Trouble is brewing with the United States men’s national team.
Last night’s 4-0 loss to Costa Rica could cost Jurgen Klinsmann his job as U.S. Soccer chief Sunil Gulati contemplates how best to keep afloat what right now appears to be a sinking ship.
There was a distinct feeling, watching the Americans crash to defeat in San Jose, that Klinsmann has lost his team both psychologically and tactically. The USA were not good enough as individuals, coming up second best in their individual battles all over the park, but also appeared confused by their roles and lacking a clear game plan.
Few are suffering more in that regard than Toronto FC captain Michael Bradley. Bradley and Klinsmann openly disagree on the midfielder’s best position, with the player believing he is best suited, at this stage of his career, to a holding-midfield role in front of the defence, much like the one he occupies for Toronto. Klinsmann, however, is insistent that he has more to give.
Ives Galarcep of Goal USA wrote on this topic after the defeat to Mexico, with Klinsmann saying: “We have these discussions in every camp, Michael and I, and it’s cool, and I tell Michael, ‘I know you can play the six. I’m not saying you can’t play the six, but I want the Michael that has the ball at his feet and goes vroom, like you beat Germany, and Holland, and all these games.’”
Asking Bradley to be a difference-maker in the attacking half is one thing, but Klinsmann is expecting that while also demanding that he fulfil defensive responsibilities when out of possession. There was no shield in front of the defence to liberate Bradley to move forward; just Jermaine Jones alongside him largely being asked to “go vroom” too. Bradley has a lot of qualities, but the mobility of a Sami Khedira or N’Golo Kante is not one of them.
The 29-year-old still has plenty to give at the international level, but with his current deployment everyone is losing; Bradley, Klinsmann and the team. If Klinsmann wishes to stick with a 4-4-2, he would be better advised to bring in younger, more athletic midfielders. If - more sensibly, in my view - he played Bradley in his preferred number-six position, a player like Sacha Kljestan could be brought in to link midfield to attack, with Christian Pulisic, Jozy Altidore and Bobby Wood playing as a front three.
Right now, Klinsmann seems to have lost sight of common sense and the obvious strengths and weaknesses of his players. Matt Besler looks uncomfortable at left-back. The Bradley-Jones duo doesn’t work. There isn’t enough variety in the partnerships between players like Altidore and Wood and Fabian Johnson and Timmy Chandler. Ironically, given Klinsmann’s links to the England job, it all resulted in the kind of disjointed, kick-and-rush 4-4-2 that the Three Lions have made infamous.