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Jamaica’s Cool Run is America’s Headache

(Fox News)

(Fox News)

Jamaica 2 – USA 1

Jamaica earned a 2-nil lead in the first half with spectacular goals by Darron Mattocks and Giles Barnes. Michael Bradley got a Donovan like-rebound a la USA-Algeria 2010 just minutes into the second half to split the worst lead in soccer. But despite a constant flurry of offensive crosses and shots through the final whistle in the 94th minute, the Jamaicans held on for a monumental upset against the Americans on American soil in the first semifinal of the 2015 Gold Cup. The United States Men’s National Team (USMNT) did not play well enough to win. Half of the blame certainly rests with them. For the other half of the equation, let’s cut to the question everyone is asking:

Should Jürgen Klinsmann be fired?

As a recruiter of young, dual-citizenship talent, absolutely not. But as a manager, that’s now 50-50.

Klinsmann has proven to be deftly insightful at putting in super subs, but his painfully cautious approach in the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, breakthrough friendly victories against the Netherlands and Germany squads earlier this summer (in Europe, mind you) and the shocking and unacceptable 2015 Gold Cup semifinal loss to severe underdog Jamaica in Atlanta, Georgia and you’ve got a cloudy sky of recent results.

Looking towards the horizon for U.S. Soccer, is cloudy good enough anymore? Is this where the United States wanted to be or should be thirteen years after their impressive run in the 2002 World Cup?

Klinsmann’s contract and influence in U.S. Soccer is huge, but if his team does not win the third place Gold Cup game motivated by pride in wearing the red, white and blue and ultimately qualify for the Confederations Cup by means of a playoff this fall, then yes, he should definitely be fired. Even without these future achievements, his future as the USMNT head coach needs to be acutely examined based on results, roster selections (many on the current roster shouldn’t be on the senior team), formation choices, individual and collective success and improvements and the growing cohesiveness of his best starting 11.

While there may not be a blockbuster coach waiting in the wings at the moment, rest assured because when a top-level coach has a roster filled with athleticism and immense, impressionable potential like the United States, someone’s ego will ignite and a pen will be held by a famed manager to sign a contract to guide the USMNT.

Pep Guardiola has expressed interest in one day coaching the USMNT. In fact, reports revealed he was very interested in managing Brazil last summer. National teams are clearly on his mind as a potential challenge in the short-term. And with all the talented youth, waiting to be molded by a defining formation and style, the United States could provide a uniquely perfect situation and challenge for Pep or another big name coach.

Regarding the lineup, widespread competition is good, but part of the manager’s job description is to determine the best players and the best fit. The valuable chemistry of reacting and not thinking in high-pressure situations due to familiarity is too high a commodity to throw away just for curiosity’s sake.

The current roster and tactics are not good enough.

The back line continues to be abysmal and its goalkeeper is just not up to the task of being world-class. Tim Howard is rumored to be coming back, but he’s 36. His return would be a band aid (however helpful) on what needs surgery. Mix Diskerud and Michael Bradley work well together, except that Diskerud needs to be the creative force (and start) while Bradley hangs back in defense with the occasional and highly-effective surging run. Forward Aron Jóhannsson needs to watch Robin van Persie highlights on a loop and Wil Trapp also needs time on the pitch as a Bradley substitute and student. Attention and playing time also needs to be granted to Ethan Finlay of the Columbus Crew (teammate of Trapp’s), who is the only true outside midfielder producing results from the right flank and is the current MLS leader is assists. Julian Green, despite lack of playing time at an elite club, needs to be unleashed as another outside midfielder. He’s shown flashes of attacking prowess on the left side.

Jürgen Klinsmann does a great job of identifying American talent in Europe, but he needs to start watching (and respecting) MLS more to find the players who are the best fit. Sometimes they show up in stats, sometimes they don’t. The best coaches find these players, design and share a vision for success and inspire his team to produce results in exciting, dynamic fashion.

That team hasn’t arrived yet. Will it?

Coach Klinsmann has put himself in an awkward position of not necessarily confirming that he should be fired immediately, but he also hasn’t proven that he should continue as leader of the USMNT before the 2018 World Cup qualifications begin.

You could say he’s been given a yellow card with a stern warning by America’s soccer fans.

Finding the Right Mix

Super-subs.

Jürgen Klinsmann does not always put out the best starting 11, but he is quite deft at rotating the right players in at the right times for maximum returns late in games.

Example?

Just take last night’s stand-out second-half substitutions during the Americans’  World Cup send-off match against Azerbaijan (their head coach is now literally on Klinsmann’s United States Men’s National Team staff for Brazil and is a long-time friend) at the ill-fated (yet energetic) Candlestick Park in San Francisco, California.

Mix Diskerud and Aron Johannsson.

These names have been mentioned in this blog before as being key players for the USMNT and for Brazil in particular. Each player added positive evidence to this hypothesis last night. Granted, it was a home match against the 85th-ranked team in the world, but there was virtually no flow from the middle-to-final third before they entered.

Johannsson subbed for Chris Wondolowski in the 61′ and Diskerud came on for the flat Alejandro Bedoya in the 71′, noticeably sporting #10, Donovan’s old number. And by old, I mean four days or so.

Speedster DeAndre Yedlin also came off the bench for Fabian Johnson in the 61′ and played a fair game.

The game was nil-nil in the 61′. What was the final score? 2-nil USMNT with goals from Diskerud and Johannsson.

Making a statement? Yes.

The match opened-up immediately after Johannsson started running around up top with some much needed purpose towards scoring goals and the flow looked as nice as Diskerud’s waving brown mane following his entrance. Just four minutes after Mix was added to the mix (c’mon, it’s right there), he scored off a rebound just outside the six-yard box that originated from a Michael Bradley half-volley at goal.

#10 to the rescue.

Regarding the #10 shirt, Diskerud had the ideal response in his post-match interview with ESPN’s Jeremy Schaap.

“For me it is just a number. I am playing for what is in front of the jersey, not what is in the back or my name.”

Classy answer.

Aside from the fact that Clint Dempsey had minor groin pain and didn’t play, the quick takeaways are that the central defense is still shaky, the outside defense is shaky, the outside midfielders need to be more creative and daring on the flanks, starting forward Jozy Altidore has apparently adopted the Jairo Arrieta theory of playing up top without scoring goals and that the young 23-year old players in Mix Diskerud and Aron Johannsson need to be subs and/or starters in every group game this summer.

While Diskerud and Johannsson are both relatively new to the national team universe, they clearly play with an energetic and inventive chip on their shoulders that results in positive contributions and results. Johannsson wants to score whenever he plays, which is always a good thing to have in a forward. Just saying.

And Mix Diskerud and Michael Bradley are the perfect complement to each other. Diskerud is right-brained and Bradley is left-brained and together they can create a dangerous dynamic for the USMNT in the middle of the pitch. This team needs leadership and this coupling could very well be the stable and imaginative core this squad needs for pulling off any last-minute heroics or improbable upsets in Brazil.

Diskerud and Johannsson as super-subs? Yes.

However, if match-ups on the field permit it, super-starter also has a nice little ring to it. I’m looking at you, Mix.

Either way, Klinsmann finalizes the lineup. It rests with him in deciding if the summer of 2014 will be a memorable World Cup experience for the Americans.

Will Klinsmann be a super coach in Brazil?

USMNT fans hope so.

Picking a Lineup of 23

Jürgen Klinsmann, head coach of the United States Men’s National Team (USMNT), has named his 30-man preliminary roster for the 2014 World Cup this summer. The final print-out of tickets to Brazil will be handed-out June 2nd for 23 lucky gentlemen men who will receive the honor to don the Red, White & Blue on the biggest soccer/footballing stage in the world.

The list is a dynamic collection of past World Cup stand-outs, familiar MLS veterans and a small group of European-based youngsters who will surely guide the USMNT the next several years. Here is the breakdown of the roster, courtesy of Yahoo! Sports:

GOALKEEPERS (3): Brad Guzan (Aston Villa), Tim Howard (Everton), Nick Rimando (Real Salt Lake)

DEFENDERS (11): DaMarcus Beasley (Puebla), Matt Besler (Sporting Kansas City), John Brooks (Hertha Berlin), Geoff Cameron (Stoke City), Timmy Chandler (Nürnberg), Brad Evans (Seattle Sounders), Omar Gonzalez (LA Galaxy), Clarence Goodson (San Jose Earthquakes), Fabian Johnson (Hoffenheim), Michael Parkhurst (Columbus Crew), DeAndre Yedlin (Seattle Sounders)

MIDFIELDERS (10):
Kyle Beckerman (Real Salt Lake), Alejandro Bedoya (Nantes), Michael Bradley (Toronto FC), Joe Corona (Club Tijuana), Brad Davis (Houston Dynamo), Mix Diskerud (Rosenborg), Maurice Edu (Philadelphia Union), Julian Green (Bayern Munich), Jermaine Jones (Besiktas), Graham Zusi (Sporting Kansas City)

FORWARDS (6):
Jozy Altidore (Sunderland), Terrence Boyd (Rapid Vienna), Clint Dempsey (Seattle Sounders), Landon Donovan (LA Galaxy), Aron Johannsson (AZ Alkmaar), Chris Wondolowski (San Jose Earthquakes)

There are an infinite number of variables that will play out in Brazil with an infinite number of potential results, actions and reactions. Is this roster perfect? Depends on who is answering. Were there a couple players I wished were given a shot at training with the USMNT for the past couple years? Yes, but it’s too late now.

At this point, the most critical question that should be asked is whether there is a combination of 11-16 players who will start and/or serve as super-subs for those moments when playing Ghana, Portugal and Germany when the U.S will have their backs against the wall with multiple goals needed in a 22-minute span after going down 2-nil in the 68′. Or maybe a star player will go down with a surprise injury. Can someone make a name for himself and for the team in a situation of desperation? Fortunately for American fans, Coach Klinsmann has shown his proficiency and an expertise for “the super-sub” during several games the past couple years with surprisingly fast, fantastic results.

But how will these super-subs fare against super competition?

Without knowing the final 23-man roster, it’s difficult to begin examining on-field formations. There will a post with this analysis after the final roster is named in early June.

For now, it’s appropriate to analyze this roster. First off, was it a good idea to leave off Eddie Johnson? Yes. And yes again. In fact, thank you Jürgen Klinsmann.

Looking at the names above, it’s a legitimate inquiry to wonder what kind of team Klinsmann wants in Brazil. Filled with predictable, safe and known entities? Open and unpredictable with a bevy of next-generation USMNT leaders? Or a combination in-between? He’s got a few World Cup freshman in Mix Diskerud (23), Aron Johannsson (23), Terrence Boyd (23) and Julian Green (18) who could really shake the USMNT’s cherry tree of founding principles with dynamic, fearless play. Are either of them in or near their prime? No. But there is something about talented freshman, regardless of sport, where they play just because they want to have fun without backing down to anybody. They’ll try things. They’ll experiment with a move here and there, a clever combination play here and there or with shots that get past the goalkeeper here and there.

When you’re competing against world-class talent and world-class coaching, the element of surprise cannot be underestimated.

Even if you don’t see it coming.

A Magical Finish For Sure

A tale of two halves in the most explicitly literal sense.

Bosnia-Herzegovina owned the first half and darted two goals past the frustrated American pipe-master Tim Howard for a 2-nil lead (the worst lead in soccer…).

The United States of America owned the second half where competent and creative ball movements by Michael Bradley led to great finishes, three of which from the man who has been on a hot streak of goal scoring this summer: Jozy Altidore. A hat trick is always a nice souvenir. The U.S. won the game in surprising fashion 4-3.

Who saw that coming after halftime? Actually, perhaps Bosnia-Herzegovina should have been more perceptive to this possibility after they substituted half of their team (six players) with slightly slower and slightly weaker replacements. Regardless, a valiant effort on the part of the USMNT.

For the game’s analysis, a short list has been created that details the highlights and lessons from last night’s comeback victory in Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzegovina:

-There needs to be “A Bradley Touch Tracker” as a graphic on the television screen (when he touches the ball, good things tend to happen).

-On a similar note, there should be “A Donovan GPS Tracker” (Just so the coaches and viewers can confirm he’s still on the field for those big games when he disappears for 15 minutes or so. “Oh, there he is! Yes, he’s still out there somewhere over there…”)
Important Note: Landon Donovan was not there last night and I’m a fan, but this would still be very useful

-The USMNT did not (and has yet to) start a back-line that can successfully play a staggered defense where the two outside defenders can frequently go forward, mostly due to the lackluster performance of Cameron and Brooks together in the middle.

-Brad Evans: once again, good job.

-More time and more touches for Aron Johannsson, please!

-Jozy Altidore: keep shooting and flexing your muscles for 90 minutes.

-Spread the field from sideline to sideline with outside midfielders who will attack with vigor!

-As Taylor Twellman said, the real ticket to buy is the one for Jürgen Klinsmann’s halftime speeches: wow! Plus, Klinsmann continues to be a master of substitutions. Gut gemacht!

One constant that is becoming increasingly apparent is that the USMNT will be a second half, come from behind squad. The challenge is that most of the top teams in the world are well-versed in the “two halves of soccer” strategy. And most will not take off their best players after 45 minutes…

Just as I wrote about “Fool’s Gold” regarding the Gold Cup, there are still some smoke and mirror effects going on with these recent results. The head coach has yet to put the 11-men onto the pitch who will amaze an audience for 90+ minutes without those very same spectators being skeptical and wondering what the catch was afterwards.

Klinsmann can no doubt work his magic towards something potentially historic, but the fans are still stuck watching the mistake-prone rehearsals with the “big show” less than a year away…