MATHEW WAGNER - Friday, May 6, 2016
Guys and gals, we all need to learn to relax.
United States Men's National Team manager Jürgen Klinsmann released the 40-man preliminary roster for the Copa América Centenario Sunday, and some people in the U.S. Soccer sphere have reacted quite strongly. It's understandable that fans have a big emotional interest involved and media have always been and will always be sensationalistic with passionate opinions, but it's just the preliminary roster, for goodness sake.
Sure, Klinsmann seems to love a handful of characters that many of us find to be not up to scratch at the international level, such as Michael Orozco and Ventura Alvarado, but remember Eric Lichaj and how much everyone's been clamoring for the Nottingham Forest fullback? It seems he's finally out of the wilderness and at least on the radar of U.S. Soccer once more.
(As for the Benny Feilhaber fanboys, you may or may have come to terms on this already, but it's time to come to the conclusion he's never going to suit up for the USMNT again.)
Seriously, we might want to save our collective angst and hot takes for when Klinsmann whittles down the roster to the 23 for the tournament at or before May 20. Then it will justifiable.
With that rant over, here are some thoughts on the preliminary roster:
Which Klinsi will we see?
As the USMNT has progressed further into this World Cup cycle, Klinsmann has become more conservative in his roster selections. Rather than turning to younger players, he has double-downed on veteran players, especially in big situations.
Where has the ballsy Klinsmann gone, the one who left off Landon Donovan from the World Cup roster in 2014 and elected to bring along younger players in John Anthony Brooks, DeAndre Yedlin and Julian Green? No matter your feelings on that situation and what has become of those players (in the case of Green), those three guys did play a positive role in Brazil.
Since then, it seems like Klinsmann doesn't trust the younger American players. We've continued to see Kyle Beckerman, Jermaine Jones, Tim Howard and others, who while they are very good players, they also going to be well past their prime by the time Russia comes around in 2018.
Looking at the preliminary roster, Klinsmann probably will look for these players to try to get a decent tournament run, perhaps hoping it might take some pressure off of him from the media and fans (still not going to happen).
Despite seeing the usual suspects, there is hope Klinsi could go young to prepare those players for the rest of the World Cup cycle. Young Chelsea centerback Matt Miazga and current Borussia Dortmund wunderkind Christian Pulisic are there, as is Jordan Morris. It's remains to be seen whether Klinsmann will venture to pick all three of them, but Pulisic should be a near lock, and Morris' inclusion wouldn't be puzzling.
What will be the primary formation?
Klinsmann has settled with a more classic 4-4-2 formation since the 2014 World Cup, but the 4-0 win over Guatemala in Columbus on March 29 showed a glimpse of what a 4-3-3 could do for the U.S. Yes, it was against a team the Yanks should dominate every time they step onto the field, but it wasn't something of which we've seen much recently.
Whether or not the U.S. will line up in that 4-3-3 again remains to be seen. There are signs of Klinsmann's thinking on that matter just by taking a glance at the preliminary roster, as both Columbus Crew SC's Ethan Finlay and Pulisic are listed as forwards. That young duo could easily line up as right and left wingers.
Signs pointing to a return to a normal 4-4-2 also exist, with both Alejandro Bedoya and Fabian Johnson both categorized as midfielders. Just because they are called midfielders doesn't mean that's exactly where they will play, but considering those two will in all likelihood start the first match against Colombia on June 3 somewhere on the wings, that doesn't bode well for the 4-3-3 staying.
Once again, this all depends on which Klinsmann shows up - the conservative one or the guy who will take chances.
Who will be the defensive midfielder?
Although derided by fans much during the last World Cup cycle, Beckerman has become a fan favorite and for a good reason. Just look back to his appearance in the starting lineup against Guatemala in Columbus, and it's easy to see how he can steady the midfield by allowing Michael Bradley to play as a No. 8, his best position, and provide protection for the backline.
That's not even including the fact that everyone knows he gives everything he's got every time he represents the Star and Stripes.
All that makes this hard to say, but it might be time to move on from him. Beckerman will be 36 years old when the 2018 World Cup comes, and if he's still the starting midfielder for the USMNT at that point, he either found the Foundation of Youth or the U.S. will be in serious trouble.
The Copa América could be a good time to find Beckerman's heir as the No. 6, and there are a couple of options available on the preliminary roster. Perry Kitchen, Danny Williams and even Alfredo Morales, who has functioned as more of a two-way player for Ingolstadt this season when he's been on the field, but still has enough bite in him to deploy as a defensive midfielder, are all options.
Klinsmann could take one of them to learn under Beckerman as well, which is good enough, but if that backup doesn't get to see the field, that could be a precious opportunity wasted to see these other guys in action.
The cuts made to this preliminary group in order to select the final 23-man roster in under two weeks will begin to answer many of these questions, however we will have to wait until the daunting opening game against Colombia in four weeks to know where Klinsmann has settled. Strap in, we're in for a long and bumpy ride.