How Klinsmann’s Constant Tinkering Will Hurt the USMNT

The United States continues to remain in flux, even though the 2014 World Cup is days away
by Herb Scribner   |   Friday, June 06, 2014

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The United States is not ready for the upcoming 2014 FIFA World Cup.

And a lot of that comes down to the never-ending tinkering of head coach Jurgen Klinsmann, who continues to move players in and out of positions with just days remaining before the World Cup kicks off. It’s not so much that he’s switching players between roster spots and replacing them with similarly positioned players. Instead, he’s putting players, even at this very late date, into new positions that make them and the overall team … weaker.

Take Sunday’s game against Turkey for example. In that match, Brad Davis, a career left midfielder who has proven to be the best in that spot in MLS over the last couple of years, played on the right. And Graham Zusi, who has made himself known across North America for his well-placed service from the right, was slotted on the left.

If the United States had capable defenders in the back to control the wings, this would be a little different and might not be as jarring. But much like Davis and Zusi, typical right defender Timmy Chandler played on the left, and had to move inside to get to his better foot. This often left him struggling to recover, as the Turkish attackers pressured and ran him down. Fabian Johnson used to play on the left for the USA, but has since converted to the right. Though he’s been somewhat successful, it is yet another shift by Klinsmann.

These last moves are just an example but part of the overall theme that for months, analysts and fans alike, myself included, have been harping about the continued tinkering by Klinsmann. He wants everyone to essentially be utility players, slotting into vastly different roles when he deems the team needs it, seemingly on a per game basis. But this presents a problem for the USA: the Americans can’t learn or perfect their positions and stay put, as many drift in and out of their preferred roles, causing chaos from one end of the field to the other. There is very little continuity outside of Tim Howard at goalkeeper.

The positional merry-go-round occurs in-game as well. One minute Michael Bradley will be ahead of the midfielder in an attacking role, but shortly Jermaine Jones will be ahead of him doing what looks to be the same thing. Jozy Altidore will find himself in the midfield, holding the ball and looking to pass it to a midfielder. Johnson will steam up the wing and score a goal, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing — except that it shows goals continue to come from players other than Altidore and the strikers.

The USA, simply, doesn’t know where and how to play together. And because players keep coming in and out of the lineup — like DaMarcus Beasley, who’s played much of this World Cup Qualification cycle as the left defender suddenly being benched, or Brad Evans, who played much of the last year as the right defender not even being called into the 23-man roster — dissolves the chemistry of the team. Just as they’re getting into form and gelling the right way, Klinsmann switches things. It’s even worse now, as by the time this team starts to figure out how to play together, it’ll be time for the World Cup.

And, maybe more importantly in the long run, this shows a definitive end to Klinsmann’s promise of a USA style. It’s very hard to build a certain style and playing philosophy when the talent is in constant flux. The passionate and attacking play that Klinsmann planned to incorporate has dissipated completely, as it’s now morphed into more of a makeshift “total football” style — which the USA doesn’t have the capability to do since players are still adapting and trying to work together.

No one has clearly defined roles and it’s showing on the field. The offense is haphazard at best and coming off random events instead of purposeful offensive buildups and momentum. It’s hard to really say the USA offense is even working, mostly because it’s so inconsistent and without form.

The United States only has days to fix this problem and it’s not likely to happen as Coach Klinsmann can now be labelled a constant tinkerer. The Nigeria game this weekend is the last chance the USA has to stop the tweaking and create some semblance of game-over-game consistency before the World Cup. But even if they do, even if they can find a way to make get at least 2 games with a mostly consistent lineup and players in their natural positions, it will likely be too late. Teams should have months and weeks working together in the right way — not days.

Klinsmann, the happy-go-lucky mad scientist from Bavaria, has spent the last 2 or so years experimenting in his Yankee laboratory. Even as the clock is about to strike midnight, he’s still doing it. No matter the results of the last set of experiments, he endures: tweaking this, switching that, removing steady Landycakes, testing unknown Green stuff and always seeming to add a dash of illogic to this week’s brew.

And all of that never-ending American alchemy can only lead to problems for the USA during the World Cup.

NEXT UP: June 7 – Friendly: United States vs. Nigeria, EverBank Field, Jacksonville, Florida. 6 p.m. EST, ESPN, WatchESPN, UniMas.


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SN managing editor and award-winning journalist, Herb has always been known as "The Soccer Guy" wherever he goes. He's a leftback in most outdoor and indoor leagues. He also writes for Deseret News National.