Earlier today, U.S. Soccer and head coach Jurgen Klinsmann announced the 23-man roster for the U.S.’ upcoming World Cup qualifiers against Costa Rica on Friday and Mexico next Tuesday.
The roster has left many fans scratching their heads (as more than a few of Klinsmann’s rosters have done) as many of the U.S.’ key players were left off.
The final 23-man roster is as follows: Brad Guzan, Sean Johnson, Nick Rimando, Tony Beltran, Matt Besler, Geoff Cameron, Omar Gonzalez, Clarence Goodson, Justin Morrow, DaMarcus Beasley, Kyle Beckerman, Michael Bradley, Joe Corona, Maurice Edu, Jermaine Jones, Sacha Kljestan, Brek Shea, Graham Zusi, Jozy Altidore, Terrence Boyd, Clint Dempsey, Herculez Gomez and Eddie Johnson.
Here are five things to keep an eye on when the U.S. takes on Costa Rica this Friday.
The U.S. Fanbase
When Jurgen Klinsmann first took over the United States Men’s National Team, the overwhelming majority of the U.S. fanbase was excited about his appointment.
Klinsmann was widely expected to bring a new, more attractive brand of football to the USMNT and represent a stark contrast to the boring, stodgy tactics of his predecessor, Bob Bradley.
Like many foreigners, Klinsmann was quick to point out what the U.S. was doing wrong and American fans, always harboring a silent inferiority complex about their brand of soccer, were quick to listen.
Klinsmann's infectious, positive personality gave Americans no reason to doubt that he could bring them to the promised land and his resume, mostly as a player, left little doubt in Americans’ minds that Klinsmann knew what he was talking about.
However, eighteen months and dozens of questionable roster and tactical decisions later, much of that goodwill is now gone.
While Klinsmann’s bottom line has looked good, including away results against Italy, Mexico and Russia, finding results in World Cup qualifying has been difficult and the free-flowing play Americans had hoped for is not there.
Klinsmann has certainly had difficulties beyond his control. The extended absence of Landon Donovan from the national team has not helped, nor has an aging squad or a series of untimely injuries.
However, Klinsmann must bear responsibility for many of the U.S.’ struggles as well. He has continued to call up players that are clearly not of international quality and wasted many opportunities in friendlies to get experience for the younger players waiting in the wings.
And when stability and experience has been needed in important games, he has chosen to experiment with inexperienced players and untested formations.
While the U.S. is still very young as a soccer nation, expectations of the American fans are also at an all-time high.
At this point, many fans are still willing to give Klinsmann the benefit of the doubt. However, if Klinsmann was to lose both games over the next week, the fan base will turn against him quickly and Sunil Gulati and U.S. Soccer will be put in a very difficult position going forward into the rest of World Cup qualifying.
Jurgen Klinsmann’s Tactical Decisions
There are two basic decisions that Jurgen Klinsmann will have to address going into the match against Costa Rica. The first decision is what formation to play.
For much of Klinsmann’s tenure, he has preferred to play a hybrid of a 4-4-2 and a 4-3-3.
In Klinsmann’s system, there is usually a holding midfielder that sits right in front of the center backs, two center midfielders that are essentially responsible to go box-to-box, two wide players, one withdrawn forward and one out-and-out striker.
When Klinsmann uses this system, it allows him to play Jermaine Jones and Michael Bradley side-by-side, one of Klinsmann’s obvious preferences.
The other system that Klinsmann has played more recently has been a 4-1-3-2. This was the system in place for the U.S.’ last three games of the semifinal round of World Cup qualifying. The U.S. won all three of those games.
Disastrously against Honduras, Klinsmann played a 4-1-3-2, but with no right midfielder. This system set right-back Timmy Chandler up to fail and fail he did. On an island defensively, Chandler was repeatedly beaten. Offensively, with no help up the flank, Chandler rarely got forward, not surprising considering the 90 degree heat in Honduras that day.
Against Costa Rica, Klinsmann needs to keep his tactical decisions simple. It is what the players will understand and is even more important considering the lack of experience along the U.S. back line.
The second big decision Klinsmann will face on Friday is who to start on defense…
What about the U.S. Defense?
Looking at the U.S. roster, there are a number of notable absences, particularly among the defense.
Carlos Bocanegra, the team’s captain, was left off the roster. Granted, Bocanegra has not played in a competitive match for Racing Santander in over a month, so he is clearly not in form.
However, considering the U.S.’ disastrous and disorganized defensive effort in San Pedro Sula, it is a risky move. Also, with the absence of Tim Howard for these upcoming games due to broken bones in Howard’s back, the lack of leadership along the back line becomes even more worrisome.
Geoff Cameron and Omar Gonzalez are the obvious choices at center-back. However, Cameron may have to be deployed wide due to the U.S.’ lack of options there.
Michael Parkhurst has only received limited playing time since moving from Nordsjaelland to Augsburg in December and was left off the roster entirely. Most other U.S. options at the outside backs are currently injured, including Edgar Castillo, Fabian Johnson, Steve Cherundolo, Jonathan Spector and Timmy Chandler. All were left off the roster.
The only two true outside backs on the U.S. roster are Tony Beltran and Justin Morrow. Both were fairly unimpressive in the U.S.’ recent January friendly against Canada. Furthermore, Klinsmann did not call up arguably more talented players in A.J. DeLaGarza, Sean Franklin, Eric Lichaj and Michael Orozco Fiscal.
If Klinsmann decides that he can’t trust Morrow or Beltran against Costa Rica, Geoff Cameron could be deployed wide with Maurice Edu or Clarence Goodson filling into the center-back spot. Edu could also be played out wide.
Klinsmann could also deploy Brek Shea or DaMarcus Beasley at left-back, but many U.S. fans will remember how shaky Beasley was at the position when Bob Bradley tried that experiment. Defensively, Shea is shaky as well.
The Costa Rican Attack
At first glance, the match against Costa Rica appears to be a great opportunity to pick up a much-needed three points. However, in Fulham’s Bryan Ruiz, Betis’ Joel Campbell and Real Salt Lake’s Alvaro Saborio, Costa Rica has some real attacking talent.
That level of talent matched up against an inexperienced U.S. back line could cause the U.S. problems all game long.
The battle within the U.S. Squad
Missing Tim Howard, Landon Donovan and Carlos Bocanegra, Jurgen Klinsmann will need to choose a new captain for the squad.
Jones, who played three times for the German national team before coming to the USMNT, is a divisive figure among U.S. fans.
While he is no doubt talented and holds down a regular spot in Schalke’s lineup in the Bundesliga, Jones also has arguably the most erratic performances of any U.S. player. He is always one temperamental moment away from a stupid foul and often plays the game without the work rate U.S. fans demand out of their players.
If Jones is chosen captain, there will certainly be a wide uproar among the U.S. fans, if not the players themselves.
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