BY PATRICK MacDONALD
Staff Writer, USMNT
What a week for the U.S. Men’s National Team.
On Tuesday, Brian Straus of the Sporting News dropped a bomb (granted one that had been rumored for some time) highlighting some serious discontent amongst the players regarding Jurgen Klinsmann. Since Tuesday, big name players such as Carlos Bocanegra (who was one main focus of the piece), Tim Howard, and Michael Bradley have essentially diffused the situation. Geoff Cameron has gone so far as to say Klinsmann has made him a better player. Hercules Gomez expressed elation that the U.S. media actually gives enough of a damn now to write such an article.
The players reactions do give the U.S. fanbase a collective sigh of relief. But many questions from the Straus article linger. Who’s right? Klinsmann or the anonymous players?
The fact is, Klinsmann took the challenge head on and said all the right things. He was hired to change to culture, to bring American soccer to the next level. And while Bruce Arena and Bob Bradley did an admirable job, that means a wholesale change of tactics from the defend and counter fans are used to. If there was one player who was dead wrong, it was the one who suggested they go back to the old ways. Progress will never be accomplished with that attitude.
The key issue that Klinsmann pounded in is that there are going to be growing pains as these players are pushed to go beyond what they’ve been asked to do before. These growing pains are going to involve losses like the one the U.S. suffered in Honduras. That raises another real tough question for U.S. Soccer fans.
Would you sacrifice going to Brazil, if it meant winning in Russia?
It may very well come down to that. After Omar Gonzalez had a less than auspicious debut, many were screaming to have Carlos Bocanegra put back into the lineup because, well, God forbid the U.S. doesn’t qualify. How exactly would a U.S. team relying on a 35 year old Bocanegra or an inexperienced Gonzalez exactly fare in Brazil? Not well and almost, not worth it.
The point of the Klinsmann hire was to go beyond qualifying for the World Cup. It was to get the U.S. to the point where it’s a top ten World Class soccer organization. It’s a process that takes time and one that likely will be nowhere near complete come 2014.
By switching to Gonzalez, Klinsmann is preparing a very young and talented player for the future beyond 2014. It’s one small move that represents the total shift in philosophy around U.S. Soccer that will experience growing pains; growing pains that, however unlikely, may cost the U.S. a chance to play in Brazil. The thing is, it will have them plenty prepared for Russia and the recent coming out party for Luis Gil and Jose Villareal at the CONCACAF U-20 championships shows the philosophy shift is paying dividends for the future.
Now onto the match….
Despite the midweek turmoil, everything seems to be falling into place quite nicely for the match against Costa Rica. Game time temperatures are supposed to be in the 30′s with a little rain/snow thrown into the mix, which should make the Central American nation quite uncomfortable. There’s also word that Alvaro Saborio, the only Costa Rican player acclimated to the altitude and a dangerous goal scorer at that, picked up a knee injury that has him doubtful for this match. That’s a huge sigh of relief considering the makeshift backline expected to take the field for the U.S..
Except for the backline and keeper, the USMNT has it’s usual cast of characters in camp. They are stocked with plenty of talent to get the three points in Denver. Klinsmann may opt to stay aggressive against Costa Rica now with Saborio doubtful and stick with only one sweeping defensive midfielder, a role likely given to Jermaine Jones. Michael Bradley will likely be pushed further up to aide in the attack.
It’ll be interesting to see where Clint Dempsey, named captain for this match and Mexico, will line up. He could fit in on the left, in the midfield, or as a withdrawn striker. Considering he is wearing the armband, placing him more centrally may make the most sense, perhaps in a withdrawn striker role behind Jozy Altidore. In fact, Klinsmann hinted at this during his press conference Thursday afternoon.
Speaking of Altidore, he’s overdue for a coming out party for the International team. His form at AZ is too good for it to not carry over. Expect him to get on the board against Costa Rica.
All in all, the U.S. will come out unified and play a nasty game that will get them the win. It maybe more exciting then fans will want, but the U.S. wins 2-1.