What Klinsmann Is Thinking with the Roster
November 07, 2016
On Sunday, Jurgen Klinsmann named his roster for the opening of the Hexagonal round of World Cup qualifying. The first two games are extremely challenging with an opener at home against archrival Mexico and away at Costa Rica where it has never won. The good news, however, is opportunity. Six points, and the U.S. team will be on cruise control to Russia.
You've got questions? We've got answers.
Who Partners with Brooks?
The first of the big questions this week at the U.S. team assembles is who will play in central defense alongside John Brooks, who has emerged into an elite defender dating back to last fall. Without the injured Geoff Cameron, it is not a sure thing.
The options are Matt Besler, Omar Gonzalez, Michael Orozco, Steve Birnbaum, or newcomer Cameron Carter-Vickers, who is the unlikeliest of the options due to his youth and inexperience. Given that Brooks is a left-footer, if Klinsmann prefers are right-footed option as a partner then it would come down to Gonzalez, Orozco, and Birnbaum.
The odds seem to favor Gonzalez because the Pachuca-based centerback has World Cup and World Cup qualifying experience against Mexico. He also plays in Liga Mx and is coming off a championship there. Yes, Gonzalez has struggled occasionally for the U.S. team this year, but Klinsmann will consider his past experience. While at times Birnbaum appears to have surpassed Gonzalez on the depth chart, he did not have a good ending to his season with DC United.
As for Orozco, Klinsmann likes the versatile Tijuana defender but Orozco seems to be a back-up option at three different positions to fill holes in case of an emergency.
It would not be shocking if Klinsmann breaks with his pattern and goes with two left-footed central defenders in Brooks and Besler, although unlikely as the two have never played together.
Who Plays Central Midfield?
Another major question is who starts in central midfield? At first, it did not seem likely that Jermaine Jones would be available due to an injury that has kept him out since July. But he played in both legs of his playoff series against the LA Galaxy including a start (84 minutes) on Sunday. Overall, he acquitted himself well even if it was clear he was not at 100 percent.
Klinsmann has formational options to consider. If he goes to a 4-2-3-1 or a 4-3-3, he will start three central midfielders. If he goes with a 4-4-2, then there is likely to be only two central midfielders.
Michael Bradley is the team’s captain and has played some of his best soccer in years the past few weeks for Toronto FC. So he is a lock to start. The rest of the picks are not simple, although Klinsmann likes the edginess Jones brings to important games.
Meanwhile, Sacha Kljestan played well in his return to the U.S. team this past fall and had an MVP-caliber season for the Red Bulls. On the flip side, he suffered an injury to his nose on Sunday and did not have a good series against Montreal, which upset the Red Bulls. The other option is Alejandro Bedoya who can play outside but also centrally in an attacking position where he played regularly with Nantes and the Philadelphia Union.
A flat 4-4-2 is best for the U.S. team’s forwards as Altidore, Morris, Johannsson, and Wood all tend to thrive with a partner up-top. But looking at his options, it is hard to see Bradley and Jones not starting for this game. It is also hard to see those two without a third central midfielder. The three-player central midfield will the probably force Klinsmann to go with one forward. A two-forward set likely favors Wood and Altidore but one forward means one gets benched or Wood shifts out wide. Benching either Wood or Altidore is a tough decision for Klinsmann.
The best guess right here is that Bradley and Jones play behind Kljestan (if he is healthy).
Who Plays Right Back?
Another positional battle heading into camp is at right back. There are three likely options in DeAndre Yedlin, Timmy Chandler, and Michael Orozco, who is most likely a back-up based on history.
Yedlin and Chandler are in top form. Yedlin has been playing very well for Championship-leading Newcastle United in recent weeks while Chandler has done well for Eintracht Frankfurt, which is currently seventh place in the Bundesliga. Both had assists over the weekend.
Chandler is the bigger gamble. The 26 year old has years of Bundesliga experience and has also shown a tremendous upside. Despite that, his 27 caps over the past five and a half years have mostly been disappointing, not to mention his periods showing a lack of commitment.
Meanwhile, Yedlin boasts a lot of experience. He has been in a successful Premier League relegation battle and is now playing for a strong promotional contender. He has played in a World Cup, Gold Cup, and Copa America. Yes, he has shown moments where his youth has gotten the best of him (such has his inexplicable red card against Paraguay at the Copa America) but overall, the promise is there and he is playing well.
History tends to favor Yedlin but Chandler’s surge in the Bundesliga might be too tempting for Klinsmann to ignore. If Chandler succeeds against Mexico, a lot of his shaky past is forgiven.
Top Players in Good Form
If U.S. fans want reason for optimism heading to Columbus, there is plenty of good news. In addition to the players mentioned above, many top players are coming into the camp playing well.
Tim Howard: was masterful against the Galaxy in the playoffs including two saves in the shootout.
Jozy Altidore: Has scored in all three playoff wins for Toronto.
Christian Pulisic: The teenager is starting in the Bundesliga and the Champions League for Borussia Dortmund.
Fabian Johnson: He still remains the most experienced player in the player pool where he starts for Borussia Monchengladbach. For the U.S. team, he looks to be combining well with Christian Pulisic on the left side.
Are there causes for concern? Of course there are. Bobby Wood is frustrated on a horrible Hamburg team. Caleb Stanko’s team is the worst in Switzerland’s top flight, and he was benched in the most recent game. Bedoya never really made much of an impact with the Union in his first few months (although there was a lot wrong with that team). The keepers behind Howard are all questionable right now. Finally, Aron Johannsson is still not playing enough at Werder Bremen.
It’s not a perfect situation but there is plenty more going well for the players on the roster than is not going right.
Surprises and notable omissions
Of course there are some surprises. The most eye-opening is Caleb Stanko’s selection in central midfield. As it appears Father Time has caught up with Kyle Beckerman, there was some real question marks as to who would follow in his footsteps. Kellyn Acosta at Dallas, Danny Williams at Reading, and Perry Kitchen at Hearts were the likely contenders.
After Kitchen played poorly against New Zealand last month and Acosta never was given a look in his natural midfielder role, it appeared as if Williams had the strongest case where he is one of Reading’s best players.
Instead, Stanko was the choice and when looking at club situations, it was surprising over the others because Stanko plays on the worst team of the bunch. Vaduz is in dead last in the Swiss Super League and has a -17 goal differential (the worst by 10 goals in the league). Stanko is not even a regular starter for Vaduz. The Michigan native must have impressed in his two camps under Klinsmann so far where he made his debut in September in a win over Trinidad & Tobago where he came on as a late substitute.
The inclusion of Cameron Carter-Vickers was indeed a surprise but this had been coming. The English-born Carter-Vickers is among the top American prospects, and he was once again very good for the U-20 national team at a recent camp in Manchester, UK. But Tottenham-boss Mauricio Pochettino has spoken very highly of Carter-Vickers recently where he said he could become among the best central defenders in England. As a dual national, bringing Carter-Vickers to this camp offers the chance to cap-tie and integrate him into team.
Predicted Starting XI
Predicting Klinsmann is extremely hard. This is even harder due to injuries as well as the recent influx of new and younger players into the team.
But I think he goes with something like this.