The United States Men’s National Team’s coach, Jürgen Klinsmann, has talked about World Cup qualifiers not being the time to experiment with players and line-ups, but Klinsmann has in fact experimented quite a bit with his starting line-ups, particularly with his defenses.
The United States Men’s National Team’s 4-3 defeat of Germany showed some improvements by the United States and certain players like Jozy Altidore, but there was a sense that Germany’s B Team wasn’t taking the game too seriously until the scoreline became ugly.
Amongst the good and the bad from the USMNT, Clint Dempsey scored one excellent goal and one electrifying goal as he tied Eric Wynalda at second on the USMNT’s all-time scoring list and then surpassed him.
The upcoming United States Men’s National Team game offers Jürgen Klinsmann the chance to see how Joe Corona and Stuart Holden can bolster a midfield with Michael Bradley, Jermaine Jones, and Clint Dempsey.
More so than any other players on this roster, Corona and Holden offer the USMNT the opportunity to improve the technical ability of the American midfield and test the USMNT against one of the top national teams in the world, Germany.
Belgium and Germany are several levels above the United States in terms of technical ability, but Klinsmann should seize this chance to start players like Corona and Holden who can not only help out Bradley, Jones, and Dempsey but who can also provide certain types of passes and final balls that the other three don’t provide enough of.
Jürgen Klinsmann would be wise to start something like the line-up below, which is a 4-2-3-1 formation:
Tim HOWARD; Fabian JOHNSON, Omar GONZALEZ, Geoff CAMERON, DaMarcus BEASLEY; Jermaine JONES, Michael BRADLEY; Joe CORONA, Stuart HOLDEN, Clint DEMPSEY; Terrence BOYD.
DaMarcus Beasley is the only player proposed above as a starting defender who is playing out of position, but Beasley has played a few games at left back.
Beasley’s speed was presumably the reason that Klinsmann elected to use him at left back at times when the United States had some injuries, but he has shown the ability to play some respectable defense against a team like Belgium as well as Mexico and Costa Rica.
With the players available on the roster, Fabian Johnson is needed at right back so that Gonzalez and Cameron can continue to build chemistry as the American center back duo.
In the midfield, Klinsmann has somewhat transitioned away from using three defensive midfielders, as he now uses two technically-skilled defensive midfielders in Jones and Bradley whose skill on the ball and athleticism allows them to do more than playing the roles of midfield destroyers.
The change needed for the game against Germany, which should help the United States in World Cup qualifying, would be the insertion of Holden and Corona into the starting line-up to provide Dempsey with more support from creative and skilled midfielders in maintaining possession and connecting the midfield to the attack.
Up top, Jozy Altidore deserves a chance to start at striker when he actually has enough players behind him who can provide better service beyond just crosses played into the box, but at the same time, a friendly is a good chance to let Terrence Boyd start and show what he can do.
Perhaps the best course of action is playing each striker for one half or playing both of them at the same time at some point in the game, which would require taking off one of the two defensive midfielders or one of the three attacking midfielders.
The primary change needed in this game in order to see how the United States can improve for upcoming qualifiers is to take both Brad Davis and Graham Zusi out of the starting line-up and insert Joe Corona and Stuart Holden.
The technical ability and speed of Belgium in its 4-2 defeat of the United States Men’s National Team in an international friendly highlighted many of the problems with Jürgen Klinsmann’s rosters and line-ups more so than games against CONCACAF opponents have.
The Best 50 American Soccer Players (June 2013 Edition)
World Soccer Source contends that the list of players included in “The ASN 100” produced by the excellent website, American Soccer Now, displays an unrealistic estimation of the skill-level of many of the players included on their list in comparison to the types of international competition that the United States Men’s National Team faces.
Valuing Major League Soccer statistics over the touch, technique, movement off the ball, athleticism, vision, and fundamentals of players in Major League Soccer or elsewhere can only tell one so much.
Once the United States faces better opponents, players without the technical qualities seen more in better soccer nations will be thoroughly outmatched on the field
American Soccer Now won’t rank players based on their technical ability and their ability to play high-level soccer against strong competition, as is the case with American Soccer Now’s high ranking of Graham Zusi compared to the visibly-superior Joe Corona, who is not only more skilled, but who performs well consistently against better Latin American competition.
While all of the players included on American Soccer Now’s list should be applauded as solid professionals, the overall make-up of ASN’s list places a low premium on technical ability and ranks many of the United States’ best players way too low.
For example, Freddy Adu was ranked 73rd by ASN in last month’s list after being signed by one of the two major Salvador, Brazil clubs, Bahia, in the Brasileirão.
In short, The ASN Top 100 and the people responsible for making it support the use of less-skilled players who don’t put the United States in a position to beat first and second-tier national teams.
*THE WORLD SOCCER SOURCE LIST IS NOT A LIST OF THE MOST SKILLED PLAYERS RANKED IN ORDER. THESE RANKINGS ARE BASED ON A COMBINATION OF FACTORS: SKILL, CLUB FORM, PROVEN INTERNATIONAL ABILITY, THE LEAGUE PLAYED IN, AND CURRENT INTERNATIONAL FORM.
-Every player, coach, fan, writer, commentator, analyst, etc has a different idea of what “best” means in terms of ranking soccer players.
-Some people want a player’s club or international form at the moment the rankings are done to be the most important factor.
-Other people believe the league played in is the most important indicator of a player’s skill and form.
-And, still other people contend that skill is the most important factor, with the obvious requirement that the player has actually demonstrated skill against real competition.
-Still others try to balance both skill, the league played in, and current form when evaluating players.
-This list attempts to balance skill, current form, and the league played in.
-World Soccer Source advocates actually calling up certain players to the national team over certain players who are ranked higher on this list. For instance, Hercúlez Gómez is ranked higher than both Mario Rodriguez and José Villarreal, but World Soccer Source believes the four USMNT strikers on the roster should be: Juan Agudelo, Terrence Boyd, Mario Rodríguez, and José Villarreal.
Zinedine Zidane had this to say about how to determine what “best” really meant:
The Best 50 American Soccer Players (June 2013)
1. Clint DEMPSEY (Tottenham)
2. Michael BRADLEY (Roma)
3. Landon DONOVAN (LA Galaxy)
4. Tim HOWARD (Everton)
5. Benny FEILHABER (Sporting Kansas City)
6. Jermaine JONES (Schalke)
7. Geoff CAMERON (Stoke City)
8. Fabian JOHNSON (Hoffenheim)
9. Joe CORONA (Tijuana)
10. Freddy ADU (Bahia)
11. Steve CHERUNDOLO (Hannover)
12. Juan AGUDELO (New England Revolution)
13. Terrence BOYD (Rapid Wien)
14. Jozy ALTIDORE (AZ Alkmaar)
15. Benji JOYA (Santos Laguna)
16. Hérculez GÓMEZ (Santos Laguna)
17. Brad GUZAN (Aston Villa)
18. Jonathan SPECTOR (Birmingham City)
19. Mix DISKERUD (Rosenborg)
20. Brek SHEA (Stoke City)
21. Eric LICHAJ (Contract not renewed by Aston Villa)
22. Omar GONZALEZ (LA Galaxy)
23. Eddie JOHNSON (Seattle Sounders)
24. DeAndre YEDLIN (Seattle Sounders)
25. Edgar CASTILLO (Tijuana)
26. Perry KITCHEN (DC United)
27. Joe GYAU (St. Pauli on loan from Hoffenheim)
28. Mario RODRIGUEZ (FC Kaiserslautern)
29. José VILLARREAL (LA Galaxy)
30. Stuart HOLDEN (Bolton)
31. Tony TAYLOR (Released by Estoril Praia)
32. Gale AGBOSSOUMONDE (Toronto FC)
33. Chris KLUTE (Colorado Rapids)
34. Teal BUNBURY (Sporting KC)
35. Kenny COOPER (FC Dallas)
36. Sacha KLJESTAN (Anderlecht)
37. George JOHN (FC Dallas)
38. Andrew FARRELL (New England Revolution)
39. Alonso HERNANDEZ (Monterrey)
40. Daniel CUEVAS (Santos Laguna)
41. Shane O’NEILL (Colorado Rapids)
42. Kofi SARKODIE (Houston Dynamo)
43. Lee NGUYEN (New England Revolution)
44. Zach LOYD (FC Dallas)
45. Jeremy HALL (Toronto FC)
46. Lamar NEAGLE (Seattle Sounders)
47. Caleb STANKO (Freiburg)
48. London WOODBERRY (FC Dallas)
49. Junior FLORES (Contracted by Borussia Dortmund)
After seeing Jürgen Klinsmann add Brad Evans and Corey Ashe (both solid professionals) to the United States Men’s National Team roster, it would appear that there is something terribly wrong with how Jürgen Klinsmann and his assistants are selecting players for national team duty because there are certainly better players than Evans and Ashe available to the USMNT, not to mention the less than stellar roster selected in general.
At this point, Jürgen Klinsmann should poach all of the best players off the Under-20 World Cup roster and the U-23 Olympic qualifying roster and put them on the full United States Men’s National Team.
This would be real change.
Many of the USMNT regulars are excellent international-caliber players who the United States needs, but these top players like Clint Dempsey, Michael Bradley, and Geoff Cameron are surrounded by too many players who are well below their skill level.
The United States needs to surround many of its best regular starters with new or younger players, many of whom Klinsmann keeps with the U-23 and U-20 squads.
Americans want to see the United States play better and win, and Americans want the national team to be considered skilled by other countries.
Fielding players who can improve the level of the United States’ play is fairly easy to do, but there’s no guarantee that the changes will instantly or consistently produce victories.
This is how the United States can implement some meaningful changes, and every proposal is followed by a more conservative and already proven option:
-Start DeAndre Yedlin at right back because his combination of technical skill, speed, attacking qualities, and defensive qualities makes him a modern outside back. Yedlin will make mistakes. Accept it. Timothy Chandler makes mistakes too. At least play Jonathan Spector or Eric Lichaj at right back if Timothy Chandler and Steve Cherundolo are unavailable.
-Start Gale Agbossoumonde at center back with Geoff Cameron. Agbossoumonde will make mistakes. Cameron made a mistake in the World Cup qualifier against Honduras, but he’s still a talented and athletic center back and the best American center back. If the USMNT’s coaching staff isn’t ready to use Agbossoumonde, they should at least make sure that both Omar Gonzalez and Geoff Cameron are starting as the center backs instead of using Gonzalez and Matt Besler.
-Start Michael Bradley and Benji Joya as a line of two central midfielders with Joya having total freedom to go wherever he wants on the field. If this option is too bold for the USMNT, then start Stuart Holden next to Michael Bradley.
-Start Joe Corona, Freddy Adu, and Clint Dempsey as a line of three attacking midfielders in front of Michael Bradley and Benji Joya (with the understanding that Joya is not playing as a defensive midfielder). If the USMNT thinks Freddy Adu is still adjusting to playing in Brazil, then certainly a proven player like Benny Feilhaber deserves a start. Klinsmann should at least be willing to start him, especially since Bradley, four defenders, and a goalkeeper will be behind him.
-Start Juan Agudelo at striker now despite Jozy Altidore’s improved technical skill and record-breaking goal total for an American playing in Europe because Juan Agudelo is better and more aggressive than Jozy Altidore. Juan Agudelo will create more scoring chances and score more goals, and Agudelo will draw defenders toward him, which will free up space for other American players to move into. If the USMNT coaching staff thinks Altidore’s form dictates that he starts, then they should make sure to put creative midfielders behind him in the system outlined above.
-In addition to this starting line-up, the United States needs to fill the remaining roster spots with capable players who have the skill and athleticism to play international soccer now despite the elements in the American soccer community who want to see more experience before letting the newer players play.
-Andrew Farrell and Shane O’Neill should be the two back up center backs, or, at the very least; Omar Gonzalez and George John should be the back up center backs if the U.S. starts Agbossoumonde with Cameron.
-Kofi Sarkodie and Chris Klute should be the back-up right and left backs, respectively. If not, then Jonathan Spector and Eric Lichaj should be the back up outside backs, if Yedlin and Fabian Johnson are starting.
-Jermaine Jones and Perry Kitchen should be the additional defensive midfielders on the roster.
-The remaining midfield roster spot should be occupied by Benny Feilhaber.
-Finally, the other three striker spots on the roster should be given to Mario Rodriguez, Terrence Boyd, and José Villarreal.
Note:All of the changes proposed above by and large were followed by “safer” and more conservative options for the USMNT. Even if the bolder options are just that, too bold, then the proven USMNT internationals should be used as opposed to Klinsmann makeshift rosters and starting line-ups.
Embrace and accept risks and know that the U.S. has other quality player options besides those proposed above:
Americans and non-Americans alike can debate about which players should be on the roster, and many of the players above could be replaced by other players who are also worthy of roster spots. The United States’ talent pool now exceeds the amount of roster spots available.
For instance, Landon Donovan, Jozy Altidore, Omar Gonzalez, George John, Eddie Johnson, Herculez Gomez, Jonathan Spector, Steve Cherundolo, Brek Shea, Mix Diskerud, Joe Gyau, and Caleb Stanko all deserve roster spots.
Even players like Junior Flores and Corey Baird should be players the USMNT’s coaching staff is considering to call into a full national team camp just for the purpose of seeing how far along they are in their development.
Some coach of the United States is going to have to be willing to make the types of changes and bold decisions outlined in the previous section and let the United States play the world’s best national teams straight up.
Merely surviving against top national teams isn’t progress, and nobody around the world cares if the United States runs a lot and just plays good team defense.
Other national team coaches will be impressed with the teamwork and heart, but these same coaches will still see the U.S. is missing the elements to consistently win against top national teams.
Bold decisions aren’t new to the USMNT. Bruce Arena started 20 year olds in the 2002 World Cup.
The United States might lose when it plays new or younger players, but the United States has been barely tying teams or winning under Klinsmann.
With changes, at least the United States will play better and be in the position to win.
People will respect a United States Men’s National Team like the one proposed above, and a team like the one proposed above can win.
The United States already doesn’t beat the world’s best national teams when the other teams are fielding their full strength national teams because Clint Dempsey doesn’t have enough attacking support, and Michael Bradley doesn’t have enough support in the midfield to establish good passing combination play with his teammates.
Tim Howard, Geoff Cameron, Michael Bradley, and Clint Dempsey deserve to have technically-skilled and athletic teammates, even if the new additions are inexperienced in international soccer.
Using a squad like the one proposed above is no different than Bruce Arena starting Landon Donovan against Portugal in the 2002 World Cup, and it’s no different than Bruce Arena starting Clint Dempsey against Italy in the 2006 World Cup because Dempsey had never faced competition like Italy before.
Bruce Arena didn’t start Clint Dempsey in the first game of the 2006 World Cup against the Czech Republic, and the United States was thoroughly dominated.
Players will make mistakes, and there’s no way for a club or national soccer team to eliminate the possibility of mistakes being made by its players, even if world-class and experienced players are used.
Elite and world-class players make mistakes too, some times, big mistakes.
Proposed 23-Man USMNT Roster:Tim Howard, Brad Guzan, Luis Robles; Geoff Cameron, Gale Agbossoumonde, Andrew Farrell, Shane O’Neill; DeAndre Yedlin, Kofi Sarkodie, Fabian Johnson, Chris Klute; Michael Bradley, Jermaine Jones, Perry Kitchen; Clint Dempsey, Joe Corona, Benji Joya, Benny Feilhaber, Freddy Adu; Juan Agudelo, Terrence Boyd, Mario Rodríguez, José Villarreal.
Proposed Starting XI:Tim Howard; DeAndre Yedlin, Gale Agbossoumonde, Geoff Cameron, Fabian Johnson; Michael Bradley, Benji Joya; Joe Corona, Freddy Adu, Clint Dempsey; Juan Agudelo.
Jürgen Klinsmann omitted a shocking amount of proven and talented players from the May/June United States Men’s National Team roster. Whether it was outside backs, center backs, or attacking players, Klinsmann’s newest roster ignores major weaknesses with the USMNT.
The United States Men’s National Team roster selected to participate in two friendlies (Belgium and Germany) and three World Cup qualifying games (Jamaica, Panama, Honduras) contains several solid, international-caliber selections, but the roster also fails to correct weaknesses in the balance and technical ability of previous rosters.