Winners and Losers
Feilhaber, Lichaj & Hedges Could Get Back into the Mix
November 21, 2016
ON MONDAY U.S. Soccer elected to fire Jurgen Klinsmann and all signs indicate that he will replaced by Los Angeles Galaxy coach—and former U.S. national team boss—Bruce Arena.
Arena is going to make changes to the player pool the same way any coach would, and the upcoming January camp will likely shine a lot on Arena's thinking. The coaching change is certainly good news for some players who want to make inroads into the team. On the flip side, it is likely to generate unease with some of Klinsmann's favorites
Matt Hedges: Hedges has been the best American central defender in MLS the past two years and won the Defender of the Year in 2016. Despite his success, Klinsmann showed little interest in Hedges, giving him just a single cap late in the game of a January friendly—and out of position at right back. Meanwhile players like Ventura Alvarado and Steve Birnbaum passed him on the depth chart. Arena, an MLS vet, knows first-hand what Hedges can do and the FC Dallas captain will probably get a legit chance under the new top man.
Eric Lichaj: The Nottingham Forest fullback only saw very limited minutes under Klinsmann despite earning consistent rave reviews in the English Championship. The door to the U.S. national team is probably more open now for the Chicago native. With fullback depth needed on the U.S., Arena might look to Lichaj who can play on the right or left side of the backline. Perhaps that will be enough to push Fabian Johnson into the midfield and keep players in their best positions.
Darlington Nagbe: The Portland Timber midfielder is a tough player to coach because it's unclear where to play him. It appeared as if Klinsmann was going to turn to Nagbe after an impressive showing against Ecuador in a pre-Copa America friendly in May. Minutes, however, were tough to come by for Nagbe and eventually he fell out of favor after reportedly declining a call-up. Arena has been a coach in the Western Conference since Nagbe entered the league and has a good idea of what he can offer a team.
Dax McCarty: The defensive midfield position is up for grabs right now as 34-year-old Kyle Beckerman seems to have lost a step or two. McCarty plays the game similarly to Beckerman but is faster and younger. McCarty is not the long-term solution but as a veteran leader of a good team, he could be contributor and calming influence for a team in transition.
Danny Williams: The Reading midfielder had a tough time getting settled under Klinsmann and Klinsmann's recent decision to bring in Caleb Stanko over Williams was telling. He now has a far better shot under a new coach. It helps that Williams is having a very strong year and Reading appears as if it will be a contender for promotion to the Premier League.
Omar Gonzalez: The Pachuca defender has seen aplaying time under Klinsmann but it has not always been smooth. At one point he was playing behind Ventura Alvarado—which proved to be a big mistake by Klinsmann. But Arena knows Gonzalez very well and will have a strong sense of how to utilize the former L.A. Galaxy player.
Benny Feilhaber: While Feilhaber has been among the most notable “snubs” under Klinsmann, there is no guarantee he makes it back into the team under Arena as he will be 32 in January. Still, Feilhaber’s chances are clearly improved under anyone not named Klinsmann. If Feilhaber does make it back, he would play with a huge chip on his shoulder and a lot to prove—even if he is just a substitute. That could be useful as the U.S. team is now in a position where winning immediately is the priority.
Juan Agudelo: The New England Revolution forward has always appeared to be on the verge of getting into the team regularly under Klinsmann but was never able to seal the deal. Instead, Klinsmann would opt to call-in players like Alan Gordon and Chris Wondolowski. While a bit of an enigma, Agudelo is very talented and Arena has shown in the past an ability to get the most out of these types of players—remember Clint Mathis?
Michael Bradley: While he served as team captain under Klinsmann, Bradley has struggled to fit into the midfield where he was always partnered with Jermaine Jones. That pairing never really took off. Arena could very well move on from that pairing, and that could give Bradley a fresh start. Bradley has been playing very well for Toronto lately and Arena might have a better idea of how to bring out the best in him.
Other potential winners: DeAndre Yedlin, Perry Kitchen, Walker Zimmerman, Jonathan Spector, Tommy McNamara, Kellyn Acosta, Sebastian Lletget, Matt Miazga, Keegan Rosenberry, Bill Hamid, Luis Robles, Robbie Rogers
Jermaine Jones: The Colorado midfielder has had a great career and enjoyed a very good World Cup in 2014. But Klinsmann viewed Jones as an absolute necessity despite the the team's need to get younger and Jones' inability to pair well with Bradley. Perhaps Arena will be quick to finally turn the page?
Timothy Chandler: The Eintracht Frankfurt right back has never really seen his club form translate over to the international game. It was not always smooth sailing under Klinsmann for Chandler, but the German coach always seemed return to Chandler—including in the recent Hexagonal, where Chandler struggled badly. It is hard to envision Arena being as patient with Chandler, who has not always demonstrated a strong commitment to the Stars and Stripes.
Steve Birnbaum: The D.C. United defender made impressive inroads on the national team under Klinsmann but Arena might see things differently. Arena has a better understanding of MLS and could very well see players like Hedges and Walker Zimmerman ahead of Birnbaum.
Michael Orozco: The Club Tijuana defender has been a mainstay for years under Klinsmann in part because of his ability to play across the backline. Klinsmann really liked Orozco but Arena probably won't share the German coach's enthusiasm. Nobody else does, after all.
Caleb Stanko: The FC Vaduz defensive midfielder does not see regular minutes for his team that sits deep in last place of the Swiss Super League. It was curious to see Stanko get the recent call-ups over Danny Williams, Perry Kitchen, and a host of others who saw more playing time for better clubs. Stanko is promising but Klinsmann was particularly bullish on him. That is unlikely to continue under the new coach.
Julian Green: While Green impressed in recent games against poor opposition, he still is hurt by his absolute lack of playing time at Bayern Munich. There is no shame about not earning minutes at a club of that level but Arena might wait until Green finds a club where he can play before making him a regular.
Other potential losers: Ventura Alvarado, William Yarbrough, Kyle Beckerman, Chris Wondolowski, Alfredo Morales
That's Brian's take—now share yours. Who are the big Winners and Losers now that Klinsmann is gone and Arena is (almost certainly) in? Tell us below.