U.S. men’s national team manager, Jurgen Klinsmann has received criticism regarding his tactical acumen for both Germany and during his time so far in the United States.
Much of the Sporting News article on the current American outfit touched on the player’s frustration in terms of strategy and clearly defined roles.
These critiques are unwarranted and unfair considering Klinsmann’s most recent adjustments.
Here are three quality tactical adjustments he made for the Costa Rica and Mexico matches in response to the team’s poor showing in Honduras.
Costa Rica: Switching to a two-man midfield with Michael Bradley and Jermaine Jones
Obviously, the blizzard conditions in this match made any sort of attacking style extremely difficult to execute. Regardless, using a double-pivot center midfield was the right move when compared to the three defensive midfielders deployed against Honduras.
Quite frankly, the connection through the midfield in Honduras was nearly non-existent. The spacing between Danny Williams, Bradley and Jones was muddled and confused. Often they were stationed far too close to each other, stifling midfield combinations and limiting the amount of players capable of getting into the attack.
Simply stated, it was a mess. The system against Costa Rica was far more effective. Bradley had the space he needed to set the tempo for the United States. The team is best when Bradley’s passing is on point. Jones did the work necessary to cover a significant amount of ground with one less player to work with.
It also allowed Clint Dempsey the license to essentially float just about wherever he wanted, which is a positive. One of Dempsey’s strengths is his ability to affect the game on multiple parts of the pitch, be it dropping deep to help in midfield passing, or working closer to the 18-yard box.
Both Matches: All five selections in the back
Against Honduras, rarely did outside fullbacks Fabian Johnson and Timmy Chandler get deep into the attacking third of the pitch. Mostly they looked tired, focusing on defending and poorly at that.
It was clear the team needed to shuffle things in the back, if not for this bad performance but also because of injuries.
Selecting DaMarcus Beasley for the outside left-back role may have been Klinsmann’s best move yet. First and foremost, Beasley is a veteran with a significant amount of experience in big games for the USMNT. He currently ply’s his trade in Mexico, too.
With very few quality options, Klinsmann took a risk in choosing in Beasley, a player normally employed as a midfielder. This risk paid off, though, because Beasley is smart enough to know his strengths and play to them. Strengths like positioning, leadership and passing from the outside.
He was not perfect against Mexico, but he was nearly unblemished against Costa Rica in the ridiculous conditions.
He tackled when necessary but looked more to intercept passes using anticipation and expert positioning.
Clarence Goodson was the correct choice against Costa Rica and when he was unable to play against Mexico, slotting Matt Besler next to Omar Gonzalez was another choice that worked for Klinsmann.
Besler and Gonzalez complement each other's abilities and weaknesses. Where Besler is a better passer (and left-footed), Gonzalez is dominant in the air and in the tackle.
Two clean sheets for the five different players that manned the back line in the two most important qualifiers so far—good stuff from the manager.
Mexico: Bunker in and keep shape
The goal against Mexico was quite clear: Do whatever it takes to get one point.
Smart thinking considering the team has only gotten a result against Mexico in World Cup qualifying just one other time in its history.
So how did they go about trying to secure the unlikely draw?
By prioritizing numbers behind the ball, pressuring central playmakers and possessing confidently when given the chance.
The U.S. was outshot significantly but it was not as if Mexico created dangerous chance after dangerous chance. Defenders for the U.S were always organized and provided the cover necessary to stop most Mexican attacks.
Bradley, Jones and Dempsey did a great job in closing space to try and keep the Mexican midfielders from having the time to create dangerous soccer.
The U.S. midfield was also able to keep the ball cleanly in possession at times, frustrating Mexico and relieving pressure for their backs.
It may not have been the most beautiful of soccer, but the Hexagonal qualification round is about one thing and one thing only: results.
It will be interesting to witness how the tactics change in June when the U.S. presumably has many more options to tinker with. One of which includes the recently returned Landon Donovan.
Donovan has been playing almost exclusively as a striker for the Los Angeles Galaxy as of late, so it is going to be intriguing to watch where Klinsmann chooses to fit him in. The likely role is outside midfield. Cracking the first 11 will be tough, though, given the form of both Graham Zusi and Herculez Gomez.
Regardless, Jurgen Klinsmann has a lot to think about in terms of tactics in the coming months.