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Jurgen Klinsmann's Selection Choices Hurt USMNT in Gold Cup Win over Honduras

Joe Tansey@JTansey90Featured ColumnistJuly 8, 2015

AP Images

The United States men's national team eked out a 2-1 victory over Honduras on Tuesday to open up the 2015 CONCACAF Gold Cup on top of Group A.

However, the 90-minute performance produced few positives from Jurgen Klinsmann's side. One of the key selection decisions that cost the Yanks came in the midfield, where Gyasi Zardes looked lost on the left wing for long stretches.

Due to the true forward's lack of positional understanding in Klinsmann's designed 4-4-2 diamond system, the Yanks were exploited early and often by the Honduras attack led by former D.C. United and current Anderlecht winger Andy Najar.

Jul 1, 2015; Houston, TX, USA; Honduras midfielder Andy Najar (17) dribbles against Mexico defender Paul Aguilar (22) in the first half during a soccer match at NRG Stadium. The game ended in a draw 0 to 0 .Mandatory Credit: Thomas B. Shea-USA TODAY Sport
Thomas B. Shea-USA TODAY Sports

Even the reliable duo of Michael Bradley and Kyle Beckerman did not have standout showings in the middle of the park due to the gaps created by Zardes and DeAndre Yedlin on the wings. Starting Zardes was the first key mistake made by Klinsmann. As MLSSoccer.com's Matthew Doyle noted, the diamond formation requires players to shuttle between offense and defense, which is not Zardes' specialty:

Matthew Doyle @MattDoyle76

The problem with playing Zardes in the diamond is he doesn't defend. Shuttlers need to be smart about rotations back to fill gaps. #USAvHON

Honduras boss Jorge Luis Pinto was aware of this, and he commanded his side to go forth and attack through the wings instead of sitting back and defending like most people believed it would to begin the contest. Los Catrachos almost opened the scoring in the first half, but a few blown chances and a big third-minute save by Brad Guzan kept the match scoreless through the first 25 minutes.

Najar was the one player who stuck out on a consistent basis as he was able to take advantage of the poor USMNT partnership of Yedlin and Timothy Chandler on the right wing. Yedlin, who started in the midfield, was asked to track back on countless occasions to either fill a void left by Chandler or support the right back. 

Jul 7, 2015; Dallas, TX, USA; United States defender DeAndre Yedlin (2) and Honduras midfielder Andy Najar (17) fight for the ball during the first half of the 2015 Gold Cup soccer match at Toyota Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports
Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Because of the need to defend Najar and others, Yedlin was not as productive moving forward on the flank as he was in Friday's friendly win over Guatemala. When he did receive chances to attack, Yedlin looked awful. His biggest blunder came in the 31st minute, after Fabian Johnson sprung him into the penalty area with a terrific pass. Instead of taking full advantage of the sublime feed, Yedlin put his shot straight into the body of Honduras goalkeeper Donis Escober.

Over on the left wing, Zardes had little influence on the attack. In trademark Klinsmann style, the USMNT boss opted to start the L.A. Galaxy forward out wide in a position he is unfamiliar with. That decision came back to haunt the Yanks, as only Johnson was able to effectively attack down the left wing. As American Soccer Now's Brian Sciaretta pointed out, Zardes and Yedlin threw off the rhythm of the USMNT midfield while out of position: 

Brian Sciaretta @BrianSciaretta

Zardes is a fwd. Yedlin is a RB. The #usmnt midfield looks disjointed with both players there together - who are not possession oriented.

Few improvements were made by the Yanks in the second half, which led to a nervy final 22 minutes after Carlos Discua ripped through the center of the USMNT defense to pull Honduras within a goal. Sports Illustrated's Liviu Bird pointed out earlier in the half how far apart the midfielders were from one another: 

With that much space in between the wide players and the central duo of Beckerman and Bradley, the Yanks were inviting Honduras to attack through the middle or exploit the one-on-one matchups against Chandler and Johnson.

One player who fits the midfield wing role of the diamond perfectly is Alejandro Bedoya. But as Klinsmann said after the Guatemala match, per Fox Sports' Kyle McCarthy, the Nantes winger was not at ideal fitness when he entered Gold Cup camp:

Kyle McCarthy @kylejmccarthy

Klinsmann said he didn't need to see Beckerman tonight and noted Bedoya has a lot of work to do to get physically ready for Gold Cup. #USMNT

Bedoya's lack of fitness should be a major concern moving forward for Klinsmann, since no one on the current 23-man squad possesses the two-way abilities on the flanks that Bedoya does. It is worth noting that each side is allowed to switch out up to six players at the start of the knockout round.

But before Klinsmann dips further into his preliminary roster for help in the latter stages of the tournament, he has to find a solution to his midfield problem before Friday's Group A clash with Haiti at Gillette Stadium. The USMNT boss hinted during his post-match press conference that he will make some changes, per McCarthy:

Kyle McCarthy @kylejmccarthy

Klinsmann hinting at changes for second group game against Haiti. Opening three points allows more latitude to rotate. #USMNT #OpenCup

If Bedoya is fit, he would be the ideal option to start on the left wing, which would land Zardes on the bench. The personnel situation on the right side became more convoluted as the second half went on due to substitute Brad Evans' impressive play in place of Chandler at right back.

Starting Evans behind Yedlin would hand the Yanks a boost in the chemistry department. For most of Yedlin's time in Seattle, he was able to rely on Evans' veteran presence when facing difficulty on the right wing. That same partnership, albeit with the roles reversed, may reap rewards for Klinsmann.

Oct 25, 2014; Seattle, WA, USA; Seattle Sounders FC midfielder Brad Evans (3) during the second half against the Los Angeles Galaxy at CenturyLink Field. Seattle defeated Los Angeles 2-0. Mandatory Credit: Steven Bisig-USA TODAY Sports
Steven Bisig-USA TODAY Sports

If Klinsmann doesn't want to bring Evans into the starting lineup, moving Johnson around to secure the back line should be his go-to change. Johnson, who is one of the most flexible players on the roster, can either move up to the left wing if Bedoya isn't fit or switch over to right back to replace Chandler. The latter would require Greg Garza to slide in at left back.

Regardless of who lines up on the flanks of the 4-4-2, Bradley and Beckerman need some help in order to contain opposing attacks for the rest of the tournament. How Klinsmann adapts his selections might determine how far the Yanks go at the Gold Cup.

Joe Tansey covers U.S. Soccer for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @JTansey90.

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