The United States men's national team and head coach Jurgen Klinsmann have survived the so-called Group of Death and are now on their way to the round of 16 in the 2014 World Cup.
Heading into the tournament, few gave the American squad much of a chance of advancing, and even more criticized Klinsmann's roster, tactics and results before the team even left the U.S. However, for the most part, Klinsmann has proved his detractors wrong.
Here's how each of the coach's decisions grade out.
On the positive side, Klinsmann has largely been vindicated by his roster selections.
He chose to bring John Anthony Brooks over Clarence Goodson, despite the fact that Brooks had been shaky in his March appearance against Ukraine and Goodson had performed solidly in World Cup qualifying and the 2013 Gold Cup. While Klinsmann took some grief for the decision, Brooks went on to score the game-winning goal against Ghana.
The coach also took Kyle Beckerman over Maurice Edu, even though most believed Edu's athleticism was better suited for the U.S.'s opponents in the group stage.
Beckerman has repaid Klinsmann's faith by playing solidly as a starter in all three of the U.S.'s matches to date.
The USMNT coach was quoted by Ives Galarcep of Goal.com as saying of Beckerman:
He’s a very special player in the way he brings himself into the whole team concept.
He’s there for his teammates. He’s cleaning up for his back line. He’s there when you need him.
Those are very rare players.
And finally, on the positive side, Klinsmann either developed or recruited several players key to the U.S.'s success so far, including Matt Besler, Fabian Johnson and Graham Zusi.
However, Klinsmann must be questioned for his lack of a like-for-like replacement for Jozy Altidore, while using roster spots on three players (Julian Green, Timmy Chandler and Mix Diskerud) who have not yet seen the field.
The U.S. also seems to be short of attacking options off the bench at this point in the tournament, and one must wonder if Klinsmann should have brought one more experienced attacking midfielder with him to the tournament.
Roster Selection Grade: B+
In terms of tactics and formations for the tournament, Klinsmann has simply excelled.
Klinsmann has used an amalgamation of a 4-4-2 with a diamond midfield, a 4-3-2-1 Christmas tree and a 4-2-3-1 in the World Cup.
He has used Beckerman as the primary holding midfielder who has, for the first time, freed Jermaine Jones to do the most damage. With Beckerman staying home and sitting in front of the U.S.'s center-backs, Jones has finally been able to roam forward and contribute to the attack without the U.S. making a defensive sacrifice.
The one downfall of Klinsmann's use of Beckerman, Jones and Michael Bradley at the same time is that Bradley has been pushed higher up the pitch than normal. As a result, he has delivered a number of performances below his usual best, as Bleacher Report writer Tre Atkinson noted.
Bradley's ability to hold up play and create chances has made him one of the most important players for the U.S. and it showed during qualifying.
A fan favorite, Bradley's influence can never be overstated, yet he has not been able to find his footing in Brazil.
However, the tactic has also helped the U.S. clog the midfield and stifle the powerful attacks of Ghana, Portugal and Germany. The U.S. has also been able to sit back and pick its moments to counterattack, while not exposing itself defensively.
The result has been a win against Ghana, a tie against Portugal and a narrow 1-0 loss to Germany.
Tactics/Formation Grade: A+
Against Ghana, Klinsmann's substitutions were nearly flawless. Although Aron Johannsson did not have a spectacular game after replacing Altidore following his hamstring injury, Klinsmann's other two substitutions, Brooks and Zusi, combined for the game-winning goal.
Against Portugal, Klinsmann was not as lucky. Although DeAndre Yedlin provided the U.S. with a spark off the bench, he was also part of the sequence that failed to hold possession late in the game right before Portugal's equalizer. Klinsmann's other two substitutions in the match, Omar Gonzalez and Chris Wondolowski, came in after the 87th minute and failed to help the Yanks close out the game when they were leading 2-1.
Against Germany, Yedlin and Alejandro Bedoya were used as substitutes in the second half. Bedoya did get off one dangerous shot late in the game, but it was blocked by a German defender. Yedlin also bombed forward as usual, but in one key sequence he fired a service that was well away from any potential teammate.
At this point in the tournament, Klinsmann has also failed to use Diskerud or Chandler, despite the U.S. seeming to have heavy legs at times and both players having previously proven their ability to contribute.
Substitutions Grade: B
Considering the U.S.'s results, it's difficult to find flaws in Klinsmann's starting selections on game day. He stuck with Altidore through a long scoring slump and had seemingly re-inspired the big striker's confidence just prior to the tournament.
However, with Altidore's injury, the U.S. has been left to ask "what if?" Klinsmann has been using Clint Dempsey, the only other physical forward on the U.S. roster, up top in his stead.
Against a series of strong attacking opponents, the U.S. back line has played exceptionally well, with Besler putting in a number of outstanding performances and Johnson and Beasley excelling on the flanks.
Considering that right-back was considered the U.S.'s weakest position coming into the tournament and that most fans thought Beasley would be left for dead by the U.S.'s group-stage opponents, Klinsmann's decision to play Johnson on the right and stick with Beasley on the left has paid off handsomely.
Klinsmann also started Gonzalez against Germany in a decision that was widely questioned before kickoff. And although Gonzalez struggled for a few moments early in the match, his overall performance in the game was nothing short of outstanding.
Klinsmann might be questioned for starting Brad Davis, who was fairly ineffective, against Germany, but he must have made the decision considering the U.S.'s tired legs. Klinsmann has also chosen to play Geoff Cameron at center-back in the tournament, despite the fact that he's played almost exclusively on the right for Stoke City over the past two seasons.
Although Cameron did make two big mistakes against Portugal, considering Klinsmann's other choices and with Gonzalez struggling coming into the tournament, the decision to play Cameron in the middle seems to have been the right one.
Starting XI Grade: A-
Escaping Group G was no small feat. The U.S. defeated quadrennial American killers Ghana, tied the No. 4 team in the world in Portugal and narrowly lost to the No. 2 team in the world in Germany.
The only real criticisms that can be made of Klinsmann, considering the U.S.'s overall performance, are small.
The Americans probably fell into a shell too early against Ghana, but considering the injury to Altidore, one has to wonder what else could have been done. The U.S. also could have done a better job closing out the game against Portugal, which would have guaranteed the Yanks advancement prior to their game against Germany. This would have allowed the U.S. to rest some of its starters and given them more time to recover heading into the round of 16.
But as it stands, the Americans still advanced to the knockout round and will now face Belgium on Tuesday with a chance to equal their greatest World Cup feat in the modern era: a trip to the quarterfinals.
That in itself would be justification for Klinsmann's choices for the World Cup finals after the success of the group stage.
Overall Performance Grade: A-
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