Many in the United States may think Jurgen Klinsmann is the Zero Mostel of soccer – a technical director and head coach making a comedy of errors that only sees him grow weaker and weaker in the eyes of an ever-more educated population.
I’m one of those folks who fall into that category. I’m disappointed. Frustrated. Amazed at how poorly US Soccer has developed players to take on simple roles in a basic 4-4-2.
- No true number 6.
- No true number 9.
- No true number 10.
Seriously, after five long years you would’ve thought the U-12, U-14 and U-16 Head Coaches, within US Soccer would’ve sat down with Jurgen Klinsmann (the technical director) and plotted a training plan that addressed what skills and mentality players would need in order to fill these critical positions on the pitch!
Not happened – the base of the pyramid remains lost with no bread crumbs to follow.
I’ve already written about the latest U-12 training document from US Soccer and how it fails to include the word ‘mentality’ or the phrase ‘first touch’ anywhere. If you’re going to coach soccer you need to immerse players in those two things… simply for the reason that when they cross the white line if they don’t the right mentality and they don’t have a great first touch they will never succeed!
I don’t want this article to be a one-way street. Richard Fleming wrote an interesting article the other day called “Stop looking for the soft option”.
While I don’t hail from outside the United States I did get my training in the United Kingdom. And I firmly believe, when considering word leadership tactics are not too easily thrown about as to why teams come off second best. It’s leadership, after all, that not only selects the appropriate tactics for the game but also selects the players they think best fit what tactics are to be employed.
From my view social media chatter only took off because those who are educated about soccer, and have voiced dissent about Klinsmann in the past, were finally recognized as knowing what they are talking about. Social media in this country is not blessed with highly educated soccer writers – the few out there are more likely to be former players or managers who tend not to bite the hand that feeds them.
So for me, the 4-nil defeat against Argentina was not the breaking point in wanting to see Klinsmann sacked – it was the humiliating loss to Guatemala that was!
And if you’re looking for comparisons to England – just look at how quickly the English FA decided to sack Hodgson – it occurred immediately after a glaring and embarrassing loss to Iceland – another minnow who tactically dominated a much more skilled footballing nation.
That said – I’m not equating the loss to Guatemala as being equal to the England loss to Iceland – I think the loss to Guatemala was worse – 10 times as worse!
In considering the initial goals scored against the United States – every player has to do their job was Flemings’ view – agreed. But we musn’t forget that those players have been in the US Men’s National Team fold for quite some time. Plenty of time, I would argue, where tactical training on positional play against a stronger passing team should have been conducted.
Even with that said – a set-piece goal against is a direct reflection of poor/misplaced mentality. The less concentration you have when your opponent takes the corner ball the less likely you are to defend well. Team mentality and being prepared to play set-pieces is the Head Coaches responsibility. What happened in my view is the United States played a man-to-man marking scheme when a more appropriate marking scheme would have been zonal… this way you know at least one player may end up being near a certain number ten and then near a player moving off of that number ten.
In considering the second goal against. Again it a poor defensive play but it’s incorrect to say that wasn’t the result of poor tactical execution. If anything, seeing Wondolowski in that position to begin with is a SHINING example of poor team tactical execution in thinking defense first and not being overly aggressive in attacking when you know – you simply know – that the opponent is extremely skilled in moving the ball quickly.
Said another way – why is Wondolowski in that position to begin with? Because other players weren’t… I’d offer it’s not the soft option to blame Klinsmann, I offer it’s the tough decision that needs to be made to sack him.
And let England have him… besides, given the maturity of soccer in England, it’s more likely a phrase like “go out there and express yourself” will have greater value.
Bottom line – there has been no launch of any worthy program that sees states within the United States directly feeding a curriculum that talks to training for some of the most specialized positions on the soccer pitch.
When asked to comment, US Soccer has always declined. And while Sunil Gulati has made himself available for some members of the press it’s near impossible to have them respond to an email request. There has been no renaissance in US Soccer, no panaceanot in the camp of followers – I think the comedy of errors needs to stop; it’s just not funny anymore that the United States can be completely humiliated like they were against Argentina; never-mind that harrowing loss away loss to Guatemala not two months before.
If you’re into reading tea leaves surely that complete lack of understanding what tactical approaches and the players needed to execute those approaches should have been seen then!
Before continuing my rant – if you will – it’s only fair and balanced to offer a link to this article, written by an Englishman, Richard Fleming: “Stop looking for the soft option”.
And giving up a goal in the fourth minute does not, I repeat, does not warrant a change in game plan if you are a good head coach – a game plan when down a goal should really only change (if you had the right one to begin with) around the 60th to 70th minute of a game when substitutes are usually called upon.
Patrick Vierira offers that Mix Diskerud isn’t offering quality – what the masses mostly saw with each passing game as Mix played for Jurgen Klinsmann. Is this just another example of how skewed Jurgen Klinsmann assessment of players really is?
good one about defending Klinsmann and his tactics not being a worthy reason to sack him since the first two goals against were player issues not tactical issues.
On the surface – for that game – perhaps Fleming is right.
But I disagree and that’s the beauty of football – lots of eyes watching lots of footy seeing lots of different things.
What I see is a lack of leadership, coupled with a consistent lack of tactics that best position less talented Americans against he likes of Argentina or Guatemala – we simply cannot ignore that devastating and embarrassing loss. Nevermind the questionable line-up to begin with where the best dribbler and passes, probably (by statistics) the United States has ever had sat on the sideline in place of a #6 who wasn’t playing the #6, nor the #8 or #10 for that matter…
It was an omen, portent, a sign of things to come, a reading of the tea leaves, a view of how the finger bones spilled in the brass pan.
ZERO shots taken is worse than getting beat by Guatemala – I’m not sure those who don’t follow soccer a whole lot realize just how devastating that is…Wait a week or two and the dust will settle, people will forget, and we’ll breath a sigh of relief and begin to prepare for the World Cup advocating that fourth place in the COPA America was a success…
I disagree… now isn’t time to get comfy, curl up the legs on the sofa and have a glass of wine.
If you’re in a military organization where winning is a must – I think winning in soccer is a must – then you’d get all the top brain cells together and rehash – game for game what went right and what went wrong…
And where poor leadership manifests itself you’d change leadership.
For me there’s two primary takeaways in the last six months that tell the story.
A complete lack of tactical nous against Guatemala, in Guatemala, and the United States output of zero shots taken against Argentina.
In military terms the Guatemala debacle was like Custer’s last stand – having simply no clue and making no tactical plans but just show up and think you’ll win to the game against Argentina where it’s similar to having a stealth bomber make do a fly over ISIS and fail to drop any bombs
That’s ZERO shots taken.
ZERO……. Shots……… Taken………
For me, ZERO shots taken exemplifies a Head Coach who isn’t:
- Capable of creating an attacking scheme that can break down any type of defensive scheme, including a possession-based defending scheme,
- Capable of being able to pick the right players to get the results expected based upon initial tactics,
- Capable of analyzing an opponent and find the right tactics to penetrate and create, or
- Capable of executing (after five years) a system that maximizes internal player development regardless of what leagues players play in.
A reminder that the loss to Guatemala, in Guatemala was not a fluke – it was an early warning that the players play for our country but they don’t play for our country and our Head Coach.
You just need to listen to what they say… really listen.
I have no control over the first three – that’s for others to decide.
But I believe I can offer, from an organizational development standpoint, the United States needs to change how they identify players for selection, how they develop players from younger ages, and translate that into tactical formulas that give this team a chance at least getting one shot taken against any opponent, any place, any where, any time.
Pollution – The selection process for picking players to develop/train within the US Men’s national team is potentially rife with:
- Overblown scouting reports that rely on here-say,
- Poor statistical/analytical reasoning that compare/equate/derive that if Joe Bloggs does well in one league he’ll do well on the US Men’s National Team, or
- Ignorance in devising a national development plan where players with raw skills, who aren’t able to afford playing in travel leagues at the prime ages of (14-18), aren’t missed.
Soccer – across the world – is a poor-persons sport – in this country it’s a rich-persons sport. Players begin their development thinking they are entitled to play… I think Jurgen Klinsmann gets this part but I’m not seeing any program that looks to take this issue head-on.
Dilution – Dilute the process for picking players to develop/train/choose from for one national team.
Solution – Create six or eight inter-regional teams in the four basic locations of the United States (Northwest, Southwest, Northeast, and Southeast) where they must follow US Soccer mandated direction. In other words, in order to participate in those inter-regional leagues teams must learn and play scripted games using the three primary formations (3-5-2, 4-4-2, and 4-5-1) where winning is NOT the end-state; the end-state is the development of players not only for the national team but those organizations can also gain income through transfer markets of professional teams.
- gers to play inverted.
- Learn to play the single and double pivot central defending midfield tactic.
- Learn to play a basic 3-5-2, 4-4-2 (bucket and diamond) as well as a 4-3-3 and 4-1-4-1.
- Teach fullbacks to overlap on the inside of the pitch as well as outside of the pitch.
- Play ‘x’ amount of games against each other employing those five basic formations.
- This way you not only have scouting reports that can compare apples to apples but you also have data analysis that too, is comparing apples to apples, at least within our own country.
- I’m sure they are other directions that can be provided but maximizing different styles of play means maximizing opportunities to filter those who are mentally prepared to play the game and those that aren’t.
Can the United States take an approach like this?
I think so – what it requires is discipline, direction, and leadership.
It also requires senior leadership, in US Soccer, admitting that their current process for developing the national team is flawed.
When looking to change bad habits the first step, in a road to recovery, is admitting that how things were done in the past were wrong and you need to do something to change.
It’s the old adage about riding a dead horse (our current US Men’s National Team Process)… when encountering a dead horse, do you…
- Buy a stronger whip?
- Develop a one new training session to improve that horse?
- Remind ourselves that other countries ride this same horse?
- Name the dead horse “paradigm shift” and keep riding it? (An explanation on what has happened the last five years, perhaps?)
- Remember all the good times you had while riding that horse?
- Take a positive outlook – pronounce that the dead horse doesn’t have to be fed – it is less costly, carries lower overhead and therefore contributes substantially more to the bottom line of the team’s budget than do some other horses?
I’d offer you get multiple new, more flexible horses, that are ride-tested many different ways, and then you choose the best horse.
Bottom line at the bottom:
It is clear (using Iceland as an example) that you don’t need to have individual world class players to create a world class team – what you need is world class leadership!
I’m not advocating any one of these Head Coaches pictured below is ‘the’ answer – but from what I’ve seen, they ALL tactically have a plan, find the players to execute that plan, and are usually pretty good at winning with that plan. If there team isn’t doing well with the initial game plan they will change it.
And I don’t think any of them have ever lead a team who had ZERO shots taken – no more how one-sided the talent.
After an exhausting period of time (almost un-ending) I’m pretty sure US Soccer will announce Gregg Berhalter as our next US Men’s National Team Coach.
Is this a good decision?
Earnie Stewart set the tone in Philadelphia by standardizing a system of play and directing the development of players (across the entire organization) to match that system of play…. the 4-2-3-1.
A good piece, by Philly Soccer Page, highlighting tendencies of Earnie Stewart, can be found here.
Some might call him steadfastly stubborn, I tend to think of him as being stubbornly steadfast and predictable.
As a youth soccer coach in both England and America the single greatest weakness I’ve seen in American international and domestic soccer is our predictability.
Below is a heat map between Crystal Palace (left side) and Tottenham Hotspur (right side).
Tottenham, who offered 581 passes to 306 for Crystal Palace, makes far more use of the entire pitch than Crystal Palace.
Spurs players pass, turn, dribble, use their first touch and alter their facing/movement in far more congested areas than their opponent. Doing more of this intuits two things:
- Players who are asked to work more areas of the pitch must have a higher soccer IQ as they have to learn to make decisions (with and without the ball) across the entire pitch.
- Players who are asked to work more areas of the pitch are less predictable – the more space you use the more space your opponent must plan to defend.
From a different perspective – passing distribution England vs the United States (3-nil to England):
The US Men’s National Team use virtually no space, with the ball, atop the 18 yard box…
England offered up 691 passes with > 60% possession while the Americans offered 450 passes and failed to reach 40% possession. The US Men’s National Team ball movement was predictable and they used far less of the pitch than England.
This passing diagram, for the US Men’s National Team, is the norm not the exception.
Here’s the two most recent games played by Columbus against New York Red Bulls in the Major League Soccer Playoffs; Game 1 on the left – Game 2 on the right:
In game one Columbus pushed down the right side – in game two they pushed down the left side.
Their ball movement was predictable and lacked worthy penetration/movement, with the ball, atop the 18 yard box.
Possession – controlled possession.
In the highest echelons of professional soccer teams that possess the ball more – earn more points on a regular basis.
- France, who mastered counter-attacking soccer to the nth degree this past World Cup, still played controlled-possession-based soccer. Three of their wins saw them possess the ball greater than 55% of the time. The 2014 winner, Germany, averaged over 60% possession.
- The best teams in the EPL this year considerably out-possess their opponents on a regular basis; the same was true in 2014.
- The best teams in UEFA CL this year considerably out-possess their opponents on a regular basis; the same was true in 2014.
- Two of the top four teams in MLS this year out possessed their opponents on a regular basis.
- There will always be exceptions; here’s a couple .
- In 2014 WC Japan possessed the ball 59.22% of the time but earned just one point; need I remind about Spain?
- In 2018 WC Germany possessed the ball 71.97% of the time but earned three points.
A good yardstick when measuring possession, that can intuit higher soccer IQ, is when teams regularly exceed 60%.
If a team regularly hits this target it’s usually accepted that the team plays controlled possession-based soccer and they use every inch of the pitch.
A few examples before historical info about Columbus since 2014:
- Arsenal has exceeded 60% possession in all but one of their six wins this year.
- Chelsea has exceeded 60% possession in all of their six wins this year.
- Liverpool has exceeded 60% possession in four of their seven wins this year – in the other three wins their possession was under 50%; a trend matching France… being able to win with and without the ball.
- Manchester City has exceeded 60% possession in six of their seven wins this year.
- Columbus Crew exceeded 60% possession three times in 2014; they won one, drew one and lost one.
- Columbus Crew exceeded 60% possession six times in 2015, they won five.
- Columbus Crew exceeded 60% possession six times in 2016; they won one, drew two and lost three.
- Columbus Crew exceeded 60% possession five times in 2017, they won two, drew one, and lost two.
- Columbus Crew exceeded 60% possession three times in 2018, they lost all three.
Columbus has never consistently dominated games through controlled possession; only six times out of 34 games (2015 and 2016) did they exceed the 60% target.
How about 55% possession? Major League Soccer has a salary cap so perhaps they have a better track record in earning points when exceeding 55% possession.
- In 2014 Columbus exceeded 55% possession 14 times; in those games they won five, drew three and lost five.
- In 2015 Columbus exceeded 55% possession 18 times; in those game they won nine, drew three, and lost six.
- In 2016 Columbus exceeded 55% possession 18 times; in those game they won twice, drew six, and lost six.
- In 2017 Columbus exceeded 55% possession 18 times; in those game they won five, drew once, and lost six.
- In 2018 Columbus exceeded 55% possession 18 times; in those game they won five, drew twice, and lost five.
- All told, Gregg Berhalter has lead Columbus to 26 wins, 15 draws, and 28 losses when his team has exceeded 55% possession.
While having more than half their games exceed 55% possession, in four of the last five years, Gregg Berhalter has not shown a tendency to win more games than he loses.
How about in the general sense of out-possessing their opponents?
Gregg Berhalter has shown a history of out-possessing his MLS competitors, has this lead to more points on a regular basis the last five years?
- 2014: 53.84% Possession, 52 points, +10 goal differential, 7th overall
- 2015: 53.47% Possession, 53 points, +5 goal differential, 5th overall
- 2016: 55.05% Possession, 36 points, -9 goal differential, 18th overall
- 2017: 51.83% Possession, 50 points, +3 goal differential, 6th overall
- 2018: 52.57% Possession, 52 points, -2 goal differential, 10th overall
While earning more points than most opponents in some years Gregg Berhalter does not show a tendency to earn more points year in and year out.
If it’s reasonable to intuit playing possession-based soccer means players have a higher soccer IQ and make the game less predictable Gregg Berhalter teams don’t really do that.
- So is US Soccer taking a bold step to change the style and direction (regularly looking to exceed 55% or 60% possession per game) of the US Men’s National Team by hiring Gregg Berhalter?
- I’d say no… not yet.
- Does it appear US Soccer are at least lending credence to changing the style of soccer to match that of teams who historically earn more points through controlled possession-based soccer that also includes the flexibility to play a brutal counter-attacking style of soccer? (Liverpool and France)
- I’d say no… not yet.
- Does it appear they are looking to increase soccer IQ and make more use of the soccer pitch than previously?
- I’d say no… not yet.
- Does it appear the US Men’s National Team will be less predictable?
- I’d say no… not yet.
For now, I’m not on the Gregg Berhalter bus; but then again I’m not on the sidewalk disparaging his selection either.
Time will tell; the greatest asset Gregg has going for him is his ability to organize a team that wins more than it loses.
Having the capacity and capability to select players without regard to salary cap should be highly beneficial.
My hope is the US Men’s National Team learn to dominate the entire soccer pitch – when that happens the flood gates to create great soccer players in our country is limitless.
You can follow me on twitter here: ChrisWGluck
The all star game happens this week so what better time to review where teams compare in the Total Soccer Index.
After every team had played 17 games; (halfway through the season).
Top team with 17 games in, points wise, was not Atlanta it was FC Dallas; Red Bulls of New York showed most consistency in quality across the pitch.
- With Jesse Marsch departing it will be interesting to see if Red Bulls can continue that run of quality – if they do they could be a great bet to win it all if the pundits stick with Atlanta given their edge in points earned.
- I also feel vindicated, as a pundit, as I recognized Jesse Marsch as the best ‘domestic’ MLS Head Coach option for the US Men’s National Team last year; read it here:.
- Of additional interest; my second choice to coach the US Men’s National Team would be Oscar Pareja… not Gregg Berhalter.
Oscar Pareja, like Jesse Marsch, shows greater consistency of purpose in earning points when his team plays with OR without the ball.
Worst were Orlando, Colorado, and Montreal… more to follow on just how bad Orlando and Colorado are; even compared to Chivas USA!
Here’s how the teams stack up (in one big conference) for total games played. The Eastern Conference rules the roost.
Best and worst playing at home; the Eastern Conference rules the roost:
Best and worst playing away from home; only LA Galaxy,, of the Western Conference, squeeze into the top 3:
The elite teams at home are pretty much the elite teams on the road; some of the worst teams on the road are also in the bottom third at home.
When you’re good, you’re good, when you’re bad you’re bad.
I don’t live in Orlando and I don’t follow their team, but it seems to me there’s some significant issues with that club at ALL levels.
- In any other league in any other country they’d be relegated.
- Instead they’ll get extra money to make them ‘appear’ to be more competitive.
- When you’ve got a bad front office and ownership group you’ll consistently have a bad team.
To give you an idea what I mean; here’s the Total Soccer Index for every team that’s played in MLS since 2014 (all games included in this analysis).
Only one team (not Chivas USA) has shown worse overall (combined) team performance (2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, and now 2018) than Orlando…. San Jose!
As much as folks might blast Orlando City ownership there should be equal, if not more, attention sent the way of Colorado and San Jose, as well as Chicago (maybe?).
- Relegation would have seen these teams probably sink to division 3 if US Soccer ran a proper organization.
- Ironic that Chivas USA has actually shown better in team performance than Montreal, Chicago, Colorado, Orlando, and San Jose…
- When is the last time you heard soccer pundits calling out those organizations like they did Chivas USA?
- If ever an organization needed to hire a forward-thinking, team-performance statistical analyst it’s Orlando, San Jose, Colorado, or Chicago. Give me a call. 🙂
While Atlanta have shown well their first two season, the two most consistent teams (across 5 years’ measurement) are Red Bulls and FC Dallas.
- Just another piece of team performance data for US Soccer to analyze that confirms both Jesse Marsch and Oscar Pareja are far more consistent in having their teams ‘earn points’, while also showing consistent quality across the entire pitch, than Gregg Berhalter.
- Oooh, that’s likely to be a snarky comment for some and a front loaded criticism of US Soccer if they decide to hire Gregg. Note this isn’t me saying he’s not a good coach – he is – but is he a better selection than Pareja or some other guy who coaches domestic soccer in Europe?
I’m sure there’s many ways to determine what Head Coach might best lead the US Men’s National Team out of darkness…
I’ve narrowed my scope of who might fit best by limiting the selection pool to those who currently lead a team in Major League Soccer. This obviously includes a broad band of candidates – you need to start somewhere.
In today’s environment, world class national and domestic teams are great at “controlling the ball” AND/OR great at “controlling the opponent when they don’t have the ball”.
I’ve taken that statement and converted it into measuring four categories of possession:
- Points per game a Head Coach averages where their team has equaled or exceeded 55% possession,
- Points per game a Head Coach averages where their team has possession greater than or equal to 50% possession but less than 55% possession,
- Points per game a Head Coach averages where their team has possession greater than or equal to 45% possession but less than 50% possession, and
- Points per game a Head Coach averages where their team has less than 45% possession.
My intent is to try and quantify/qualify three basic styles of play:
- Possession-based with controlled possession starting from the back,
- A mixture of controlled possession and controlled counter/direct -attacking, or
- A team relying solely on “controlling the opponent when they don’t have the ball” and offering counter/direct attacking as a method of penetration.
My relationships between the four measured categories of possession and three styles of play are:
- #1 with #1,
- #2 & #3 with #2, and
- # 4 with #3.
Its’ not perfect, but then again, soccer isn’t perfect either.
Note: Prozone has identified ~ 7 styles of play – I try to keep things simple.
I’ve made a list of five Head Coaches for consideration:
- Gregg Berhalter,
- Oscar Pareja,
- Caleb Porter,
- Peter Vermes, and
- Jesse Marsch
Why didn’t I include Jason Kreis?
He’s been relieved of coaching duties twice and failed to make the playoffs with Orlando City. Something, somewhere isn’t working… nothing personal.
Here’s their initial PPG by each category from 2014 to 2017 (excluding the final two games):
The cells highlighted in green show which Head Coach had the highest PPG (per year) in the four categories listed.
It’s pretty clear those five coaches having varying strengths in earning points relative to the four categories of possession.
Here’s their average PPG over the last three years in an attempt to quantify/qualify their “consistency of purpose” – a phrase usually associated with Dr. Deming:
So how do their teams perform against conference opponents?
An attempt to measure how well each coach’s team performs against a “known quantity”; similar to the US Men’s National team playing “known” CONCACAF opponents…
Note the 2017 data excludes the last two games of this season.
Jesse Marsch shows best (“consistency of purpose”) in:
- Earning points per game in three of four possession categories over the last three years,
- The Total Soccer Index versus “known” opponents over the last three years,
- Goal differential versus “known” opponents over the last three years,
- Earning points versus “known” opponents over the last three years.
Who’s your choice?
You can follow me on twitter @CoachChrisGluck
This should have been the repeat headline from last week – and thankfully the last week headline wasn’t a repeat this week!
I’ll be the first (probably 100th though) person to congratulate the players on their performance yesterday – well done lads!
Now the grist – with the caveat “I’m still frustrated”! 🙂
It’s my view there’s a critical failure in US Soccer when the Head Coach can get the tactics and player selections and what positions they play that wrong in a game.
When it comes to head to head matches, where the tactics and selections are limited in their adjustment given three substitutions (unlike in an away and home leg setup) I wonder how much confidence there is in the ability of our head coach to get it right the first time?
For me, this 4-nil win is NOT a ‘bye’ for Jurgen Klinsmann!
So – next up statistics; shame on me!
I usually hold true to the form that individual statistics, even when added up – on their own – don’t tell a reasonable story about the game.
Proof is the pudding when viewing my last article and my references to crosses should make my point.
Like last game, the US offered up a number of crosses this game – none of them – I repeat none of them were successful in open play. Yes the USMNT won 4-nil.
What can we take away from this?
I’d offer two things:
- It’s a slap on the wrist, to me, for falling into the statistics trap without the full context, and
- It’s another way to reinforce that the general tactical approach, the players selected, and what positions they played were completely pear-shaped in game 1 last week!
I’ve learned my lesson – has Jurgen Klinsmann learned his?
- The USMNT can’t afford to get tactics wrong in the first of two games against opponents in the future.
- Second chances are rare in this game – even those on the pitch.
- Jurgen Klinsmann needs to settle on a set group of starters who maximize options in tactics, not maximize options in versatility of players to play completely different positions.
Since I was pretty harsh in my previous article, about the leadership of Jurgen Klinsmann, it’s only fair I offer who I feel or think (without seeing these guys train on a regular basis) who should suit up for the USMNT.
This isn’t about me being right or wrong – it’s about me offering up, my views, so others can throw sticks and stones at me. 🙂
- I think DeAndre Yedlin and Fabian Johnson should be the starting fullbacks – who starts at center-back is a toss-up given injuries but seeing John Brooks and Geoff Cameron as the starters with Matt Besler and perhaps Steve Birnbaum in the wings is reasonable as well. Personally I would like to see Jorge Villafana called back into the national team; otherwise this country is extremely weak at the fullback position – and MLS continuing to ignore that position (on a regular basis) when offering up their Best XI exacerbates the problem.
- Hard choices to be made in midfield:
- Is Darlington Nagbe a top choice over Michael Bradley – given the recent game? He’s NOW a true box-to-box midfielder who’s got a great first touch with top flight passing, turning, and dribbling skills, who’s also got very good vision and improved tackling skills.
- After seeing Michael Bradley play for three years now I simply don’t see him offering the same level of skills nor the ability to maximize tactical adjustments Klinsmann might make – however infrequent that might be. It’s a bold move to bench Bradley – but it’s a worthy move if you want to have a better game of possession and/or penetration.
- Others, in the mix, adding value should include Alejandro Bedoya, Lee Nguyen, Kyle Beckerman, PerryKitchen, Wil Trapp, and Graham Zusi – with perhaps Matt Polster and Luis Gil.
- Where has Sasha Kljestan gone – and what about Benny Feilhaber?
- Likewise at the forward position:
- No true #9 exists in the USMNT; that’s five years now that the US has failed to produce a true #9… wow…
- As for the others – Clint Dempsey continues to show value, and perhaps Bobby Wood and Gyasi Zardes add value with their width. I, however, would prefer to see more of Ethan Finley (he does play for one of the best possession-based teams in MLS) as well as Chris Wondolowski (he usually has a knack for scoring).
- Goal Keepers – Make up your bloody mind Jurgen Klinsmann – wow!
- I used to think Brad Guzan was a reasonable replacement – now I’m not so sure. Not only hasn’t he gotten the head-nod to regularly start USMNT games he’s mired with a team that is being relegated for the first time in a very long time… His confidence is surely lacking! New blood now might be a good thing.
- Wild cards?:
- Gedion Zelalem – Midfield
- Rubio Rubin – Forward
- Julian Green – Forward /// a continued unknown who got tons of press but has shown very little substance
- Jordan Morris – Forward
- Khiry Shelton – Forward /// perhaps the player who most physically represents what a #9 looks like – but I don’t think he plays with his back to goal – others may know that better than me
- Matt Miazga – Center-back
- Any others?
Bottom line at the bottom.
We live in a huge country and Gedion Zelalem is a great example of a player who flew completely under that radar – how many more are like him?
I wonder (with soccer almost being an exclusive sport now because of the travel and training costs) how many really talented players continue to go unnoticed?
You would have thought, that over a five year period of time, the United States would be able to find at least two to three players who could play a traditional #9 position!
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