101514_isi_donovanlandon_usmntbs10102014343 Brad Smith/isiphotos.com

October Friendlies: The Good, the Bad, and Jurgen

We asked ASN contributing editor to give us his take on what he saw from the U.S. national team over the last few weeks. He obliged—prior to Don Garber's press conference, and we're very glad he did.
BY Brian Sciaretta Posted
October 15, 2014
9:15 PM
THE UNITED STATES men's national team finished off the October international window on Tuesday with a disappointing and lethargic 1-1 draw against Honduras. Aside from an emotional farewell to Landon Donovan, it was a pair of games to forget.

In both contests the U.S. took an early lead and then gradually faded away. By the 60th minute in each game, the opponents controlled the play and the Americans were fortunate to hold on for draws. Here is what I took away from the October friendlies.

Klinsmann wastes an opportunity

When Jurgen Klinsmann made changes to his roster following the Ecuador game, he brought in players that comprised most of the core of the 2014 World Cup. It proved to be a mistake. This same group of players recently competed in a major tournament against some of the best teams in the world. Their limitations were exposed.

The key question then becomes what is a midweek friendly against a CONCACAF opponent going to teach Klinsmann about his core team that he didn’t already know? Was this game against this opponent going to help Klinsmann address the limitations of the team that were exposed at the World Cup? The answer is no.

So without any major tournaments on the horizon, why not take the time to learn more about the extended player pool and other players—particularly those based in Major League Soccer—who might address some of the weaknesses on the team and offer more going forward?

A distraction-filled 10 days

These games were surrounded by storylines completely detached from the action on the field—unnecessarily so. Donovan deserved to be in the spotlight but so much of the attention was focused on Donovan’s poor relationship with Klinsmann, whether or not the two left voicemails to each other leading up to the game, Klinsmann’s statements that Donovan could have done more with his career, and whether Klinsmann’s son apologized via email for his tweet to Donovan.

It did not burnish the reputation of Klinsmann or the U.S. Soccer Federation. It was all rather pathetic.

When the scene shifted to Florida, more issues came up that probably should have been handled behind closed doors—or not at all. There were talks over promotion/relegation in MLS and whether or not players should return to MLS from Europe.

Klinsmann has his opinions on these matters but to air them publically solves little and is probably counterproductive. On promotion/relegation in MLS, it is a decision to be made by the league and it revolves around financial feasibility. As of now, those in charge don’t believe such a system is in their best interests. The thoughts and opinions of the national team coach are not going to have any effect, but they will stir the pot and grab headlines. For Klinsmann to get involved in such pointless discussions is a distraction from his job coaching the national team and making it more competitive.

Regarding the decisions of where players play their career, Klinsmann is welcome to his opinion but taking such a public stance on his preference for Europe runs its risks. It is healthy that MLS and the national team do not always have the same interests. The primary goal of Major League Soccer, obviously, is to entertain fans while looking to improve the product on the field. MLS does not exist to serve the U.S. national team. Similarly, Klinsmann’s job is to make the national team as strong as possible and he therefore wants the best for his players. It is rather simple that these two entities have different interests but the perception of animosity between the two is destructive.

The divergent statements between Klinsmann and Bradley about career choices did not quite reach the level of animosity but it did not appear as if everyone was in harmony either. Players are going to make decisions on their careers based on many, many factors. The national team is just one consideration and Klinsmann can discuss the matter privately with players but he has to live with their decisions.

Taking a public stand that is hyper-critical of MLS will solve little and could be counterproductive—especially with many of the top American prospects still coming from the league.

[Editor's note: MLS commissioner Don Garber spoke out against Klinsmann's comments on Wednesday, and ASN will post several pieces on this press conference on Thursday.]

The U.S. needs speed and wingers—ASAP

Both matches revealed that the U.S. lacked speed and effective play from wide players. This is similar to how it was at the World Cup. A midfield of Mix Diskerud, Michael Bradley, Graham Zusi, and Alejandro Bedoya lacks speed. The problem is compounded by the fact that Clint Dempsey and Jozy Altidore are not particularly fast either.

To be fair, Klinsmann has brought in Julian Green, Joe Gyau, and DeAndre Yedlin to address the issue but that is not enough. Yedlin is a primarily a right back—where he has played his entire career—and the midfield is not where he belongs. Gyau and Green are in an uphill climb to earn consistent Bundesliga minutes at this stage of their careers.

Without speed in the midfield or in attacking positions, the team will continue to struggle to consistently generate scoring chances.

I'm Skeptical of Jones in central defense The biggest surprise in the game against Honduras was Klinsmann’s decision to move Jones to the backline. It is likely to show some success against weaker opponents but as the games become more difficult, it is tough to see this option being effective in the long term.

Jones has played his whole career in the midfield. It is not easy to simply move to the backline where the expectations and roles are completely different. He does not play there for his club and it is going to be extremely difficult for him to easily switch to central defense during brief international windows.

Klinsmann has been fond of playing players out of position. Jones, Yedlin, and Danny Williams have played on the wings for the U.S. despite never playing there for their clubs. Maurice Edu has played in central defense, DaMarcus Beasley has been a left back, Alejandro Bedoya plays in a wider position than he does for his club. The list goes on.

Central defense is the trickiest position to convert to because mistakes such as poor passes, poor tackles, and poor positioning are punished harshly. It seems unnecessary, too as there are quality American central defenders yet to be tried at the international level. Don't believe me? Look here.

Garza acquitted himself well

While Mix Diskerud was the best player over the course of the two games, the biggest addition to the team came from the play of Gregory Garza, who was solid at left back. The Club Tijuana defender was competent and well positioned defensively playing a role many American athletes have struggled at over the years. He likely hasn’t seized the position completely, but he has made a strong case for future call-ups and it would not surprise me if he is starting at the Gold Cup next summer.

Landon Donovan’s farewell

Usually when legendary players are awarded one final appearance for a national team, they are well on the downside of their careers. Donovan might not be the player he was in 2009 but he still looked sharp.

How sharp was he? He looked smart in the box, he took on defenders, and he was able to move into space well and provided something that was visibly absent in the dismal draw against Honduras. The U.S national team has played three friendlies since the World Cup—playing a grand total of 270 total minutes.

The 40 minutes Donovan was on the field was the best the U.S. has looked in those three games.

What's your take on Brian's take? Tell us below.

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