Juergen Klinsmann has the makings of a longterm technical director. He should, if given the freedom, usher in the awaited player development overhaul. Those hoping for radical, short-term improvement on the pitch, however, may be cruising for disappointment. Klinsmann should “move the program forward” but the team he puts in the pitch through 2014 should resemble strongly the one that underwhelmed under Bob Bradley.
Klinsmann has clear tactical inclinations. He adjusted for injuries and opponents on occasion at Bayern, but, essentially, he plays an attacking 4-4-2. His ideal team would fuse English passion and energy with German organization, discipline and technique. Bob Bradley deployed a similar scheme and it’s hard to see Klinsmann tacking with a team so heavy on physicality and aggression and so light on deliberation and skill.
Looking at a potential Klinsmann lineup…
Goalkeeper: One of Klinsmann’s biggest moves with Germany was dropping icon Oliver Kahn in favor of Arsenal keeper Jens Lehmann. He won’t have to make such a decision here. The great U.S. generation of goalkeepers is nearing 40. No one capable of toppling Tim Howard has emerged.
Defense: Klinsmann’s Germany had a functional but unimpressive back four. He added some vitality through sprightly youngster turned star Philip Lahm. He will hope for a similar intervention from Timmy Chandler, because “functional” would be a best case scenario for the rest of the U.S. back line.
Juergen’s biggest challenge will be in central defense. He must clear out the aged and infirm and forge a novel pairing with little raw material. Ream should be one of the central defenders. Bradley canned him too quickly. He’s good on the ball and a solid defender on the ground. Some seasoning in Europe should ready him. They must pair him with someone good in the air. Assuming Onyewu does not discover the fountain of youth, I still believe Omar Gonzalez eventually wins the right. Left-back remains a black hole, with Eric Lichaj the best present bet.
Midfield: Possession is secondary for Klinsmann. He needs his central midfielders to protect the back four. At both previous stops, he played a straight holding midfielder with a more adventurous, but also adept at holding midfielder. With Germany it was Frings and Ballack. With Bayern it was Van Bommel/Borowski/Ottl. The best U.S. approximation would be Maurice Edu holding with Jermaine Jones as a Ballack facsimile. Michael Bradley, though productive in the right system, is too erratic on and off the ball to provide the necessary stability here.
Wingers/Forwards: Klinsmann likes two strikers fed by two energetic, creative wingers. He had the proper personnel at Bayern, playing Ribery and Schweinsteiger on the wings, along with Klose and either Podolski or Luca Toni with him in the box. I think Klinsmann, wisely, will turn down Agudelo’s burner for the near future. Given the mutual respect between him and Klinsmann, expect Donovan to play a pivotal role. Remember. It was Klinsmann who brought Donovan to Bayern.
Given U.S. personnel, I think Altidore will pair with Donovan/Dempsey up front and the other will pair with Stuart Holden on the wings. Adu should be on the bench to change pace, but assigning him a defensive quadrant would make him too much of a liability to start.
Chandler (RB) Ream (CB) Gonzalez (CB) Lichaj (LB)
Holden Edu (CM) Jones (CM) Dempsey
Donovan (F) Altidore (F)
Conclusion: Klinsmann will bring renewed enthusiasm, but that may not lead to immediate results. He will incorporate younger guys and make a few obvious changes, but, on the field, his formation, cast and ceiling should look similar to Bob Bradley’s. However positive his energy, the USMNT faces two unescapable facts. They aren’t as good as Mexico. World Cup success in Brazil still depends on the strength or ease of the draw.
[Photo via Getty]