Jurgen Klinsmann, head coach of the United States Men's National Soccer Team, started four Bundesliga players in Wednesday's 2-1 loss to Honduras in the first match day of final-round qualifying for the 2014 FIFA World Cup. On his bench were three Liga-MX players.
The Bundesliga is in Germany. Liga-MX is in Mexico.
The challenge is definitely for us with a huge amount of European players on our roster is travelling—the time differences, the different locations, a lack of time to prepare them properly in meetings, get the tiredness out of their legs and get them up to speed also mentally...
Our Hessian mercenaries from the Bundesliga traveled at least 5,800 miles to reach the game, assuming they traveled in a straight line. The Liga-MX players didn't travel more than 2,100 miles.
Given Klinsmann's expressed concern over the effects of travel and his propensity for data-based coaching techniques, it was surprising that all four of the Bundesliga-based players started the game against Honduras while all three of the Liga-MX players rode the pine.
When two of the Germans blew their motors and needed to be substituted, Hercules Gomez (Santos), Jose Torres (Tigres) and Edgar Castillo (Tijuana) all kept their warm-ups on.
Even without the extra mileage, Klinsmann played right into Los Catrachos' hands. The Bundesliga boys play their games above 49 degrees latitude, which is two degrees north of Seattle. San Pedro Sula is at 15 degrees latitude.
Los Catrachos knew this and scheduled the game for the heat of the afternoon. Game-time temperatures approached 90 degrees with subtropical humidity.
This time of year, Bundesliga teams are playing on a nice day if temps top 40 degrees, and the only humidity is visible in the players' breaths.
The Liga-MX players play between 24 and 32 degrees latitude in far more temperate conditions. The weather in Gomez's Comarca Lagunera region is basically the same this time of year as San Pedro Sula.
Then, there are the time differences. The Germans lost eight hours to jet lag while two of the Liga-MX players play in the same time zone as San Pedro Sula.
So given Klinsmann's concern over travel distances and the Honduran's obvious ploy to play the Americans in the heat of their day, why did Kinsman start the Bundesliga players over the guys from Liga-MX?
Obviously, lineups in world football have more criteria than weather conditions. The Germans started in key defensive roles, and from the formation and attitude of the Nats, it was obvious that the primary tactic defensively was to clog the middle of the field and not let the Honduran skill players skip through the defense.
There was little-to-no high pressure by the Nats' attacking players, and the fullbacks presented only a low-pressure system to the Honduran wings. The tactic worked until a tired U.S. defense collectively watched two Hondurans run past them for the game winner.
Klinsmann tried this tactic in another away game in Kingston, Jamaica, with similar results. The U.S. struggled to find offense and gave away two soft goals to lose the game.
The U.S. offense was also running in quicksand, creating few chances and making the kinds of errors you expect from fatigued players.
Yet, there on the bench sat Gomez with nine goals in 15 caps, renowned for his hustle and heart. Jose Torres (20 caps) is an attacking midfielder with excellent ball-handling and distribution skills, just what the U.S. needed.
We could debate whether or not Edgar Castillo is a better fullback than Timmy Chandler, but given the way Chandler played against Honduras, you better reach into the past to convince me. Castillo is also known for his attacking runs down the flanks, something Chandler did very little of.
So when it comes to comparing the players' skill sets, a case could be made for either the Germans or Mexicans. One is more defensive, and the other more attacking.
Why not play attacking soccer on the road? Klinsmann keeps talking about this, how the U.S. team must think in terms of going on the road in CONCACAF and pressing for the win instead of wrestling for a draw.
Add that choice to the facts about travel time, time changes, mental and physical weariness and the undisguised Honduran home scheme and the Liga-MX players never entering the game is a confounding enigma.
Why did Klinsmann start the Bundesliga Boys? And, more importantly, did he learn anything from it?
If you can answer these questions for me, please do.