CHRISTOPHER MCCOLLUM - Monday, August 8, 2011
For everyone living under a rock over the past couple weeks, it will come as a shock that Jurgen Klinsmann is the new head coach for the United States Men's National Team, replacing Bob Bradley a bit quicker than myself and just about everyone else expected. Questions of his coaching pedigree resound amongst some circles but for the most part, everyone seems to be tentatively looking forward to the team's future, rather than bleakly dreading what's to come after the dreadful showings of the past six months.
I will be the first person to admit that there were times when I perhaps unfairly criticized Bradley over the past several years, but when it's time to go, it's time to go. The time came and went last year, and came again this summer after the Gold Cup. Sunil Gulati finally seized the opportunity and handed the reins over to the German legend, which prompted immense speculation over who he would choose to take to Philadelphia to play against Mexico on August 10. Klinsmann indicated that he would favor an attacking approach, as well as an Hispanic influence to reflect America's culture and society.
When the roster was announced on Thursday, there sure enough was a large attacking element as well as several players from Mexico's top tier that have either been forgotten or rarely had an opportunity to begin with. Jose Francisco Torres, Michael Orozco, Edgar Castillo and DaMarcus Beasley were all brought up from the Primera Division. The inclusion of Orozco is a surprising one, but not the biggest on the roster; that distinction would have to fall on the young D.C. United net minder Bill Hamid who was selected over several notable goalkeepers to backup Tim Howard. Hamid is a quality prospect, noted for becoming the youngest goalkeeper to win a game in MLS history, beating his own new National Team mentor by just a handful of days.
Still, Orozco getting his first national team call up since 2008 is surprising, especially after it almost seemed that his career with the team might be over after one attempt, possibly because of his Gold Medal in Olympic Elbowing against Nigeria in the Beijing Games. Mistakes should be forgiven however, but his selection is not nearly as much of a relief as Castillo finally being called again; I noted back in my last article that Bradley would eventually be fired if he didn't do something about the gaping hole in the left side of the defense, and sure enough, the axe came and Klinsmann has called him up.
The excitement level was starting to grow at the prospect of Timmy Chandler going on runs up the right and Castillo getting into the attack from the left, until Chandler had to be replaced by Zach Loyd due to what was claimed as an injury.
Loyd is an unheralded left back prospect who had a decent showing in his first and only cap against Chile earlier this year, where he won man of the match honors despite being subbed out in the 73rd minute. In that game, one of his best moments was not being one of the plethora of players who were caught ball watching for Chile's 53rd minute goal. He was, however, muscled off the ball at the corner of the box and lost the play when the ball was back heeled past him. He was too late to challenge the cross effectively, but he showed fast recovery speed to get into the play to begin with.
Since the right sided Chandler was replaced by the left sided Loyd, there's likely going to be a three way battle for playing time at left back between Castillo, Loyd, and Heath Pearce. Steve Cherundolo should have the right side locked down in the meantime, making Klinsmann's job for picking the starting defensive line a little bit easier.
As for the rest of the roster, it's good to see Michael Bradley remaining in the mix, despite his manager becoming the second most irritating Favre in America after announcing that Bradley was not in the plans for Borussia Monchengladbach's future, pretty much sealing the fact that he won't see a minute of club playing time until he secures a transfer or loan to a new team.
Ricardo Clark being called up is another surprise selection, as he seemed to be another player lost to memory from a combination of injuries and a deep player pool in the midfield. But as he's back to full fitness and hoping to lead Eintracht back to the top flight this season, his experience as a physical, bruising central midfielder appears to be playing into Klinsmann's plans for keeping the midfield clean while attacks are running up the flanks.
Why Klinsmann chose six center midfielders and one winger remains to be seen however, and it's anybody's guess as to which one gets put out of position as an experiment. Even though Beasley was listed as part of the forward quintet on the 22-man roster, he should be dropped back to left midfield so he can stretch his legs. Despite a lack of playing time over the past year and several previous years of inconsistent form with the national team, he seems to be making a quick, strong impression at Puebla, starting their first four games, recording six shots and an assist, and going the distance in two of them. Beasley has always been one of the most promising, and at one time the best, end-to-end wingers in the US pool, and it would be a key revelation for Klinsmann's USMNT if he shows the same speed and tenacity that defined him as a player in the early 2000's.
It's a relief that Torres' exile from the team has seemed to come to an end with the coaching change, and a potentially fun center midfield to watch would be the Pachuca midfielder sitting at the top of a triangle with Jermaine Jones and Bradley sitting just behind him. Of course, that potential suggests that Klinsmann is going to run a five man midfield, which is in no way certain. He ran a 4-4-2 with Germany and also with Bayern Munich, leaving us to assume that he will probably try to implement the same formation with the United States.
There weren't any surprise inclusions in the forward pool aside from Beasley being listed there rather than as a midfielder. Freddy Adu's selection shows that Klinsmann agrees with Bradley's assessment of Adu in his waning tenure, that he has the ability to be a game changer and his newly-found workman's attitude might finally let him see his full potential.
The one thing that did come as a head scratcher for the forwards was that Edson Buddle was selected but Herculez Gomez was not. While Buddle is not a bad selection and the group needs some strength, Gomez has been very impressive in the early season with Estudiantes and has considerably less distance to travel. His disappointment was clear via Twitter prior to the roster being announced, but that might mean he will be back in the mix for the Costa Rica match in September.
There's any number of combination of players who could start the game in a 4-4-2 formation, but some of the best players on the roster would be left on the sidelines regardless because their games won't fit the rest of the players for a that formation. Landon Donovan is best when he's running at the defense from half field, which would mean he would need to play in a withdrawn striker role, leaving Buddle as a holdup forward because Juan Agudelo isn't suited for that role. Similarly, in order to feed the attack it's imperative that Torres play in the midfield with either Jones or Bradley playing behind him, but not both.
A possible solution for the forwards would be to use Donovan as right midfielder, allowing him to slash across Mexico's defense and free up Agudelo to play alongside Buddle. The drawback there is that the holding midfielder would either have to expose the middle by covering for Donovan's runs, or Cherundolo and likely Clarence Goodson would have to shift forward and to the right to cover more ground, allowing the opportunity for Giovanni Dos Santos to run easily behind the back line.
Klinsmann simply needs to run some semblance of a 3-5-2 to keep the best players on the field without sacrificing a flank or the center of the field.
Whatever the new boss does, it's surely going to just that...new.