-Editor's Note: This is an opinion-based article. Views expressed here are that of the author's only and do not necessarily reflect the blog as a whole.
There’s an old saying that goes "time is money." With that in mind, why invest two hours in something? Well, one reason would be the potential to make money. Another reason would be for entertainment value, which we all know, also costs money and or time. A third reason would be out of sheer necessity of survival. So, given all those reasons, why the heck am I watching the USMNT at the moment? My survival certainly isn’t dependent on the outcomes of the games or me watching them (although don’t tell that to 2010 me watching the USA/Algeria World Cup game) and I don’t make any money watching the games. That leaves entertainment value, and this is where I get to my point. Watching the U.S. Men’s National team at the moment is not a fun way to spend two hours.
I remember when the U.S. first hired Bob Bradley. It was after the 2006 World Cup, and U.S. Soccer President Sunil Gulati had a decision to make. One of the hottest names in coaching at the time was free agent Jürgen Klinsmann. He had just led the "German revolution" at that year’s World Cup in his homeland, guiding Die Nationalmannschaft to a 3rd place finish and planting the seeds for the dominating Germany squad we have today. Klinsmann left that Germany side and had expressed interest in replacing Bruce Arena as the head man for U.S. Soccer. I was ecstatic. This charismatic goal-scoring machine that I once loved to watch wanted to coach U.S. SOCCER! Unfortunately, Gulati balked at giving Klinsmann the type of total control over the USA setup he wanted, and Klinsmann turned down the job. Bradley would be the coach of the U.S. until he was relieved of his duties following a loss to Mexico in the 2011 Gold Cup Final. Once again, Jürgen Klinsmann was out there and this time, Gulati pulled the trigger. Finally, the U.S. had their man.
So how did we get to where we are now: A team that is not fun to watch and struggles to 0-0 draws at Trinidad and Tobago and loses in friendlies to Costa Rica and Gold Cup semifinals to Jamaica (a game this poor soul was actually in attendance for)? Klinsmann promised a more free-flowing attacking style when he took charge of the Yanks, but honestly, I’ve never watched a game of a Jürgen lead U.S. side and thought "Hmm, this team looks much different than it did under Bruce Arena or Bob Bradley." In fact, I’ll even go as far as to say that this team was much more fun to watch under Arena/Bradley. That is probably mostly due to Landon Donovan, who I still don’t’ think gets he just due for how much he meant to U.S. Soccer. I mean, L.D. IS U.S. Soccer. I don’t want to hide the fact that I was livid at the way Klinsmann handled leaving Landon off the 2014 World Cup (or just livid that he was left off the team period because, you know, Wondo was obviously the better choice), so that might have a slight impact on how I view Jürgen at this point. However, that still doesn’t explain why THIS team isn’t fun to watch anymore. So why is this the case?
I think the biggest problem I have with U.S. Soccer at the moment is that the majority of the players lack technical skill. I love the idea of Gyasi Zardes as a future star, but that will never happen when the ball bounces a few feet away from him with every first touch. Although when speaking of first touch, the supposed heart of the U.S. midfield comes to mind. Michael Bradley’s time with the USMNT needs to come to an end. He just isn’t technically good enough to be relied upon so heavily. Against Trinidad and Tobago, he sent pass after pass to the wrong colored shirt. While his ball striking ability and vision in the final third are really good, he turns the ball over far too often in the midfield, setting up numerous counter attacks for the opposition. The U.S. does have some very technically skilled players (Fabian Johnson, DeAndre Yedlin, Darlington Nagbe, Mix Diskerud, and Jordan Morris all come to mind), but it appears that Klinsmann either doesn’t trust some of those players or he’s just too blinded by the shine off of Bradley’s chrome dome to see that his time has passed. I’ll say that Jermaine Jones isn’t the most technically gifted player either, but he’s the midfield boss/ball winner that Bradley isn’t and he just has that x-factor that Bradley doesn’t (think back to the goal he scored against Portugal at the World Cup).
Another issue with this U.S. side is Klinsmann always playing players out of position. At least against T&T, Fabian Johnson was in the midfield and Zardes was up top (however ineffective he was, he’s a forward, not a midfielder and it’s time to accept that). DeAndre Yedlin also played in the midfield against Trinidad and Tobago, and that is where he needs to stay. That playmaking flair is desperately needed out wide, and his defensive limitations are less exploited when he plays there.
Klinsmann’s biggest shortcoming as USMNT coach might be his inability to develop a strong back line. The starting back line in Brazil 2014 played far outside of what was expected of them, and a lot of that was due to the unconscious play of Tim Howard (who, as long as he’s fit and playing well, should be the U.S. keeper. Sorry Brad Guzan). I can’t remember when the U.S. played the same back 4 for a few games on the trot. It’s a revolving door back there and quite frankly, it is probably the reason that the U.S. can’t play that "free-flowing" style that Jürgen promised. The US has to constantly play two defensive midfielders just to have cover for the back line. This can kind of slow things down and put a lot of pressure on the forwards to hold up play. Jozy Altidore, for all his shortcomings, is still very good at hold up play, but he can’t do it alone.
I don’t have all the answers. Shoot, if I did, maybe I’d be in Klinsmann’s chair right now. All I know is that this team stopped being fun to watch after the World Cup except for two games: the wins at Germany and at the Netherlands. What did those games have in common? Klinsmann played his young guns. At this point, it’s time to let some of the old guard go (lookin’ at you Michael Bradley and Clint Dempsey) and embrace your younger players (lookin’ at you Darlington Nagbe, Mix Diskerud, Bobby Wood, and Jordan Morris). The World Cup is less than three years away, and by sticking with some of these guys, Klinsmann is losing ground to the rest of a CONCACAF that is catching up to him.