The US Men’s National Team takes on Costa Rica this Friday in Colorado, needing a win to get things on track in the CONCACAF hexagonal. After falling 2-1 away to Honduras in early February, the heat is on coach Jurgen Klinsmann to get a result at home. Following reports this week that Klinsmann has lost his grip on the locker room, he can ill afford another setback in the World Cup qualifying campaign, especially on home soil.
The roster announced yesterday certainly lacks experience at the back, and soccer fans who don’t closely follow the MLS may have never even heard of defenders Tony Beltran, Matt Besler, and Justin Morrow. Those three have yet to play a minute for the US – although Besler did receive a call up for the Honduras game – but at least one of them will get the start on Friday with only 6 defenders on the roster.
Things do appear a bit better when we consider the midfielders and forwards. In the center of the park, Michael Bradley will be the key for the Americans, and should be handed the captain’s armband with the absence of Tim Howard and Carlos Bocanegra. Bradley has continued to improve this year in his first season with AS Roma, developing into the best box to box player on the USA roster.
There are other bright spots on this squad aside from Bradley. Jermaine Jones and Sacha Kljestan have featured in the Champions League this season, although neither have managed to replicate their club form with the national team. Joe Corona just faced defending champion Corinthians in the Copa Libertadores last Wednesday, and is a promising young player for Xolos de Tijuana. Brek Shea recently made the jump to the Premier League and is starting to ease in with Stoke City while recovering from a foot injury. Graham Zusi is blossoming into a star for Sporting Kansas City. Clint Dempsey hasn’t lit it up with Tottenham like he did last year for Fulham, but he is still the only true world class player that the USA has. Meanwhile, Jozy Altidore just broke Dempsey’s record for the most goals in a season by an American playing in Europe, currently sitting on 25 in all competitions with AZ Alkmaar.
Unfortunately, the individual skill of the above players has not quite added up to produce results so far in Klinsmann’s reign. There are varying theories as to why this is. A lack of training sessions together, long travel time from the players’ respective clubs, and fatigue from the grind of a long season certainly play a part in all international fixtures. Some question the tactical acumen of Klinsmann himself, while others claim that these players collectively are simply not up to the standards of top class international sides.
All of the above has played a part in Team USA’s mishaps over the years, but I’d like to believe that Klinsmann, despite any tactical shortcomings, is the right man to help improve US Soccer from the ground up so it can compete with the elite teams of the world. Many top US players are not Klinsmann’s disposal this weekend, including Howard, Timothy Chandler, and Landon Donovan. The absences make the job harder for the German, but such is the life of any manager. His roster appears to have a solid mix of experience and potential, and if the back line can come together he could field quite a decent side.
Klinsmann will need to send out the right combination of skill and grit in order to dictate the game against Costa Rica. Team USA must be wary of the pace of Arsenal youngster Joel Campbell, currently on loan with Real Betis in Spain, as well as the guile of Real Salt Lake man Álvaro Saborío. As the defense is clearly the weak link of this roster, the team will have to keep possession well, be disciplined at the back, and most importantly, score a few goals. A solid win can help deflect pressure off the coach and bring some optimism back to US Soccer.
My ideal line up (4-2-3-1):
Cameron Gonzalez Goodson Besler
Zusi Dempsey Shea
Goalkeepers (3): Brad Guzan, Sean Johnson, Nick Rimando
Defenders (6): Tony Beltran, Matt Besler, Geoff Cameron, Omar Gonzalez, Clarence Goodson, Justin Morrow
Midfielders (9): DaMarcus Beasley, Kyle Beckerman, Michael Bradley, Joe Corona, Maurice Edu, Jermaine Jones, Sacha Kljestan, Brek Shea, Graham Zusi
Forwards (5): Jozy Altidore, Terrence Boyd, Clint Dempsey, Herculez Gomez, Eddie Johnson