Photo by Michael Janosz/ISIPhotos.com
By IVES GALARCEP
There are six weeks between now and the next U.S. Men’s National Team World Cup qualifier, a ton of time to think about what went wrong in the loss to Honduras, and plenty of time for players to play themselves into position to break into the USMNT starting lineup.
Let’s face it, we can’t possibly see that same starting lineup that looked so awful against Honduras yet again on March 22nd against Costa Rica. It just can’t happen, and if Klinsmann did turn to that same XI, he would open the door for even more questions about whether he really has a clue about just how to put together the best U.S. team.
Plenty could change in the next six weeks. Landon Donovan could wake up one day and decide he’s done with his soul-searching sabbatical. Brek Shea could get fit and break into the Stoke City starting lineup, and play himself into good enough for to be back in the national team mix. Maurice Edu could continue to play regularly at Bursaspor, and sharpen his game enough to earn the USMNT start he should have been given against Honduras. Steve Cherundolo could return early from knee surgery that is expected to keep him out two months, too long for return in the March qualifiers.
Even if most of those things don’t happen, we still need to see change. Klinsmann can’t go with that inexperienced back four, not against a Costa Rica side that boasts a strong forward tandem in Bryan Ruiz and Alvaro Saborio. He can’t stick with the same midfield that was so thoroughly outplayed by their Honduran counterparts. Klinsmann might also have to reconsider his decision to leave Herculez Gomez on the bench.
So what changes could come in the next six weeks? Here is a look at the squad, and what positions could be different when the national team takes the field in Colorado to take on Costa Rica:
Danny Williams didn’t get the job done. He was woefully ineffective and we shouldn’t expect that to change if he doesn’t start seeing more playing time at Hoffenheim. Maurice Edu looked like a much better option during his second-half appearance and Jurgen Klinsmann’s heavy praise of Edu after the match suggests he saw it too.
What remains to be seen is whether Klinsmann would consider Jermaine Jones for the defensive midfield role. He has stated repeatedly that he just doesn’t see Jones or Michael Bradley as ideal fits for the No. 6 role, but Jones has played that role for Schalke and played it well. Klinsmann might have to consider it in order to provide more of an attacking spark into his midfield while keeping both Jones and Bradley on the field.
Steve Cherundolo’s knee injury left the door open for Timmy Chandler to take hold of the right back spot, but he struggled badly against Honduras. Now with Cherundolo undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery it looks like he won’t be available for the March qualifiers.
Does Klinsmann go with Chandler again? Chances are he will and chances are he’ll have to. The only real scenario I can see that would have Chandler on the bench would be if Michael Parkhurst won the starting right back job at Augsburg. Parkhurst has yet to play a minute since moving to the Bundesliga though, meaning Chandler will likely have another pair of chances to prove he is the future of the position.
Eddie Johnson thrived on the left side against Antigua & Barbuda, but against a tougher Honduran side that made him work defensively and marked him well when he had the ball, Johnson was rendered ineffective.
The player who would make the best fit on the left flank would be Landon Donovan, but there is no way of knowing if he’s planning on being back and ready for March qualifiers. If he’s not in the picture, Brek Shea is another player who could be considered, but only if he makes a smooth transition to Stoke City.
You could argue that Klinsmann should consider doing away with the 4-1-3-2 we saw against Honduras and going with the 4-4-2, which could allow a pure left winger like Brad Davis to be a factor. That might make sense to some, but I don’t see Klinsmann changing systems to incorporate a player like Davis.
If Donovan and Shea aren’t available, Klinsmann might have to turn to Johnson against Costa Rica, but it’s tough to see Johnson working against Mexico in the second March qualifier.
It is unclear whether Herculez Gomez was completely healthy and just not used, or if he carried a knock into the Honduras match, but the fact that he didn’t play at all was surprising to say the least. The work he puts in defensively is invaluable, and his work also helps him create chances.
If you start Gomez then you have to either sit Jozy Altidore or playing him on the left flank, a position he isn’t completely unfamiliar with. The better question is whether Klinsmann will consider a 4-1-3-2 with true wingers supporting the flanks rather than having central-minded midfielders like Jones and Bradley serving as the “wide” players in the 3.
Do you keep Dempsey in a playmaking role or do you start him at forward and bring some other dynamic options into midfield? Players like Zusi and Joe Corona and Sacha Kljestan could do well playing in the hole behind the forwards, but that would be contingent on Klinsmann playing a 4-1-3-2 rather than a 4-3-3.
Bradley was listed as the playmaker against Honduras, but he’s not an attacking midfielder. He can serve as a box-to-box player, but when asked to be the main fulcrum of the attack it’s just a role Bradley isn’t suited for.
And exactly who is? Dempsey can handle that role, but he needs players around him who can move and pass and take pressure off him. That is something Donovan used to do very well, and right now there is nobody providing that sort of spark and threat to free things up for other American attackers.
Omar Gonzalez looked shaky at times, which is to be expected for someone with no experience in World Cup qualifying, but the U.S. can’t afford for Gonzalez to be learning on the job when the rest of the defense is also inexperienced in those kind of matches.
Bocanegra may not be the answer for the 2014 World Cup, but for right now, his experience is invaluable and if he’s healthy and playing regularly for Racing Santander then he has to be in the starting lineup vs. Costa Rica.
Is there anyone else worth considering? Not at the moment. Matt Besler isn’t any more experienced than Gonzalez while Oguchi Onyewu isn’t playing much for Malaga. Things could certainly change by June, when the Americans have three qualifiers, but for the immediate future, Bocanegra looks to be the best option to help provide some stability and experience to a team that was sorely needing it against Honduras.
A POTENTIAL STARTING LINEUP
Assuming these players are healthy, here is a lineup that would make some sense:
Here is a lineup I could see Klinsmann using vs. Costa Rica:
Again, a conservative lineup, but Klinsmann’s insistence on using Jones and Bradley in positions other than defensive midfield means almost any lineup he comes up with will lack some attacking spark.
And here is a best-case scenario lineup:
A dream lineup that only works if A) Shea’s playing and playing well at Stoke a month from now, and B) if Donovan returns to the LA Galaxy very soon and gets into match fitness heading into the MLS season. No, Bradley isn’t a playmaker, but he wouldn’t have to be with that quartet playing in front of him and Jones. This lineup would provide speed on the wings, would fit in the Bradley-Jones tandem Klinsmann is tied to, and gives the Americans two goal scorers up top (and yes, you could also replace Altidore with Gomez if Altidore hits a cold spell).
What do you think about the potential changes to the U.S. lineup? Which of the projected lineups vs. Costa Rica do you like more? What key change do you feel Klinsmann absolutely has to make going into the March qualifiers?
Share your thoughts below.