Written by Lee Folger
A few weeks ago, US Men’s soccer fans had plenty to be optimistic about. We had 2 upcoming games in World Cup Qualifying first against Mexico, in Columbus, then Costa Rica, in San Jose, CR, that were going to be challenging, but both were certainly winnable games. The team seemed to be full of players both in form and finding their form. There was the progress of Christian Pulisic, the young star who got his foot in the door at Dortmund last season and has become a consistent first team contributor. Veteran Tim Howard, who since his move to the Colorado Rapids from my favourite team, Everton FC, had been in a great run of form. Players who often struggle with inconsistency like Jozy Altidore and Michael Bradley seemed to have found their form together at Toronto FC in MLS.
Among other things of course, these factors had lots of American fans excited for the two upcoming fixtures. Things certainly didn’t go to plan in Columbus. The US conceded a sloppy goal off midway through the first 45’ off of a deflection after Klinsmann had set up the team in a 3-5-2. The US had lacked both offensive creativity and defensive structure with three in the back. As both a player and a fan of the game, I feel that the only teams that find success with the 3 back formation are those with three world class centre backs. For example, Italy and Juventus. Without those three solid figures in the back, the three defender formation is easy to expose. Thus I was glad to see Klinsmann shift the formation to a more conventional 4-4-2 after conceding. The rest of the game looked better for the US, we generated some real chances and looked more compact defensively. The equaliser early in the second period felt as though it had been coming and momentum had shifted in favor of the US. For the remainder of the game, both teams generated a few chances but it looked a more even contest. It seemed that both teams were going to end the match with a well deserved point. Until a corner kick near the end of the 90 where so many things went wrong in such a short sequence of time it felt all too classic. For whatever reason, Guzan, who had been subbed on for an injured Tim Howard, hadn’t placed men on both posts in the eighty-ninth minute of a tie game. The marking on the corner was horrendous as well, the defence looking exhausted and lazy. Marquez was able to beat his man and flick a well placed header over and behind a dumbfounded Guzan into the back of the US net. A heart breaking end to a well fought game.
credit Erik Drost
There were positives and negatives to be taken from the game. On the bright side, the combination of Bobby Wood and Christian Pulisic looked dangerous. Pulisic looked especially promising with his quickness, work rate both forward and back, and explosiveness going forward while Wood had a fantastic work rate up front. However, the loss of Tim Howard hurts moving forward as he is a very experienced reminder who instilled confidence in the back line in front of him. I cannot say the same for Guzan who struggles to get any match time for newly promoted Middlesbrough after being benched by historically bad Aston Villa last season.
The US had looked inconsistent against El Tri but there was hope going into the match against Costa Rica. That hope was destroyed very quickly. In the 4-0 defeat, the US looked horrific in defence and going forward they were utterly unable to generate any true offensive chances. The defence looked lackadaisical and showed no motivation to stop the Costa Rican’s from running rampant on them. The forwards worked hard tracking back but with a lack of any true forward play, frustration set in. The loss was deserved from the US, and the scoreline humiliating.
The first section of this post was written in preparation for a second section on my opinion on whether or not Jurgen Klinsmann should be fired or not. Well, it’s November 23rd and he was fired yesterday. He and US Soccer “parted ways”, as they put it. In my opinion, this was the right move. There were plenty of factors that pushed the US Federation to end their roller coaster relationship with Jurgen, many of which had been tolerated up until the two recent World Cup Qualifier losses. The strategical mishaps when setting lineups, playing players out of position, rifts with players, lack of fan support, etc. These were all put up with until recently. However, as soon as the slightest bit of doubt came into the minds of US Soccer and their fans about the United States’ place in the next World Cup, action had to be taken. There had been bad losses before. The loss to Jamaica in the 2015 Gold Cup semis was humiliating, losing to Guatemala for the first time in decades certainly didn’t help. The US can afford to lose friendlies or even in other tournaments, but if the US somehow failed to qualify for Russia 2018, it would be a huge blow to the growth of the sport in the States.
So with the Yanks dead last in our qualification group, following two less than satisfactory performances, something had to be done. It’s unfortunate it had to end the way it did because I, as a fan of the game, appreciated what Klinsmann was doing with our younger players and building the program for the future. He also brought in German- Americans who became consistent contributors and had the option of playing for either nation, but chose the US. Jermaine Jones is one of the best examples with his great contributions in the 2014 World Cup and since.
I also think Klinsmann was handling the development of Christian Pulisic quite well. Getting him significant minutes in big matches, subbing him on against Argentina and Lionel Messi, starting him against Mexico. Pulisic is the future of American soccer. Undoubtedly. So we, as a federation and as fans, have to make sure his development is done at the right pace. Too fast and he could burn out as we’re all too familiar with, while too slow will frustrate him with a lack of opportunities to show his class. I hope Bruce Arena can learn from Klinsmann in how well he had been managing the young star who carries so much of the hope of this soccer nation.
Moving forward, I do believe the US will qualify for Russia 2018. Things will have to change, of course. Bruce Arena(Klinsmann’s replacement) will have to figure out how to get the most of out this group. A balance needs to be found between solidified defending as a unit and having the ability to attack with pace and creativity.
I believe a 4-3-1-2 with one holding, two central, and one attacking midfielder would be a formation that would suit this team well. With Guzan in goal, his experience is regrettably undeniable, and from left to right, Fabian Johnson, Geoff Cameron, John Brooks, and Deandre Yedlin to give both pace and attacking potential on the wings combined with two sturdy and consistent center defenders. Play Michael Bradley in his much preferred holding midfielder role as he has been practically begging to be played there. The two central midfielders in front of him I feel should be Jermaine Jones and Sacha Kljestan(I feel he has earned at least a chance to start with his play this season in MLS) to combine the physicality of Jones with the creativity of Kljestan. In attacking mid, Christian Pulisic. He has proven again and again to be our most creative player going forward and the offensive is more effective when they play through the 18 year old Borussia Dortmund product. Up top, the two strikers should be Bobby Wood as he has proven his worth the last few matches with a great work rate and looking dangerous in the attack, and Jozy Altidore, who has impressed me with his great play for Toronto FC in MLS. I believe this lineup best suits the needs of the US both attacking and defending. It’s just one person’s opinion of course, but I look forward to watching the US play in the future to see how they handle the adversity and how they look with no Jurgen Klinsmann.
How far do you think the USA can go in the next decade? Let us know in the comments below!
featured image by Erik Drost