USMNT: 5 Goals for Jurgen Klinsmann Before CONCACAF Qualification
With CONCACAF qualification to begin in 2012, Jurgen Klinsmann has a few issues to deal with in the first couple months of the new year.
January might be one of the busiest for him with the annual USMNT winter camp and two friendlies against Venezuela and Panama respectively.
But with the major experimentation completed, his expectations, philosophy and style of play implemented, Klinsmann can turn to the more specific troubles he must address.
Since momentum, consistency and chemistry are integral to getting the most out of a team during qualification, the next couple of months will be key to his team's progress.
Here are five issues Klinsmann will need to address in the near future:
5. Determine the Role of Foreign-Based Players at Lesser-Known European Clubs
American players can be found playing on teams across Scandinavia and in countries like Belgium and Scotland, but many of these players have not been given the opportunities that German- and Mexican-based players have received.
While the Bundesliga is of a higher quality than the other aforementioned leagues, playing time, team quality and the struggles of American players from the Mexican Primera raise questions as to why other foreign-based players haven't been given a chance.
Alejandro Bedoya, Sacha Kljestan, Clarence Goodson and especially Oguchi Onyewu all made great strides playing in these lesser-known European leagues, and yet current players from such teams have been given few call-ups.
So how important is it to go overseas?
Even though Mikkel Diskerud has earned consistent playing time at Stabaek in Norway, his reward was a call-up to the Under-23 national team even though he has already earned a senior-team cap under Bob Bradley.
Considering Mixx's technical abilities, he appears a shoo-in for Klinsmann's style of play, but he has been frozen out.
Josh Gatt, Bedoya, Kljestan and Chris Rolfe are other high-profile, high-potential players plying their trade in lesser-known European leagues that could have something to add to the national team.
Klinsmann has gone on record stressing the importance of the foreign league experience for American players, but would it be better for some players to stay in the MLS or look to Mexico before playing in Scandinavia?
Outside of the major European leagues, it seems that Klinsmann has an eye for North American-based players.
Klinsmann will have to be clearer (and he may be behind closed doors) on what he perceives as a strong foreign-based move for players, and what significance playing in a lesser-known European league actually holds for a player's international career.
This is especially important as many American players look to Scandinavia as a doorway to the more prestigious European leagues, as well as fulfilling their national team manager's requirement of moving overseas, but if such a move stalls a player's international career, is such a move worth it?
Klinsmann will have to sort this out.
4. Start Producing Consistent Play Between Games
Early play from Klinsmann's U.S. team revealed moments of brilliance, but just as many failures, and unfortunately, a number of those failures resulted in goals for the opposition.
All of this was to be expected under the switch in manager and his style of play.
However, with the major changes in formation, tempo and philosophy implemented, Klinsmann will look to consistency, form and momentum going into qualification.
There will be less gained from small victories, and more will need to be gained from sustained offense, solid defensive play and plainly, goals scored.
Klinsmann will have to find a balance between players that "get" how he wants to play and younger players acclimating to the speed and style of the international game.
Through it all, the team will need to minimize Timothy Chandler-esque miscues along the defensive line, combine possession with attacking bite and find the back of the net regularly.
Such performances will need to be more consistent throughout qualification in order to gain the momentum and chemistry the team needs for 2014.
3. Find a Goal-Scoring Forward and a Healthy Attacking Midfielder
The USMNT hasn't fielded a forward that seemed to find a way to score no matter what since pre-accident Charlie Davies (which is why the accident hurts so much more).
Whoever discovers why U.S. forwards lag behind other U.S. position players should be given an award.
When it counts, America has depended on U.S. midfielders and defenders to find the back of the net.
Considering Klinsmann's pedigree, the hope has been that he would develop America's attacking line.
He did as much with the German national team, pulling some of the best play out of Lukas Podolski and Miroslav Klose.
However, that hasn't been the case for his American side. Goals are still hard to come by and no American forward has scored with any consistency.
Klinsmann will need to find an attacking line (it looks like he'll employ two forwards for the foreseeable future) that can generate goals with the help of the midfield, if not score outright.
The manager has settled on Jozy Altidore as the cog in such a partnership, but he's yet to find Jozy a stable partner and Jozy hasn't been able to replicate the goal scoring he's demonstrated for his club.
High on Klinsmann's list will be finding forwards that can score.
Likewise, he will need to find a central midfielder that can pass, dribble, support the forwards and score the timely goal, but with Stuart Holden and Jose Francisco Torres injured, the U.S. lacks that attacking midfielder.
With all the other midfield positions overrun with talent (defensive midfielders abound, and there are a number of young players that can fill in for Landon Donovan and Clint Dempsey), it's a quandary as to why Klinsmann can't find an attacking midfielder to help out his forward line.
If Klinsmann wishes to get the most out of his offense, it won't just be a forward or two on his list, but also the right central midfielder to support his front line.
2. Find Replacements for an Aging Defense
Only one of America's best defenders is under 30.
Klinsmann has tried a number of defenders in search of defensive replacements including Clarence Goodson, Tim Ream, Jonathan Spector, Michael Orozco Fiscal and Edgar Castillo.
Timothy Chandler has been the only bright spot in his search.
If Klinsmann can't find replacements to develop in the near future, then America's defense will be playing with canes and walkers come 2014.
Strangely, Klinsmann was reluctant to offer chances to other defenders once his original replacements struggled.
With Omar Gonzalez injured and George John focused on an overseas contract, the American coach has few realistic replacements available. By dragging his feet on defensive call-ups (the multiple opportunities given to Goodson and Fiscal have been questionable), Klinsmann finds himself in a difficult position.
At the international level, competent defensive play is exceptionally hard to develop. With the speed of the game, cooperation, understanding and anticipation take time to develop. If Klinsmann can't find young defensive backs that have the potential to fill in for his aging defense, then it doesn't matter what else he accomplishes.
This would be Klinsmann's No. 1 priority if not for...
1. Get Landon Donovan and Clint Dempsey on the Field at the Same Time
The 2014 World Cup is the last hurrah for Donovan and Dempsey.
Both players will most likely be involved with the national team until the end of their careers, but as they're both in their primes, this will be the last time they will both be two of the most influential players on the team.
And they are as of yet to be on the field for Klinsmann at the same time!
There are numerous examples of a country's best players struggling for chemistry, a proper role and understanding under a new international manager throughout soccer (England, anyone?).
The U.S. can't afford for this to happen with Dempsey and Donovan.
Not to mention, with Brek Shea's success and a number of other young players in the wings, Klinsmann will need to figure out how to best implement them around Dempsey and Donovan.
What position should each play?
How do they interpret Klinsmann's philosophy?
How strong is the team with both on the field?
What roles do they fill?
A number of other issues can't be addressed until Klinsmann gets an idea as to what he has with both players on the field at the same time. He will need to do his best to get both on the field at the same time as soon as possible in 2012.
With the Italy friendly in Genoa on February 29th, that might be a prime date.