opposed to starting a playmaker like Mix Diskerud in between Donovan and Dempsey.
There is an additional possibility to consider, which is that Klinsmann could possibly not start Donovan as a right attacking midfielder because he wants to use Graham Zusi who was playing in that position when Donovan was away from the national team.
All of these guesses and assumptions paint the picture of a Starting XI made up of Tim Howard, Michael Parkhurst, Geoff Cameron or Omar Gonzalez, John Anthony Brooks or Matt Besler, DaMarcus Beasley, Jermaine Jones, Michael Bradley, Landon Donovan, Clint Dempsey, Fabian Johnson, and Jozy Altidore or Aron Jóhannsson or Eddie Johnson.
Keeping in mind that Klinsmann could decide to use Cameron or Orozco at right back and that Klinsmann could use a different center back combination, the players above are a safe bet to line-up in a 4-2-3-1 against Costa Rica.
Klinsmann Likely Starting XI is the one below:
Tim HOWARD; Michael PARKHURST, Geoff CAMERON or Omar GONZALEZ, John Anthony BROOKS or Matt BESLER, DaMarcus BEASLEY; Michael BRADLEY, Jermaine JONES; Landon DONOVAN, Clint DEMPSEY, Fabian JOHNSON; Jozy ALTIDORE / Aron JÓHANNSSON.
On the other hand, it’s worth exploring whether or not Klinsmann’s likely XI is really the best one for the USMNT to use.
Firstly, Klinsmann’s likely line-up relies on Dempsey and Donovan, who are free-roaming attacking midfielders or second strikers, to be playmakers, which is not really their strength.
Both players can deliver final balls and set-up goals, but Donovan and Dempsey are best used when played off a playmaker where they are free to look to make runs to get into scoring positions.
In short, both players excel more at getting into position to be on the receiving end of final balls than on actually delivering the final balls.
The problem with the Jones and Bradley pairing is that when one player goes forward, the other player won’t immediately drop back to allow the other player to go forward by himself.
The best policy would be for both players to pick their openings to go forward and as soon as the other one saw that his counterpart was going forward to then drop back to protect the area in front of the defensive back four.
When Geoff Cameron and Michael Bradley were the defensive midfield duo, Cameron simply told Bradley that he would play the deeper and more defensive role so that Bradley could be more involved in the attack.
Cameron seemed to flourish in this set-up because it allowed him to be more involved in the passing play of the United States, and it allowed him to use his athleticism to cover a lot of ground in the midfield.
Cameron was more involved in the game as a midfield destroyer than he was a center back where he was often left with both Bradley and Jones too far up field to provide him with any protection from the opposition’s attackers.
A very strong argument can be made that using Geoff Cameron and Michael Bradley together as the defensive midfielders allows for a more balanced USMNT that also keeps possession better than when both Bradley and Jones are fighting to be more involved in the attack.
Omar Gonzalez and Matt Besler have given many people a false sense of security about the strength of the center of the American defense, when in fact neither center back has really proved themselves against higher-level competition.
Much of the praise of both center backs comes from the United States’ tie with Mexico, but many people seem to forget that both Michael Bradley and Maurice Edu were playing very deep to protect Besler and Gonzalez. It almost looked like the United States was using four center backs against Mexico.
The problems with Klinsmann’s Starting XIs don’t stop with the center backs or the defensive midfielders, there are also a lot of question marks about the preferred outside backs and the preferred line of three attacking midfielders.
Whereas Klinsmann will probably start Donovan, Dempsey, and Fabian Johnson as a line of three attacking midfielders, the USMNT might be better off to start Diskerud as a playmaker to provide the link between the defensive midfielders and players like Donovan, Dempsey, and Altidore who are focused on scoring or getting into the penalty box to disrupt the defense.
Despite the United States’ winning streak, Klinsmann might be wise to make some adjustments to his preferred Starting XI, and these adjustments are all things that Klinsmann has already used with success. Klinsmann has used Cameron and Bradley together with success. Klinsmann has used Fabian Johnson over DaMarcus Beasley as a left back with success, and Klinsmann has seen the missing creative element that Diskerud brings to the national team.
The coach of the United States has made it clear that Beasley is his first-choice left back and that Fabian Johnson is his first-choice left winger, but a left back is just as much a left winger as he is a defender covering the left flank.
Starting Fabian Johnson at left back allows him to provide better defense that Beasley can provide, and it also allows him to provide better attacking play out wide than Beasley can provide. It is the job of the defensive midfielders to cover for outside backs when they make marauding runs into the attack.
The United States can enjoy Fabian Johnson’s attacking skills even when he is used as a left back, and this is in fact the way that the best teams in the world implement width into their attacks.
World Soccer Source views the right back situation as problematic because both Michael Orozco and Geoff Cameron are likely more useful in positions other than the right back position, but both players are faster and more technically-skilled than Parkhurst. Both players are also better defenders.
Furthermore, Cameron’s best position is the midfield destroyer role, as opposed to the center back role because he can use his technical ability and athleticism more in the midfield than he can having to back pedal as a center back where he is at the mercy of through balls and chips being played past him with little to no defensive support.
Taking all of these factors into consideration, World Soccer Source would like to see the USMNT use the following Starting XI below:
Tim HOWARD; Michael PARKHURST, Michael OROZCO, John Anthony BROOKS, Fabian JOHNSON; Geoff CAMERON, Michael BRADLEY; Landon DONOVAN, Mix DISKERUD, Clint DEMPSEY; Jozy ALTIDORE (STILL SLIGHTLY INJURED?) / Aron JÓHANNSSON.