Sunday, September 9, 2012

National Team Loss Raises Questions About Team's Direction

In the wake of the U.S. Men's loss to the Jamaican team in World Cup qualifying, the predominant concern is not that the loss cripples the U.S.' qualifying fortunes, nor even that the U.S. lost to a purportedly lesser opponent.  Rather, for a team seemingly still searching for a system under relatively new head coach Jurgen Klinsmann, the prevailing concern is that the system appears to have no foundation.

In lobbying for Klinsmann's hire, supporters of the former German national team member anticipated two things immediately happening.  The first was that the U.S. would jettison the kick-and-run approach too often found in the systems run by Bruce Arenas and Bob Bradley.  The second was that the team would build from the back.  Klinsmann's supporters also anticipated that, after perhaps a bit more time, the former striker would identify a striker upon whom the U.S. team could rely for years to come.

Early into Klinsmann's tenure with the U.S. national team, the team appears to be reverting not only to the properly discredited system of Bob Bradley, but to depths not seen since well before players such as Eric Wynalda began roaming the pitch for the national team.  After several games evidencing a commitment to a possession game, against Jamaica, the U.S. appeared either willing to kick and run or unable to do anything else.

Support for the latter proposition is evidenced by another alarming trend under Klinsmann, that of the inexplicably worsening defense.  Under Bradley, the concern for the U.S. side was that someone in the middle of the defense would do something foolish--a mistaken step, a handball or takedown in the box, or a needless giveaway.  Under Klinsmann, these results are nearly assured, and not just on a once-a-game trajectory.  Rather, the U.S., under Klinsmann, consistently give the ball away, take players down either in the box or just outside of the box, and often either overplay the ball or mistake the balance between the defense and offense.

For the U.S. men's team to be relevant not only in the World Cup and the final round of qualifying, but even in the initial round-robin leg of qualifying, Klinsmann must dramatically rethink his defensive back.  The most obvious solution is to switch back to the 4-4-2 that worked well in earlier victories over Italy and Scotland.  The second is to pick the right players to play the back line.

Switching to a 4-4-2 could mean relying on Steve Cherundolo, Michael Parkhurst, and Carlos Bocanegra with all others regarded as fullbacks resigned to the bench or moved on--included in this latter group should be defensive mid-fielders Maurice Edu and Fabian Johnson; Edu is not a particularly good defender and is crippling on offense and Johnson is more an American footballer than a soccer player.

Assuming health of all options, a winning option for the U.S. men's team would include Cherundolo at the back, Parkhurst and Bocanegra on the wings, Michael Bradley in the up fullback position, Landon Donovan, Clint Dempsey in the center with two fresh, fast players not currently on the national team roster on the wings, and Jozy Altidore and Hercules Gomez on top.  That should ensure a solid back line and midfield and allow Klinsmann to assess what he actually has on top in Altidore and Gomez.

Up Next:  An Obvious Must Win.