On Saturday night in Miami, the United States Men’s National Team dug out a 1-0 victory against Honduras, the first win under new head coach Jurgen Klinsmann. However, the victory revealed several deficiencies in the U.S. team.
Honduras, one of America’s biggest competitors for one of CONCACAF’s three World Cup spots, was missing several of its key players and still managed to outshoot the U.S. Without U.S. netminder Tim Howard putting on another world-class display, the U.S. would surely have fallen.
It is frightening to think how dependent the U.S. is on Howard and how many games are won because he bails the U.S. out of its mistakes. When Howard does have an average game (think the U.S. v. Ghana in the World Cup last summer), the U.S. loses.
The U.S. backline looked unstable for long stretches, and despite sub-par performances in two of Klinsmann’s previous games at the helm, Michael Orozco Fiscal was once again included in the starting lineup. Orozco struggled for much of the game, getting caught out of position and getting beat in 1 v. 1 situations. Although he was replaced at the half in a move that made it seem like Klinsmann had realized his mistake, it was later revealed that Orozco was replaced because of an injury.
Despite an average performance against Honduras, our best center defender over the past several years has been Carlos Bocanegra. The struggle has been to find him a consistent partner. With the return of an in-form Oguchi Onyewu, and solid outings from Clarence Goodson over the past year, the problem would seem to be solved. However, neither Gooch, nor Goodson, are noted for their possession play out the back, something Klinsmann clearly wants.
In addition to fielding Orozco, Klinsmann made another mistake not starting in-form center midfielder Michael Bradley, and instead going with Kyle Beckerman. While Beckerman has looked solid in his USMNT displays of late, he does not have the ability or experience Bradley has at the international level.
On top of the roster decisions, Klinsmann’s 4-3-3 formation once again resulted in the U.S. struggling for long stretches to establish possession, ironic considering the system is geared for just that. Klinsmann, instead of acknowledging that most U.S. players do not have the tactical acumen for the system, has shockingly decided to blame the U.S.’s lack of possession on the team’s fitness level. Klinsmann acknowledged as much when he said he spent much of his time in this week’s training camp two-a-days working on the team’s fitness levels in an effort to improve the team’s possession. However, the team’s players are all seasoned professionals, most playing 90 minutes week in and week out with their clubs.
The problem is not the player’s fitness level, it is the system itself, which does not take advantage of the U.S.’s personnel. Coaches who show tactical inflexibility usually do not last long. It is up to each coach to design a system to take advantage of the talents of its best players. While it is admirable that Klinsmann is trying to institute a more appealing style of football, the U.S. is not there yet.
While acknowledging Klinsmann’s mistakes, there are also several things for which he should be commended. Clint Dempsey, playing the attacking midfield role, appeared to be playing a bit higher than in his previous outing at the position, which put him in a better position to support the lone striker and get into dangerous scoring positions.
Klinsmann has also obviously inspired the German-American population, not only solidifying the commitment of a seemingly wavering Timothy Chandler, but bringing in Daniel Williams and soon Fabian Johnson. One of Klinsmann’s biggest upsides as coach of the USMNT is his playing reputation and ability to attract top talent from America’s large multi-national player pool. Klinsmann also deserves credit for bringing along Brek Shea who, despite a bad miss on Saturday, has shown flashes of becoming the next big American talent.
If Klinsmann can begin to learn from his mistakes and make the necessary adjustments, the U.S. should be in a good place entering World Cup qualifying next summer. If he doesn’t, the U.S. could be in danger of missing out for the first time since 1986.
John D. Halloran