USA-Costa Rica Preview, Part One: As Pressure Swirls, A Proposed Plan of Attack for Klinsmann (Again)

As criticism swirls, Klinsmann will have to put on a happy face and grind out a result Friday night.

As criticism swirls, Klinsmann will have to put on a happy face and grind out a result Friday night.

Garrett McInnis and Neil W. Blackmon on the US Roster and What They’d Like to See Friday Night in Denver

Well, so much for having that steady presence in the back four. As I mentioned earlier this week I was hoping to see a defense of Timmy Chandler, Geoff Cameron, Carlos Bocanegra and Fabian Johnson.  As a result of injuries to Chandler and Johnson as well as a decision to leave longtime skipper Carlos Bocanegra behind the Yanks’ defense won’t even remotely resemble that guesswork on my part.  Instead we’ll be dealing with a younger crew that will be faced with immense pressure to get points in the next two matches. And, as I wrote, the search for continuity will have to wait, both for the training room to get less crowded and the manager to make some decisions.  Here’s to hoping they(and the rest of the roster) are up to the challenge.

What makes this all the more (scary) interesting is the sudden whirlwind of pressure circling Jurgen Klinsmann. The loss to Honduras wasn’t exactly shocking, but it did ratchet up pressure on the Americans to earn a result in the Costa Rica match, particularly with El Tri and the Azteca on the back-end of this camp. Omitting Carlos Bocanegra without question multiplied things, as did this very well-circulated by now, very fine piece of journalism from Brian Straus of the Sporting News, who wrote, among other things, that confidence in Klinsmann is in decline and that, specifically, his decision to omit Carlos Bocanegra from the starting lineup in Honduras was not well-received by the players, to say the least.

Magnifying things, you have a US team missing longtime savvy vet Steve Cherundolo, Fabian Johnson, Timothy Chandler and Tim Howard, who wore the armband in Bocanegra’s stead at the San Pedro Sula. It’s not exactly a full-blown panic, but the US seem to be in crisis and are one bad 90 minutes at the Rio Tinto from being in a full-blown state of panic. Cheery stuff, I know. Against that backdrop, let’s delve into analyzing the US roster for the next two matches and what to look for tomorrow night in Salt Lake.

Brad Guzan will need to direct traffic, not just be a great stopper, with such a young back four in front of him.

Brad Guzan will need to direct traffic, not just be a great stopper, with such a young back four in front of him.

Goalkeepers: Brad Guzan (Aston Villa, England), Sean Johnson (Chicago), Nick Rimando (Salt Lake)

Guzan’s your starter.  If you feel comfortable about anything happening at the back end of US Soccer on March 22, 2013, feel comfortable with Brad Guzan. He’s ready for this.  I really believe that.  In fact, it is not a stretch to suggest that the Yanks’ success over the next few weeks will not collapse as a result of Brad’s play.  If anything, he’s turned into a player that is a big asset for the Americans. Class international sides sometimes have a reliable goalkeeper as a deputy, but it isn’t common. In this respect, the Americans are blessed. His leadership will be essential with the young guns, MLS-alternative defense the US will be playing in the back.

Were he, heaven forbid, to go down for any reason Nick Rimando would get the next look.  This would happen because of Rimando’s experience & ability to withstand the pressure of the situation. He’s played well in CONCACAF Champions League matches in South America, is familiar with the tendencies of most the Costa Rican strikers, and is capable, ever so often, of the spectacular despite his vertically-challenged frame.  Fans should hope, however, that the US do not have to ponder that situation.

Tony Beltran is among the unproven internationals who face a huge moment Friday night. At least he's at home.

Tony Beltran is among the unproven internationals who face a huge moment Friday night. At least he’s at home.

Defenders: Tony Beltran (Salt Lake), Matt Besler (Kansas City), Geoff Cameron (Stoke, England), Omar Gonzalez (Los Angeles), Clarence Goodson (Brondby, Denmark), Justin Morrow (San Jose)

Crisis-mode? More or less. Two matches to prevent panic. Here we go.  As noted above, Johnson and Chandler are out, as is Cherundolo. Bocanegra is a healthy non-selection. Klinsmann had scouts go see Jon Spector, but he is also injured. Danny Williams, Klinsmann’s starter at the “6” in Honduras, is also injured, though that may end up being a break for the Americans, in all candor. Michael Parkhurst? Injured as well. Jose Torres available to distribute calmly at the “6” in Williams’ stead? Nope. Injured. Take a flier on a guy in really good form in Mexico even though he’s offered little internationally? Nope. Edgar Castillo is hurt too. So what do we get? The MLS Alternative. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it’s a group very lean on any meaningful US match experience.

To grasp the nature of what these youngsters are about to try to do, say it out loud. The US will go into the Hexagonal match at The Azteca with at least half of a backline without an ounce of experience.  That’s pretty scary.  The one good thing is that there’s some talent and some relative flexibility(especially with a few midfielders who can log time in the back).  I think you can go ahead and pencil Cameron in as a starter no matter what.  He’s been playing in the center for country, and that’s where he’s likely to stay. If he moves, it would be out to the right (where he plays for club, for the most part), but this move would force Klinsmann to play either a tandem of Besler-Gonzalez (no real objection here) or move Mo Edu back into the center of defense.  Clarence Goodson is an option too, I suppose, but can Klinsmann really risk his “once a game” mental lapse? It’s worth noting that Edu did start at CB in the win at the Azteca last summer, and he’s another guy who has been through these battles before.  Still, we’re looking for Gonzalez or Besler, paired with Cameron in the center at the whistle, giving the US a back four of:

Beltran-Gonzalez-Cameron-Morrow

Beltran is mostly an unknown internationally, and it is difficult to evaluate his resume based on the Canada match, because tactically that Canadian side offered nothing even remotely similar to what the Americans will see Friday night and next week in Mexico City.  It helps, however, that he will be playing on a familiar pitch Friday night. Familiarity is good in these types of situations.

Out left it seems like Justin Morrow will get the start, but there has been a buzz about DaMarcus Beasley(Welcome back, DMB!) dropping back to the backline. Here’s the problem with that: the US have done it before– (against Trinidad and Tobago, in the last qualifying cycle), and it wasn’t pretty. We think it safe to suspect that DMB would be only utilized there in extreme circumstances if the Americans  needed to move forward and push for a goal…basically utilizing a 3-5-2.  If all this seems a bit confusing…or like we are Don Quixote stabbing at windmills in the dark…well, just imagine how Jurgen Klinsmann feels.

Michael Bradley may get the arm band. And he'll be tasked with doing the nitty-gritty both Friday and in Mexico.

Michael Bradley may get the arm band. And he’ll be tasked with doing the nitty-gritty both Friday and in Mexico.

Midfielders: DaMarcus Beasley (Puebla, Mexico), Kyle Beckerman (Salt Lake), Michael Bradley (Roma, Italy), Joe Corona (Tijuana, Mexico), Maurice Edu (Bursaspor, Turkey), Jermaine Jones (Schalke, Germany), Sacha Kljestan (Anderlecht, Belgium), Brek Shea (Stoke, England), Graham Zusi (Kansas City)

This group is much more solid, diverse, and EXPECTED.  While there’s a slight surprise or three (Corona, Shea and DMB) every player here offers a tangible, solid tool to the team.  There isn’t a throwaway either– one could easily see all nine earning time depending on the situation.  DMB and Shea were certainly called in to offer some width going forward, something the team has sorely lacked.  Corona and Kljestan offer a bit of creativity and the ability to play some two-touch football and break down a defense, traits lacking from the other options.  Zusi brings distribution and has shown glimmers of meshing with the team well. Obviously MB90, JJ, and Edu are stalwarts that have been and will continue to be part of the team’s core.  It’s a huge chance for Michael Bradley, too. His playing time in Rome has lessened and he’ll need to be at his very best, perhaps even wearing the armband, to open up a Costa Rica defense that sometimes gets sucked out, both through laziness and because of their wacky formation. Look for Michael to be restored to his right-central role, and perhaps even allowed to move slightly forward to decrease the likelihood Jozy Altidore feels tempted to run back and find him early and often.

Kyle Beckerman should start Friday night on his home pitch. In Mexico, all bets are off.

Kyle Beckerman should start Friday night behind Bradley and Jones. In Mexico, all bets are off.

Beckerman offers a solid, if unspectacular, defensive mid that may be very much needed should MB90 or JJ pick up a second yellow card in the Costa Rica match. One brief and (we feel) fair aside: if Beckerman is good enough to bring in now, with a patchwork backline and a US team sitting on zero points, why wasn’t he on the roster before? The only answer is Danny Williams, and given his horrendous club form, that’s a bad answer. We digress.

Beckerman also is very much used to the altitude the team will be playing in on Friday(just as we noted Beltran is on defense).  In fact, I think it’s safe to say that the defensive midfield slot will be one of the most important on the team considering the shakiness of the backline.  Whomever starts at the 6 position will likely be spending a good bit of time doing some defensive second guessing. Regardless, Jurgen Klinsmann did about as well as could be expected when selecting this group.

Jon Levy will have much more on this in Part II, but– out on a limb- we think this lineup changes from Costa Rica to Mexico, and tomorrow night, we’re looking for:

Beckerman

MB 90-Jones

Dempsey

Forwards: Jozy Altidore (AZ Alkmaar, Netherlands), Terrence Boyd (Rapid Vienna, Austria), Clint Dempsey (Tottenham, England), Herculez Gomez (Santos Laguna, Mexico), Eddie Johnson (Seattle)

Like the midfielders, I think this is probably the best group of forwards the US could have picked.  Jozy’s in rare form for club and is surely on the verge of having that carry over to the national team. As Will Parchman wrote a few weeks ago at ASN– he simply has to be close– within “striking distance” even. Ugh. Their joke, not ours.

In these two matches– in this moment, Altidore should feel comfortable. As long as he resists the urge to drift bag and find the match too soon, it is almost an “in not now, then when” type situation.  It’s time for Jozy to have that moment and this could be where he grabs the reigns.

Clint Dempsey could play the slightly withdrawn, "free to roam" role he plays at Spurs if Gomez is slotted up top.

Clint Dempsey could play the slightly withdrawn, “free to roam” role he plays at Spurs if Gomez is slotted up top.

 

Meanwhile, Herculez Gomez has played well for Jurgen, working hard to cause problems for defenses and certainly someone that won’t be intimidated by playing in Mexico City. Gomez has also been playing brilliantly at Santos Laguna, is very familiar with nearly everyone on each opposing roster, and offers Klinsmann something out wide, where he has recently featured for club. He might be the most conservative– read, high upside, minimal risk– player to slot out wide without giving up too much defensively, and these are, without question,  two matches where absent the return of Bob Bradley’s “dual-destroyers”, the US will want to minimize risks to help cover defensively.  Gomez’s work rate ensures there is minimal risk, and if Klinsmann is worried about cover but also worried about who can best free up Clint Dempsey to be, well, Clint Dempsey, he’s the guy.

Finally, given the rash of injuries, it is great news that Deuce is healthy again and ready to go. There is tactical value in slotting Gomez into the lineup and then tasking him with hugging hashmarks to draw out center defenders. This allows Clint Dempsey, playing advanced in the midfield, to roam freely and attack space off the ball, and poach when things get chaotic towards the center. Duece has always been very good at the latter– and until his injury, he’d been a menace for Spurs at the former task for a couple months.

If Klinsmann does give Zusi or Kljestan a run out at home, we’d expect Altidore-Dempsey to be the striker pairing. If he’s smart, it will be Gomez and Altidore, tasked with opening space for Dempsey by drawing as much attention as possible to wider positions.

Overall, it’s probably an above-average roster, especially going forward.  The clear questions are in the back, but those were the questions even if everyone was healthy.  The big picture is that whomever starts on defense, they have to play better as a group & they have to give us something solid to build an offense from.  While these kids are unproven, they have the capability to give us what we need.  They can’t play scared, but they must play smart. And that’s always easier to type and ask than to execute.

Garrett McInnis is a regular contributor to the Yanks Are Coming. He can be reached at garrettmcinnis@gmail.com and you should follow him on Twitter @captainmcinnis. Neil W. Blackmon is Co-Founder of The Yanks Are Coming. He can be reached at nwblackmon@gmail.com and you can follow him on Twitter at @nwb_usmnt

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