Thursday, August 25, 2011

US Roster for Costa Rica & Belgium

Today, Klinsmann named his roster for the next two friendlies - vs Costa Rica in LA (9/2) and vs Belgium (9/6) in, well, Belgium somewhere.  When these games were announced initially, I assumed that we'd see a mostly MLS contingent here at the Home Depot Center vs CR and a European based side vs Belgium.  But Klinsmann has clearly followed through with his decision to try to field the best team every time out when possible.  Obviously, the roster will likely change some between now and next week, but the fact that I'll see Tim Howard and Clint Dempsey back in LA eight days from now is still rather shocking.

Tim Howard, Bill Hamid

CBs: Carlos Bocanegra, Clarence Goodson, Tim Ream, Michael Orozco
RBs: Steve Cherundolo, Timothy Chandler
LBs: Edgar Castillo, Heath Pearce, Zach Loyd

(Edit 8/29 - Pearce and Loyd out due to injury.  Jonathan Spector called into camp.)

Clint Dempsey, Maurice Edu, Kyle Beckerman, Sasha Kljestan, Brek Shea, Jose Torres, Robbie Rogers, Fabian Johnson, Jeff Larentowicz

(Edit 8/29 - Dempsey opting to stay in England because of back spasms and will join team before Belgium match.  DC United's Chris Pontius called up.)

Landon Donovan, Jozy Altidore, Juan Agudelo, Teal Bunbury

I refrained from breaking down the midfielders and forwards in terms of specific positions because no one really knows what Klinsmann has in mind (Jose Torres on the wing, Michael Bradley as attacking mid, huh?).  Defensively, the positions are obvious.

Most of the players on this roster were also called up to the Mexico friendly.  I'm a little surprised that Klinsmann didn't decide to bring in another set of prospects to look at.  For the camp vs Mexico, he brought in 9 fresh faces that weren't necessarily in the current US fold.  This time, only 2-3 guys will have a fresh tryout depending on how you look at it, and really only one completely new prospect (Fabian Johnson).  Does that mean that if the World Cup were tomorrow, he would continue to pick Castillo, Orozco or Pearce?  Is this what he thinks is our best lineup?  That would be difficult to believe, or accept.

But what I find hardest to believe is the list of midfielders here.  At the end of the last cycle, the one part of our team that seemed to be all set for Brazil 2014 was our midfield.  But on this roster, Dempsey and Edu (and perhaps Donovan depending on where he will be used) are the only veterans of the bunch.  Dempsey, it should be noted, will be coached by Klinsmann for the first time and it will be interesting to see how and where Klinsmann deploys him.

Jozy will also be in a Klinsmann camp for the first time and he is on a hot streak, having scored 5 goals in just 3-4 games for his new club.

Other first time call-ups to a Klinsmann camp include: Sasha Kljestan, Fabian Johnson, Jeff Larentowicz and Teal Bunbury.  The two that US fans won't be as familiar with are:

Fabian Johnson - Born in Germany to an American serviceman, Fabian is a young, exceptionally skilled winger and fullback who can still decide between Deutschland or the US.  There seem to be several of these eligible players in the German pipeline - defender Daniel Williams, etc. 

Jeff Larentowicz - Looks like Klinsmann is giving strong MLS performers a chance too.  I don't care for him at all, just as I didn't care for Beckerman, but Beckerman did do better than I expected.  However, does this continual tryout of defensive mids mean that Klinsmann isn't that happy with our current crop - Bradley, Jones and Edu?

The Omitted, Forgotten, or Overlooked
It wouldn't be a post without a discussion on who's missing.  I've categorized them below.

Bob Bradley's Brood: 

Michael Bradley - Klinsmann actually came out with a statement saying that the reason Bradley was not selected was that 1) he needs to sort out his club situation before the transfer deadline next week and 2) hasn't been playing any matches.  Up to Klinsmann's hiring, Bradley had been part of the core along with Howard, Donovan and Dempsey, so it will immensely interesting to see how this will play out.  I still think he is the best defensive mid we have, but does he fit in Klinsmann's tactics?

Jermaine Jones - Omitted for the same 2 reasons as Bradley.

Freddy Adu - Possibly its because Freddy is still getting acclimated to the Union, but this is unclear. 

Benny Feilhaber - He was also left off the roster vs Mexico, so perhaps Klinsmann just doesn't rate him highly.

Alejandro Bedoya - Perhaps it is because he has just moved to the Rangers, but it is strange that the initial reports had him called up to this camp.

Eric Lichaj - Likely another case of a possible impending transfer next week.

Klinsmann's Crew:

Ricardo Clark - Klinsmann also included Clark in his explanation for excluding Bradley and Jones.  I didn't realize Clark was in a similar club situation as those two.  And I didn't realize Clark was so indispensable that Klinsmann felt the need to give a reason for his absence.

DaMarcus Beasley - Didn't play vs Mexico, wasn't called up a 2nd time.  Reports are that he's doing well in the Mexican league though.  Hmm.

Edson Buddle - With Jozy back healthy, its a goodbye to Buddle.

Got Overlooked for Jeff Larentowicz!?!?:

Mikkel Diskerud - You would think this is the kind of creative talent that Klinsmann would love to try out.

Josh Gatt - Perhaps Klinsmann is waiting for this young attacking midfielder to get to his 20s first.

Omar Gonzalez - Uh oh.  A young, strong, fast, athletic CB of the future getting overlooked for a game held right in his home stadium?  Klinsmann was also recently at a Galaxy game to scout him firsthand.  Is he not in Klinsmann's plans at all?

George John - Likely a case of letting this MLS standout CB get settled at Blackburn first.

Zak Whitbread - This is more puzzling.  A strong performer on a EPL team should get a look over Ream or Orozco, at least.

Anyway, why this long post about a friendly roster?  Because its Klinsmann's 2nd game.  And because I'll be in the 4th row watching Howard and Dempsey do their thing.  (Edit 8/29 - or not.  craaaaap.)

Thursday, August 11, 2011

1-1 Draw vs Mex in Klinsmann's US debut

A poor first half where we gave up an early goal, then an energetic come from behind attack in the 2nd half - sure sounds just like the same familiar story as always, doesn't it?  Except, this time, Klinsmann's debut gave our team a completely different feel and look.  Just as he is fond of saying these days, I am also in a learning and understanding mode, so I will not pretend to know what formations or which personnel are best for the US.  However, here are some of my observations anyway, pouring out from my entrenched and probably incorrect traditional assumptions.

Random Observations:

- Three defensive minded CMs does not work.  Bob Bradley actually tried Jones, Bradley and Edu at the same time before and it was horrible.  This time, Klinsmann started out with Beckerman and Jones shielding the backline with Bradley centrally above them.  It is no wonder we were on our heels early in the first half.  Essentially, we only had 3 offensive minded players to start the game - Donovan, Torres and Buddle.

- Speaking of defensive center mids, I thought Beckerman was a step slow to the ball and was very slow on the ball.  Klinsmann and many other experts seem to love his performance last night, so maybe I have to go review the match, but I thought he got beat to loose balls time after time and he was ineffective in his passing when he had it.  I'd rather we start Jones and Bradley back there and place 4 offensive attackers in front.
(Edit 8/12 - after rewatching the match, I must concede that Beckerman played much better than I thought.  Knowing that Klinsmann wanted to build possession from the back, Beckerman clearly outplayed Jones in terms of distributing and making the quick, simple pass.)

- Castillo was no worse than Bornstein.  He also left us slightly vulnerable at times and needed his speed to recover back, but did he have a hand in giving up 3 goals?  nope.  However, we need to keep trying out other options.

- In fact, though we did not possess or attack well for most of the first half, our defense did not give Mexico many good chances at all.  Their goal was just a moment of luck.  True, Chicharito and Dos Santos were not in and its clear that Cherundolo starting for us made a huge difference.

- Michael Orozco, whom Bradley would probably never have called up, was not exposed and didn't lose his temper, even when things got chippy between Cherundolo and Guardado.

- Shea and Rogers were very effective running at the defense and may be suited to this kind of substitute energy role when we need it.  Shea especially was aggressive and threatening.

- Torres was not effective early but became more so when more attacking players entered to play alongside him.  He is best deployed centrally but not defensively.  It will be very interesting to see how Klinsmann wants to deploy him.  I would think a deep-lying playmaker alongside a defensive bulldog, like a Pirlo next to Gattuso, as the two central midfielders in front of the backline would be ideal.  But our backline would have to be solid first.

- I am now much more willing to see Edu, or perhaps Clark if absolutely necessary, at CB.  I think having slow CBs is a huge liability against fast strikers.  Speed and strong aerial ability are the two most important factors now.  For me, Clark has no business playing in a Klinsmann-coached midfield.

- Our forwards still need work.  Buddle was noneffective, which is possibly due to a lack of midfield service early on, while Agudelo spent too much time on the ball.  I get the feeling that Klinsmann wants fewer touches and more movement off the ball. Agudelo did feed Shea for the assist before the assist, and his ball over the top to Rogers should have resulted in the winning goal.

- We should have won last night.  Bocanegra's 2nd half header was stopped only on an extraordinary Ochoa save, Donovan should have had a penalty while weaving through their defense in the box, Rogers would have been 1 on 1 vs Ochoa had it not been for Torrado's obvious red card worthy NFL tackle, and Torres and Clark both sailed good chances to score from distance late.

- How will Dempsey, Adu, Feilhaber or Holden be incorporated into Klinsmann's plan?

From what I see right now, these are our best attacking players:
Altidore, Agudelo, Dempsey, Donovan, Torres, Holden, Adu, Shea and I guess Rogers (only because of his goal last night).  (Feilhaber, Bedoya, Kljestan and Beasley possibly as well.)  Of these 9, I'm thinking at least 5 need to start against inferior teams in Concacaf and at least 4 need to start against the Spains and Brazils of the world.


Klinsmann's postgame remarks were extremely interesting as well.  I think he will be giving a lot more useful information in interviews for fans to understand how the team is developing and improving than Bradley ever did.

- Players were instructed to play out the back, instead of just hoofing it downfield when pressure came.  They were to try to win their one-on-one battles or situations.

- Mexico's goal "was more like a coincidence than a real goal, they didn't really have real chances."  Haha.

- Landon, Brek and Rogers were the 3 players he picked out as having the ability to go one-on-one.

- In terms of biggest area of necessary improvement, he said that a team's backbone is the back four and that eventually, they need to be more comfortable with moving further up and connecting with midfielders.  They will need to be comfortable with the ball in a higher pace of play instead of just launching long balls up front, as we've been apt to do.

- He instituted the nameless jerseys and 1-11 numbering for starters so that they know "it's a fight going on for those numbers".  Nice.  Although my #17 Jozy shirt is no good anymore though...

- In terms of who will be called up for future national team games: "I made that clear to the players that we expect them in camp every time because they have to defend or fight for their spot. We’d like to double the positions so there’s always a challenger behind each established player, whoever occupies that position."  This is very interesting, considering I was expecting to go to Home Depot Center on Sept 2nd to see a bunch of C team players from the MLS vs Costa Rica.  But I'll believe it when I see Howard and Dempsey on the pitch that night.

The last two points signify one of the major departures from the Bradley era, a change that perhaps only a coaching change can really bring.  This is perhaps the biggest argument for changing national team coaches every WC cycle.  Klinsmann is saying that there will no longer be entrenched and untouchable starting spots for anyone and that everything is open for competition.

That said, I believe that after he takes this year to look at a wide selection of players, by the time WC qualifying comes along next summer, he will settle on his own favorites and use them fairly heavily in preparation for WC 2014.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Klinsmann's Roster for Mexico friendly

Klinsmann's highly anticipated first ever roster was announced last Thursday and has been updated with a couple substitutions since.  I've decided to divide the group into a few categories: Bradley Holdovers, Not a Surprise, and Klinsmann's New Faces.  (Positions as officially listed by US Soccer)

Bob Bradley Holdovers  - No surprise, still part of US' core

GK Tim Howard - Still Klinsmann's #1.  Could be captain.

RB Steve Cherundolo - might Hannover's captain now be given the US armband?

CB Carlos Bocanegra - will he still be captain?

CB Clarence Goodson - Brondby's new captain probably won't be the choice here.

CM Michael Bradley - wasn't banished to oblivion as so many Bob Bradley haters probably wanted to see.

CM Jermaine Jones - riveting to see if and how MB and JJ will be deployed together.

CM Maurice Edu - initially called but replaced after injury.  It would have been interesting to see Klinsmann's central mid choices with Edu around.

F Landon Donovan - A Klinsmann favorite, Donovan's my guess for captain.

Not a Surprise - but not part of veteran core either

CB Tim Ream - not an auto call-up, but he's been in the national fold since this year.

RB Timothy Chandler - initially called in but Klinsmann and his Nurnberg coach decided to keep him in Germany and release him for the Costa Rica and Belgium friendlies instead, which is surprising since the Costa Rica friendly is in the US.

LM Brek Shea - Bradley probably would have also brought this left-sided talent into the fold this summer.

F Freddy Adu - Klinsmann clearly also appreciates Adu's skill set and increased maturity.

F Juan Agudelo - Young, full of potential and he's been the 2nd forward on the depth chart since earlier this year.

Klinsmann's New Faces - the players whom were unlikely to be on Bradley's call sheet.

GK Bill Hamid - even though I've predicted since last summer that he may be Howard's successor, it is still a surprise to see such an early call-up for this youngster.  Guzan's absence may indicate that he's no longer the undisputed #2.

LB Edgar Castillo - after all the changeover hype, he only played for the US once in 2009.  He certainly needed to be looked at since he can't possibly be worse than Bornstein.  In fact, he's probably just as fast with a much better offensive skill set.  Attitude?  we'll have to see, Bornstein was at least likable to be around.  (Eric Lichaj, our most recent LB starter was injured.)

LB Heath Pearce - Bob Bradley, having come to the conclusion that Bornstein was better than Pearce when making WC 2010 selections, hadn't given Pearce another look since.  Klinsmann will.  By the way, Bornstein was not called in.

LB/CB Michael Orozco - another defender from Mexico's Primera division, Orozco was never given a serious look for the senior team after throwing a red card elbow during the '08 Olympics.  He can play LB or CB, I believe.

CM Kyle Beckerman - this was a confounding selection to me since he plays central midfield in the MLS and shouldn't sniff any daylight with Bradley, Edu, Jones or Holden in the mix.  Why not Mikkel Diskeruud?  Plus, there are 7 midfielders listed and all but 1 play central midfield.  What's wrong with this picture?

CM Ricardo Clark - having not seen from him since getting subbed out halfway through the 1st half of the Ghana game, Ricardo will get another look from Klinsmann.  Perhaps Klinsmann likes him since he's plying his trade in Germany, but this is probably the most disappointing call-up next to Beckerman.  If Klinsmann is all about improving our first touch, why call up Mr. Bricks-for-feet now?

CM Jose Francisco Torres - Pretty much the poster boy for the fan's anti-Bradley sentiment until Klinsmann took over, it would have been a surprise if he were not called up.

F Edson Buddle - I assumed his national career was over after doing nothing in the last WC and being too old for the next one.

F DaMarcus Beasley - just plain shock when I saw his name.  I would love to see him back in the fold, but I hope his form, dedication and work ethic has returned with him.

Injury Replacements

LB Zach Loyd - With Chandler out, a promising LB from the MLS is brought in to try out for our most needy position.  I predicted last month that he would make the 2014 WC roster bench.

LM Robbie Rogers - The extremely unpopular Bradley selection for the Gold Cup also failed to make any gameday rosters in June.  US fans can't be too happy to see this speedy winger chosen to replace an injured Edu.  Klinsmann apparently played rec league soccer with a young Rogers a few year ago.

Random Observations:

- As for those regulars omitted completely, Clint Dempsey was left behind so he could establish himself with a new boss at Fulham.   Jozy Altidore just changed clubs (and scored vs PSV in the opener - hopefully a sign of goals to come).  Who knows about Alejandro Bedoya, but its likely he is still in Klinsmann's plans.  Hopefully Sasha Kljestan is not.

-Where's Benny Feilhaber?

- US Soccer obviously knows that Donovan and Beasley are usually midfielders so perhaps its a shift in tactics?  4-3-3?  Beasley and Donovan as wide forwards?  I have a hard time seeing it but maybe its just cause I've been brainwashed with American conservative tactics for years now.  I will not attempt to predict a formation or starting lineup this time.  It must be noted that Klinsmann used 4-4-2 at both Germany and Bayern Munich.

- Having talked about wanting to incorporate the Latin game in US Soccer, Klinsmann called in 3 Mexican American players from Mexico's Primera League - Castillo, Orozco and Torres.  I'm surprised he didn't call in Herculez Gomez to round things out.  Beasley also now plays in the Primera.

- Again, there are now 6 central midfielders and 2 wingers ( Shea and Rogers).  If you count Donovan and Beasley as wide midfielders, then there are 4.

- Galaxy CB Omar Gonzalez always seems to be line for a call-up but keeps getting overlooked.  If he isn't considered for the Sept Costa Rica match at Carson, he should be very concerned.

- Assistant coaches brought in for this game are: US legends Tab Ramos and Thomas Dooley, and former Klinsmann assistant at Bayern, Martín Vásquez.  All 3 of these coaches played for the US, but interestingly, none were born here - Ramos is born in Uruguay, Dooley from Germany and Vasquez from Mexico (he even played for Mexico).  Other coaches include goalkeepers coach, Mike Curry, and conditioning coach, Mark Verstegen.

- The most interesting statement from Klinsmann in today's Grant Wahl article: "The difference between the top 10 in the world and where we are right now is the technical capabilities and the higher pace. In a high-pace, high-speed environment, to keep calm on the ball, to sharpen your minds so you know what to do with the ball before you get the ball. That's the difference right now. You might have technically gifted players here, but once you set the pace two levels higher, they lose that technical ability because they're getting out of breath or their mental thought process isn't fast enough."

Monday, August 1, 2011

Klinsmann - New USMNT Head Coach

As expected, Klinsmann was named the new head coach on Friday, just one day after Bob Bradley was surprisingly relieved of his duties.  Initially, I was also surprised that Klinsmann was still the preferred replacement, especially after what seemed to be an unhappy conclusion to negotiations with Gulati after WC 2010.  Klinsmann came out afterwards and said that the USSF president refused to put on paper what he had promised in person.  We all speculated that it was likely about how much control Klinsmann would be given.  But when Grant Wahl conveyed immediately after Bradley's firing that the new hire would not be a surprise, his identity was obvious.

In his press conference, Klinsmann didn't spend much time talking about the state of the current men's team, or even how the squad should specifically improve after losing to Mexico in the Gold Cup Final.  In fact, he simply said that there wasn't "anything wrong with the team".  Hmm.  Instead, he spent a lot of time talking about the development of soccer in the United States on the whole, how developing young players in the US system is unique from the rest of the world, and how much he still wants and needs to learn.  He also said that he would not be selecting permanent assistant coaches immediately but was open to essentially auditioning different soccer minds in the US.  Hmm.

This as a followup, if you remember, to his comments last summer as an in-studio ESPN analyst for the WC, when Klinsmann famously said that the US system for developing players was upside-down - that only in the US will parents pay for their youth to play on teams, hoping for eventual college scholarships.  Subsequently, Klinsmann also seemed to say that since the US system inherently fast-tracked youth whose parents could afford to pay, US Soccer was missing out on the talent from the inner city and poor.  Thirdly, he hypothesized that developing technique, especially a great first touch, comes from endless hours of pickup games and other non-organized (coached) activity, which is lacking in the US, as opposed to a sport like basketball which especially flourishes in the inner city. 

All of this sounds great.  This country needs someone with the highest level of experience in the football world who also understands the US environment from bottom up.  We've never had a coach with the grand vision with the end goal of systematic change that he does.  He seems to be perfect for US Soccer.  But for the position of Technical Director, not Head Coach.  Bradley was fired because he lost to Mexico at the end of a stagnant and mediocre year.  The senior team is not playing well at all.  Fixing this must be his top priority.

What Klinsmann is envisioning and describing is possibly a 10 to 20 year process.  He is talking about revolutionizing how we identify, then develop our players.  Remember, this isn't a small European country where it is much more possible to implement wholesale changes quickly.  No, we are talking about the 50 States of America, with countless different cultures and economic situations over a huge land mass.  It doesn't help that we do not identify ourselves as a soccer country, nor is our national pride at stake when it comes to our soccer team.  This is an enormous task, but Klinsmann only has a 3 year contract.  In addition to all this, Klinsmann isn't known for his tactics or game preparation.  Apparently, as coach of Germany in 2004-06, he left that all to Jogi Low, the current German coach.

So, all that to say, I was hoping Klinsmann had a detailed plan of what he wanted to accomplish immediately.  I wanted him to come in with assistant coaches in tow, especially one with a tactical mind.  I wanted him to be in execution mode, not in the research stage.  I wanted him to install what his vision of our team identity would be and how we would play.  I wanted him to know which players who are currently out of the US Soccer fold will be invited in now (and which will be ousted).  Perhaps he IS ready.  Time will tell.

One thing he mentioned in the presser of great interest to me was that he thought that our country's overall mentality toward success is a proactive approach, not a reactive one.  Basically, he observed that we as a nation would prefer to risk and attack, not sit back and defend.  Should he follow through on this, it would represent a major shift in US soccer philosophy, especially from Bob Bradley's regime.  In the end, we will find out if we play the way we play purely because of our personnel's skill set, or because of a coach's (or an entrenched system's) mentality.  Perhaps it is both, intertwined from the beginning all the way from the youth level.

Anyway, these are the tangible team goals that I think Klinsmann must accomplish this cycle.  You know Bob Bradley knew full well what his aim was.

1) Beat Mexico at home in qualifying. - Klinsmann needs to understand how important this rivalry is to US Soccer.

2) Win the 2013 Gold Cup.- Even though Mexico won't bring their A team (and neither will we), we can't let them take our regional championship 3 straight times.

3) Finish 1st in Concacaf Qualifying. - Bradley did it, so must Klinsmann.  Fortunately, our path to Brazil 2014 is fairly easy and it probably allows him to do a little more experimenting with younger players.  However, Bradley finished first, he should too.

4) Reach knockout rounds in WC, preferably at least the quarterfinals.  - It would be one step beyond Bradley.  We haven't been that far since Bruce Arena did in 2002.

USMNT Big Picture Goals

1) Refresh our team with young talent - especially defensively and at striker.

2) Choose more technical players and plan to hold more possession. - Perhaps call in players like a Jose Torres, who has not received a call-up since his ill-fated 1st half vs Slovenia in WC 2010.

3) Establish our team's new identity. - One of the most interesting things to see is whether he continues to deploy what US fans deride as the empty bucket - two central defensive midfielders.  Since Klinsmann was a striker, I'm guessing he'd prefer to play a 4-4-2, with one def central midfielder and one creative playmaker under the forwards.  However, with the lack of proven talent at forward, he may instead opt for a 4-5-1.

The last matter of interest is whether Michael Bradley will keep his starting spot.  Already unfairly accused of nepotism, Bradley's reputation will be greatly improved if Klinsmann re-installs him at defensive midfield.  I have no predictions on this, or really on what effect Klinsmann will have on the entire team.  I definitely welcome the change that he brings, but he better be in the knockout rounds of Brazil 2014 with Mexico's scalp tucked into his belt along the way.