There’s a time to celebrate, and there’s a time to critique.
There’s also a time to do both.
Right now, it’s time for the United States to be glad that it qualified for the World Cup, while also being mindful of soccer’s magicians and masters who will be waiting for them in Brazil.
It’s very possible that the best soccer players in the world can only name a few American soccer players or even recognize them, and the United States can take advantage of that.
Qualifying for the 2014 World Cup was a relief for Jürgen Klinsmann, American soccer fans, and the players on the United States Men’s National Team, but Americans still need to acknowledge the need to use better players playing their natural position and the need to continue to improve the U.S.’ passing, in order to compete with better national teams.
The United States did well to beat Mexico in order to lock up a spot in the 2014 World Cup, but some real changes need to be made to continue to improve.
These changes should be welcomed by American soccer fans, as American soccer fans are eager to show the world that their national team is closing the gap with top national teams.
The reason that it’s fair to critique Jürgen Klinsmann’s coaching decisions is because the teams that the United States was beating in CONCACAF weren’t very good by international standards and when the United States beat Bosnia and Herzegovina it was because Jozy Altidore went on a second-half scoring rampage.
There are still real problems that Jürgen Klinsmann needs to correct, ranging from selecting rosters with an appropriate amount of capable players at each position to choosing starting line-ups that combine strong defense with quality passing and skilled attacking play.
Qualifying for a World Cup calls for celebration, but ignoring the need to make improvements would be perilous for the United States.
Even to this day, many Americans still don’t understand how Ghana beat the United States in the 2010 World Cup, even after seeing Kevin-Prince Boateng (who’s really German) playing in Serie A and in the Champions League after the World Cup; Boateng’s left-footed goal against the U.S. looked like it teleported across ice, but Americans still wondered how the U.S. could lose to a small country.
World-class soccer players can come from anywhere.
There are a lot of ways to make improvements to the United States Men’s National Team, but a good first step would be to at least recognize the need to include capable natural right backs on the roster and to recognize how a player like Mix Diskerud added a missing passing and creative element that improved how the United States played.
Without tossing all of the new American talents into the deep end at once, simple changes to the starting line-up like using Eric Lichaj at right back with a playmaker like Mix Diskerud or Joe Benny Corona playing in between Landon Donovan and Clint Dempsey are easy changes to make that aren’t risky.
American soccer fans fear change, and other soccer fans demand changes to meet their higher standards.
There’s no reason that Jürgen Klinsmann can’t at least start the following line-up in the next World Cup qualifier:
Brad Guzan; Jonathan Spector, Michael Orozco, John Anthony Brooks, Fabian Johnson; Geoff Cameron, Michael Bradley; Landon Donovan, Benny Feilhaber, Clint Dempsey; Jozy Altidore.
This allows the United States to shore up certain areas of the American starting line-up without totally disrupting the chemistry of the national team all at once. The new and younger players can be included on the roster and used as substitutes.
Starting Eric Lichaj or Jonathan Spector at right back and Benny Feilhaber, Joe Benny Corona, or Mix Diskerud as a central attacking midfielder in between Landon Donovan and Clint Dempsey aren’t irrational or reckless changes, but rather they are thoughtful and logical attempts to shore up the USMNT at right back and in the midfield.
The U.S. national team had to play Fabian Johnson as a right back against Mexico, and the United States didn’t score from the run of play against Mexico until Mix Diskerud was substituted into the game.
There’s a real need to have a better right back, and there’s a real need to link the defensive midfielders to the attack and include a creative playmaker to allow Dempsey, Donovan, and Altidore to play their game.
In the next World Cup qualifiers, using a Back Four of Jonathan Spector or Eric Lichaj, Michael Orozco, John Anthony Brooks, and Fabian Johnson makes sense, as the U.S. has already qualified for the World Cup.
The United States needs to see two natural outside backs playing with quick and technically-skilled center backs because of the reality that the likes of Neymar and Mario Balotelli are already in the World Cup.
Using Michael Bradley with Geoff Cameron as the two defensive midfielders makes sense because both Michael Bradley and Jermaine Jones get in each other’s way, and Jones should be the back up for Bradley in a two-man defensive midfield or the lone defensive midfielder.
It also makes sense to start Landon Donovan, Benny Felhaber, and Clint Dempsey in front of Bradley and Cameron with Jozy Altidore playing as the tip of the spear.
Michael Bradley and Jermaine Jones cannot play well together, and Benny Feilhaber continues to prove in MLS that his creativity and technical-ability are way above that of most Americans.
Jürgen Klinsmann must learn to fit all of the pieces together to form a competitive national team that can really play well against truly good national teams, even if he isn’t ready to introduce the new players just yet.
With the likes of Italy and Brazil already waiting, let these next World Cup qualifying games be a stepping stone for the United States, in order to continue to improve and grow with the goal of fielding a cohesive unit of technically-skilled players all over the field.
Jürgen Klinsmann is right to celebrate, but more so than the fans and the media, he is mindful of the difference between beating the minnows in CONCACAF and swimming with the sharks in the World Cup in Brazil.
Some of Klinsmann’s favorite players hold players like Michael Bradley, Clint Dempsey, Landon Donovan, Fabian Johnson, and Jozy Altidore back.
That’s just a reality that Americans will have to accept.
The United States had some trouble scoring from the run of play in CONCACAF.
Clint Dempsey personally delivered many of the victories in World Cup qualifying, and Eddie Johnson victimized other teams with athleticism that was out of their league.
The World Cup will be harder.
It’s time to take a hard look at the technical-ability of many of Jürgen Klinsmann’s favorite players compared to the competition in the American player pool and in the World Cup.
All the player changes don’t need to come at once, but they do need to come, even if they come gradually.
Many of the changes will be made for non-starters, and only players like Tim Howard, Brad Guzan, Geoff Cameron, Fabian Johnson, Michael Bradley, Clint Dempsey, Landon Donovan, Aron Jóhannsson, and Jozy Altidore are really safe.
In addition to many of the players discussed in the this article in more detail, the USMNT also needs more players like Juan Agudelo, Benji Joya, Chris Klute, Andrew Farrell, DeAndre Yedlin, and Shane O’Neill.