Key Selection Dilemmas for USA Ahead of World Cup Game with Germany
As the United States men's national team heads into its final World Cup group game against Germany, U.S. head coach Jurgen Klinsmann will have several key decisions to make about how his team approaches the encounter.
With the United States and Germany tied on points, Ghana lurking close behind and Portugal still mathematically able to advance, the U.S. needs a win or tie against the Germans to guarantee advancement to the round of 16.
Here are three selection dilemmas Klinsmann faces headed into the match.
What Formation to Use?
Knowing a tie against the formidable German attack would guarantee advancement, Klinsmann is going to have to decide whether to put the U.S. into an ultra-defensive shape and play for the draw or approach the game like any other match.
While sitting back and playing for the tie might seem like a good idea, that decision could come back to bite the U.S. should Germany score a goal, especially if it happens late in the match with no time to recover.
Against Portugal, the U.S. employed a five-man midfield in a 4-2-3-1. However, all three "attacking" midfielders for the U.S. sat back for long stretches to keep the midfield compact. The advantage was that Portuguese star Cristiano Ronaldo was kept ineffective for most of the game.
It is likely that Klinsmann will adopt a similar strategy against Germany. Packing the midfield has worked for the U.S. against Nigeria, Ghana and Portugal in the team's last three matches.
What Replacements to Use?
Of the four teams in the 2014 World Cup that played a match in Manaus, none went on to win their next game.
Italy, Croatia, England and Cameroon all lost their next encounter.
With only three days between the States' match in the Amazon jungle against Portugal and the final group game on Thursday against Germany, one has to wonder how much the heat, humidity and overall effort against Portugal has affected the team's recovery.
Klinsmann has seemed fairly dug in with his lineup, but he may have to switch things up against Germany. Midfielders Jermaine Jones, Kyle Beckerman and Michael Bradley have all run over 13 miles in the U.S.' first two games, per Opta analyst Ben Jata. It's hard to imagine Klinsmann would withdraw any of these key players for the match against Germany, but at the very least, they could use some help.
With Klinsmann's setup, an additional holding midfielder on the bench would be valuable at this point in the tournament. Alas, none are available. Mix Diskerud is the only center midfielder that Klinsmann can turn to now, and he may need to in order to inject some fresh legs into the team.
Another option would be to start with DeAndre Yedlin on the right flank for Alejandro Bedoya and simply ask Yedlin to keep up a consistent work rate for the first 60 minutes before replacing him late in the match with a more experienced player.
Attack or Not?
Klinsmann and German head coach Joachim Low are old friends. In fact, Low was Klinsmann's assistant when he managed Germany.
As a result, conspiracy theories exist that the two will agree to tie the match, as a draw guarantees both squads go through to the next round.
Against Portugal, Klinsmann started the U.S. in a defensive posture—a strategy that seemed doomed to fail once the U.S. gave up the early goal. However, even with only one forward in Clint Dempsey, the U.S. was able to work its way back into the match through a series of effective counterattacks.
Even if Klinsmann's side lose, the U.S. will likely still advance to the knockout round if Portugal can beat Ghana. However, watching the match against the U.S., Portugal appeared to be a defeated team. Even after the dramatic 95th-minute equalizer, the Portuguese coach didn't celebrate.
Coupled with defeatist comments by Cristiano Ronaldo after the match—who said he never thought Portugal could win the World Cup—the Americans can't count on a Portuguese victory to help.
While the U.S. doesn't need a win against Germany, it's hard to believe the side will be able to hold off the German attack for 90 minutes, even if the Germans give a halfhearted effort knowing that a draw gets both teams through to the next round.
Klinsmann will likely employ the same strategy that has gotten the U.S. to this point, keeping a good solid defensive posture and having the team pick moments to go forward to look for a goal or two to help earn a draw.
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