USMNT vs Italy

Jurgen Klinsmann announced his roster for next week’s friendly against Italy. Finally we get to see Landon Donovan and Clint Dempsey in the lineup under Klinsmann after they hadn’t had the chance to play together due to health concerns and club commitments. That they are both listed as forwards is interesting to me, it could be nothing more than semantics, it could be indicative of the formation, or it could be a little bit of mind games by Jurgen against Cesare Prandelli, trying to make him think it’ll be a 4-3-3 but that he’ll roll out something else instead. Most likely it’s the middle choice, that we will see the attacking 4-3-3/defending 4-1-4-1 (which I’ll call a 4-3-3 for the purposes of this post because Klinsmann wants to attack) that Klinsmann’s been running since he took over. I think we might see this as the lineup:

 

This has been the preferred formation of Klinsmann since he took over, and to me it doesn’t best fit this team, I think Bob Bradley’s 4-2-2-2 worked very well but you can’t un-ring that bell. This is one of my concerns with Klinsmann, he has tried to fit a square peg into a round hole too many times in past matches. In fairness he didn’t always have a full talent pool to draw from for various reasons. We could also see more of a 4-1-4-1 by re-positioning Jones, Torres and Bradley:

Personally I think the first line up is better suited for this team. I’d prefer to see Torres in a central role and Jones and Bradley behind him. In the second lineup I can easily see Fabian Johnson getting the start over Jones, as he’s better offensively, with Bradley playing the role of holding midfielder that he excels at.

Up front

Jozy Altidore can not play solo (ditto Edson Buddle), so when attacking Dempsey and Donovan have to get forward to make it a 4-3-3 or even 4-4-2 depending on the run of play. But defensively it would be a 4-1-4-1/4-5-1 as they’re both midfielders by trade and have been playing lights out this year as midfielders. The flexibility of formation without making any substitutes can be a huge advantage. If a 4-4-2 is the best attacking shape, then the US can give the opponent fits by alternating between Donovan and Dempsey playing up front and keeping the defense on edge. If/when Altidore can’t get anything going Edson Buddle might/should get a look. Terrence Boyd is 21 and has never appeared in a first team match in his career so don’t expect anything out of him. I think Klinsmann just wants to take a look at him up close.

In midfield

Michael Bradley *should* be a lock to start, but Klinsmann’s been so reluctant to use him that it’s no sure thing. He’s best as a holding midfielder of course, but he’s played on the right side under Klinsmann so in a 4-3-3 I expect to see him there. I’d rather have Jermaine Jones than Maurice Edu starting but who knows. If Giuseppe Rossi starts maybe Jones can go studs up on him.* Johnson could be in that spot too, Klinsmann likes him and he’s a lesser known commodity than the inconsistent Jones and Edu so playing time wouldn’t be a bad thing to see what he’s got. But I think Jones gets the start. His two game stint as captain of the B team (made available by his 8 game ban in the Bundesliga) gave him the opportunity to impress Klinsmann into a starting role, and judging by his play and Klinsmann’s praise for him after the games it seems he did. Johnson will get his chances, but I think that seals a starting role for Jones in this game. Either one as the starter would be fine with me. If only Stuart Holden wasn’t hurt, they need someone in the center to attack with and pickings are very slim. Klinsmann’s used Johnson in that role once and it wasn’t bad, but Jose Torres is your starter given the limited options available. Klinsmann really likes him, he’s really good at free kicks and he’s the only player resembling a center attacking midfielder the team has available. Which is a problem. Torres has been inconsistent, so if he isn’t having a good game then options are severely limited. Donovan or Dempsey in the middle is a place they’re not accustomed to so pushing one of them inside on the fly against Italy is risky. I wouldn’t do it anyway, put your best players in their best positions and Donovan and Dempsey are on fire recently. Should Torres fail to generate offense, a real possibility, then the US is in trouble. I’d be surprised if Daniel Williams saw any playing time but his inclusion in the roster is not unwarranted.

*Rossi was never, ever going to play for the US, but that doesn’t mean I can’t dislike him for irrational reasons. And getting the start that bound him to Italy being a 2 goal effort against the US was salt in the wound.

The back line

This is almost obvious. Carlos Bocanegra‘s name in the lineup is chiseled in stone. Timmy Chandler‘s entrenched at LB as long as Steve Cherundolo (who is criminally underrated IMO) is in the lineup at RB, Cherundolo and Donovan can finish each other’s sentences on the right side and he’s a terrific defender (see: Milner, James) although he has the occasional bad game. The only question is who takes Oguchi Oneywu’s spot now that he is once again out with an injury. It would have been nice to see Omar Gonzalez get a shot, but he too is hurt. Personally I would go with Geoff Cameron to give him a chance but I could see Clarence Goodson there, which would be disappointing. We know what Goodson is: an okay starter against middling CONCACAF competition but will be outmatched against a team like the Azzurri. Michael Parkhurst and Jonathan Spector are nothing more than backups, although Spector can also play some defensive midfielder. I don’t expect or want them to get anytime in this game.

And of course Tim Howard is your starter in goal, with Brad Guzan as his backup. Nick Rimando also gets a call, and no offense to Rimando but why? He’s 32 and isn’t good enough to unseat Guzan as the #2, so why waste a roster space on him? I’d rather see someone with a future on the bench as an option, even if the chances they play are slim to none, as Rimando has no future on the national team. The team gains nothing by having three veteran keepers. If it was Bill Hamid, David Yelldell or Sean Johnson, that would be a little different although still unnecessary. Klinsmann has purposely limited his options.

Those left out

Sometimes the things you don’t do are as important as the things that you do. In this case, not calling in Michael Orozco Fiscal, Robbie Rogers and Kyle Beckerman are great moves. I haven’t been too keen on Klinsmann so not including them is a sigh of relief for me. All three were pet projects for Klinsmann in the summer, and all three failed to make a positive impression. I like that Klinsmann has given a bunch of players opportunities to make a name for themselves in an attempt to unearth any gem he can find. But he gave some weak players too much time. Orozco Fiscal has qualities that Klinsmann likes in his center backs: able to possess and distribute the ball, but crucially he stinks at defending. He couldn’t hack it on a terrible Philadelphia Union defense in 2010 and hasn’t impressed with his club team San Luis either. But Klinsmann kept giving him playing time and not calling in Cameron or Gonzalez, which was bothersome. Cameron is better in every aspect, Gonzalez is a better defender than either but weaker on the ball. But that’s moot right now since he’s injured. Rogers was another headscratching decision by Klinsmann. Both Orozco Fiscal and Rogers simply aren’t good enough, even as backups, they’re not even good pros. Beckerman is a really, really good player in MLS and a decent backup for the national team. He got plenty of chances to show he’s worthy of starting over/with Bradley, Jones or Edu as a holding midfielder and didn’t. Like Goodson as the 4th guy on that depth chart or starter against bottom ranking teams he’s fine, as a starter or first choice off the bench he’s just not good enough, especially considering the depth the team has there. Him on the roster isn’t a problem, but him starting is. By not being named to the team he can’t possibly start.

No Brek Shea or Sacha Klejstan is a little disappointing. Klejstan probably isn’t starter material but if he was on the roster he could be worth a try as a sub if Torres can’t get anything going, which could very likely happen. That speaks more to the lack of talent at CAM for the squad than anything, but with a bench so thin I don’t see a good reason to exclude him. He’s had a good season at the club level and by all accounts is noticeably progressing as a player. Shea has played well at times on the left side, and after his Klinsmann-arranged training stint at Arsenal I would think Klinsmann would want to continue to give him some attention by calling him in. Either Shea or Klejstan could easily take the roster spot of Rimando, with Klejstan making the most sense to me for depth reasons previously stated.

(Semi-)Final Analyis

Quibbling over a 3rd keeper aside, this is the best roster that could be put together. That sounds like damning with faint praise, but this is the first time in his tenure that you could say that about Klinsmann’s lineup. The notable omissions aren’t glaring, and the only starting XI decision that stands out is who plays next to Bocanegra, and that was forced by injury. The midfield starting lineup is a question mark but there are a few quality combinations that shouldn’t have fans complaining. I’m really looking forward to this game.

Too bad I’ll be at work during it. Set that DVR!

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