To Tinker Or Not To Tinker? All Eyes On Klinsmann vs. Ecuador

IMAGE, MLSSOCCER.COM,

by PATRICK MacDONALD

OP-ED: While the Copa America cycle of friendlies technically began on Sunday against Puerto Rico, that match featured a number of players who aren’t even on the Copa roster. The U.S. really gets down to business tonight against Ecuador. Tonight we start to get an idea of how Jurgen Klinsmann, the eternal tinkerer, will approach the Copa Centenario.

By and large, there’s very little to complain about as far as roster selection goes. As noted in many other columns, the most glaring omission is Jordan Morris at forward. But with Jozy Altidore injured, Klinsmann seems to be erring on the side of caution bringing in Chris Wondolowski. With his experience, Klinsmann can’t be faulted for that.

The only other position to scrutinize would be left back. Klinsmann, has brought in two players capable of manning the position in Fabian Johnson and Tim Chandler. However, neither has played the position at the club level for some time. Common sense would seem to say Johnson will take over the left back spot despite starring on the left wing for the club and country when healthy. After all, Klinsmann does have a plethora of wing options to play ahead of Johnson.

But as we all know, sometimes Klinsmann gonna Klinsmann and we just might see the oft-reviled Tim Chandler make his way onto the gameday XI — despite many uninspiring caps for both club and country.

Now despite the overall meaninglessness of the match against Puerto Rico, there is some cause for concern to be taken from the encounter. For starters, Klinsmann’s penchant for playing guys out of position was quite prevalent. Sunday’s starting XI featured three defensive midfielders in a four-man midfield. Not exactly a recipe for success. One could argue it’s just a friendly and yes, that is the best time to try something abstract. But Klinsmann has previously fielded lineups that make little sense in matches that matter. The recent away tilt in Guatemala comes to mind. Hell, even in the World Cup we got Michael Bradley as a central attacking midfielder and Jermaine Jones as a left midfielder.

On this roster, Klinsmann has the players to field a sensible lineup. He’s shown when his back is against the wall, he has a penchant for practicality. One would assume he’ll walk into the Copa with that mentality instead of his misbegotten attitude of being the smartest guy in the room.

If he does that, if he goes into this tournament with a mind for tinkering, the giants of CONMEBOL will eat the U.S. alive. It’s that simple.

All eyes are on Klinsmann tonight. Will he tinker? Or will he be practical? If he goes with the former, expect a loud and rabid backlash by an already jaded fanbase.

That being said, expect him to go practical. Klinsmann is a smart guy and knows he can ill afford a bad Copa performance. The tone is set in the lead up to this tournament. Not putting his players in a position to win against Ecuador may be an omen of things to come. I mean, if players nearly started an insurrection in 2013 over his handling of the team, imagine what would happen in this tournament?

The tone starts tonight. And everyone will be waiting to see just how Klinsmann decides to set the table for this Copa run.

Projected Lineup: 4-2-3-1

Wood
Zusi – Dempsey – Pulisic
Bradley – Kitchen
Johnson – Brooks – Cameron – Yedlin
Guzan