The United States was eliminated in the World Cup Round of 16 against Belgium. Landon Donovan criticized the team’s tactics, suggesting they should have taken a more proactive approach. He also believed Michael Bradley was played out of position.
“It’s a results-oriented business, and so, results-wise, you can hold your head high,” he said. “If you really look at the performances, there were some good performances by guys, some not-so-good performances by guys. As a whole, I think tactically, the team was not set up to succeed.
“They were set up in a way that was opposite from what they’ve been the past couple years, which is opening up, passing, attacking – trying to do that. And the team’s been successful that way. Why they decided to switch that in the World Cup, none of us will know. From a playing standpoint, I think the guys will probably be disappointed in the way things went.”
Landon does have 156 caps for the USMNT. But we can’t concede to his wisdom here.
Klinsmann needed to change tactics for the World Cup. In qualifying, the U.S. is normally the best team. In this World Cup, the U.S. was the weaker team on paper in each match it played. That was especially true against Belgium and Germany. Tim Howard may have made their World Cup squads as a backup goalkeeper. That’s about it. That raw 21-year-old striker Belgium threw on? He’s more accomplished than any American player at club level and may be worth more than the entire U.S. Starting XI combined.
The U.S. was not equipped to hold possession against those teams. Opening the field up would have been naive before Jozy Altidore was injured. After, it was inconceivable. The U.S. had to man the barricades, plug holes and hope the ball bounced their way in a 1-0 or 2-1 match. That’s what you do when you are not as good (or are better and coached by Jose Mourinho).
Michael Bradley was essential to this strategy. The U.S. needed three defensively adept central midfielders tracking back. Two plus Diskerud was not going to cut it. Klinsmann hoped Bradley could be both a DM and an attacking midfielder when the U.S. had the ball. He gave his best effort. It was too much to ask of him. He’s not Michael Ballack in his prime.
The required running affected his offensive game. But it also solidified the midfield and put less pressure on Jones, Beckerman and in the fourth match (Cameron) who had excellent matches.
Did Klinsmann get the most possible out of the U.S. 2014 squad? We won’t know. But, he came one finish away from getting them to the quarterfinals. “Success” depends on how one chooses to define it. But the team bought in, no one played well against them and they got farther than most anticipated they would. That suggests they were set up well. Far better than when they opened up and conceded four goals to Brazil, four to Belgium, three to Germany’s B-team and three to Bosnia and Herzegovina trying to be more ambitious.