CONCACAF Gold Cup, US v. Panama: The “Klinsmann Experiment”? Is There a Method To the Madness?

by Chris Rios

Three hours before kick off. It’s 97 degrees Fahrenheit (that’s 36 Celsius for the Brits). I had arrived early to secure close seats in the general admission section, South Stands of Sporting Park in Kansas City. I was ready to watch Clint Dempsey, Fabian Johnson, Aron Jóhannssen, and more on the pitch less than 30 feet in front of me. Then I thought to myself…wait, who is going to play? Who is going to be in the starting lineup? Surely, I must I must be able to predict it. Then it occurred to me that I could only confidently name on starter: My main man Goose, Brad Guzan. He is the current foundation of our team along with Michael Bradley (how solid Bradley really is may be a topic for another time). Needless to say, predicting the starting lineup has become almost an impossible task. In this article I am going to focus on the specifics of our roster and only glance over our sloppy 1-1 tie last night. If you want a comprehensive summary and highlight follow this link. 

Minutes before kick off at SportPark
Minutes before kick off at Sporting Park

“The Klinsmann Experiment” is what I’ve started calling it. Adding new ingredients to the formula before every game. Sometimes getting rid of some ingredients all together… (Sorry, Jozy, Ventura, and Greg). Unfortunately for us, as fans, we are the unhappy patrons who have to eat this bullshit until he spits out the winning formula. Was I suffering through Monday’s game? No, because I was captivated by the moment of being around 20,000 Americans at a soccer game in weather that felt like it was over 100 degrees Fahrenheit (again, Brits.. that means it’s really hot). But was it painful when I watched it the second time? Oh, absolutely. If I had to taste that first half of soccer again, I might throw up. We were simply outclassed in the first half and we looked confused and tired. It was hot, no doubt, but that is no excuse for sloppy passes and, at times, just laziness. In the first half we looked more like the 1990 team (that didn’t make the WC) than a team that could make a run in the World Cup, but Klinsmann was not that surprised. klinsmann

Nine new starters in the line up. He knew exactly what he was doing. Klinsmann has been playing, watching, and coaching soccer for a long, long time. Whenever 11 players start in a game for the first time together, you’re not going to get a refined result. Furthermore, for many of the players on the pitch Monday, that game was as much about securing a spot in the starting 11 during the knockout stage, as it was about getting the win.

“The Klinsmann Experiment” is what I’ve started calling it.

It was a tryout, and that is how Klinsmann made it. He has essentially told the players, no one’s position is safe on this roster, and you have to earn your spot in the starting lineup every day. I think he has made that evident even before the last World Cup when he cut Landon, and he continued to make that clear when he sent Jozy home. I respect that about Klinsmann and I think it will serve us well in the long run, but right now, as viewers, we are suffering because the matches produced during any “tryout” type atmosphere are not generally beautiful. Sure, you have moments of brilliance when the best players on the pitch produce quick, brilliant combinations, like Clint’s back heel last night to Bradley, but on the whole the players are not familiar with each other so they cannot combine and create in the ways that teams with more experience can. Nonetheless, we have learned a few things from the “Klinsmann Experiment.”

I think it is safe to say that a few players are safe (I use this word lightly)… on the roster and, if healthy, for the 2018 World Cup: Brad Guzan, Michael Bradley and Clint Dempsey (age permitting.. ) are virtual locks, but everyone else’s position depends on their form over the next 3 years.

Klinsmann expects Brad Guzan, Michael Bradley, Fabian Johnson and Clint Dempsey (age permitting) to be key contributors in the next World Cup, but everyone else’s position is uncertain.   

Alejandro Bedoya
Alejandro Beodya surges down the field against Panama

I do think there are players on the current roster who are likely to be in the starting lineup in Russia, but the reality is that, at this point in time, it’s hard (and often impossible) to know how players are going to develop and what their overall form is going to be three years from now. Think about what was going on three years ago. DeAndre Yedlin was still suiting up for the Akron Zips. These “tryouts,” are teaching us who might be on their way up, and Klinsmann will give us an idea of who he’s hopeful for too in the knockout stage. As I mentioned in my last article, I think the game against Haiti showed us just how dangerous Zardes can be going forward with the ball at his feet, yet where he is most effective at is yet to be determined. I think we saw that Aron Jóhannsson can offer some creativity, quickness and skill that the Americans have lacked up top for some time now, but he needs to keep working on his strength and goal-scoring ability. Last night, we saw that Alejandro Bedoya, the veteran with 39 caps, from New Jersey, can still play.

Azerbaijan v United StatesUnfortunately, we also learned that there are some ingredients that really just are not working… of course, there are Jozy Altidore, Greg Garza, and Alfredo Morales, but let’s not let Chris Wondolowski and Timmy Chandler off the hook. I don’t want to spend much time on this because I do not like speaking negatively about my players, but to be quite frank, while Wondolowski is an excellent striker for the San Jose Earthquake in the MLS, he is not fast enough, technical enough, or strong enough to be an elite striker in international competition.

Wondolowski is an excellent striker for the San Jose Earthquake in the MLS, but he is not fast enough, technical enough, or strong enough to be an elite striker in international competition.

I would rather have Hérculez Gómez as my spark off the bench in the 72nd rather than Wondo, even at age 33, and that’s not even taking into consideration the tragedy of 2014 versus Belgium. As for Timmy Chandler, I noted in a recent article we should give him another chance because he is big and athletic… Well athleticism only takes you so far in soccer, at some point if you are making enough poor decisions you’re simply just not worth it, and that’s where I stand with Timmy Chandler. Just not worth it.

Timmy Chandler looks on as Panama scores to go up 1-0
Timmy Chandler looks on as Panama scores to go up 1-0

But let’s not forget the bigger picture! 2018 World Cup! We are through to the knockout round of the Gold Cup, despite playing poorly in three games, AND we finished at the top of our group! We had to suffer through the early stages of the “Klinsmann Experiment,” but those stages are inevitable. You have to try out different formulas before you get the winner, BUT it is only excusable if the formula eventually works. I trust that Klinsmann will find the one that does. He took Germany to the semifinals in 2006, and that’s what I hope of our team in 2018.  I think there is a method to the madness.

To close, I am going to try to solve the riddle and predict the starting lineup for our next game of the knockout stage (opponent still TBD), and then give the lineup I think should be starting. Keep in mind Brooks is out for the match due to yellow card accumulation.

Klinsmann’s Lineup

GK- Brad GuzanDempsey

DF- Fabian Johnson, Timmy Chandler, Omar González, Tim Ream

MF- Michael Bradley, Gyasi Zardes, DeAndre Yedlin, Kyle Beckerman

F- Clint Dempsey, Aron Johannsson

Rios’ Lineup

GK- Brad Guzan

DF- Fabian Johnson, DeAndre Yedlin, Omar González, Tim Ream

MF- Michael Bradley, Alejandro Bedoya, Gyasi Zardes, Mix Diskerud

F- Aron Johannsson, Clint Dempsey

So yes I’m pissed at Klinsmann for making us watch some of this bullshit, but I also have seen some sparks of brilliance and trust that “The Klinsmann Experiment” will eventually be heralded as the start of something that thrust us deep into the World Cup.

Next Up: The USMNT travel to Baltimore for their first knockout stage game, which is on Saturday July 18th. They will play the 3rd place finisher from group B or C.

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