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Analyzing Jurgen Klinsmann’s work at the World Cup: Job well done?

Jul 2, 2014, 10:10 AM EDT

For a moment, let’s not discuss the roster selection. The last thing we need when assessing Jurgen Klinsmann’s work inside the World Cup is to pretend Landon Donovan would’ve been in Chris Wondolowski‘s cleats on top of goal, during a free kick Landon Donovan would’ve been standing over if Landon Donovan were in the lineup and Julian Green were not (the latter scored, you know, and is now a vested American player forever).

But how did Klinsmann fare in selecting his Starting XI and subs? He certainly wasn’t perfect, but there’s enough evidence to indicate the future is bright for the German as a match day manager.

source: Getty Images

Match 1: Ghana, W 2-1
Who knows how the States would’ve performed under Klinsmann’s original plan, as the manager was forced to take off his best striker after 23 minutes and his most consistent center back after 45. Klinsmann had to use two subs before the second half began, and went with Aron Johannsson for Jozy Altidore and John Anthony Brooks for Matt Besler.

In the latter case, there were questions as to why Klinsmann didn’t turn to Omar Gonzalez in place of Brooks (more on him later). The coach’s final move was to pull of Ale Bedoya for Graham Zusi. Hindsight is always 20/20, but Zusi sent in the ball in that Brooks headed home for the game-winner. Poor marking or not, that’s what we can a ‘feather in the cap’ of Klinsmann.

Match 2: Portugal, D 2-2
Forced to reconsider his striker usage, Klinsmann surprised by using Clint Dempsey alone up-top. This allowed him to move Zusi and Bedoya out wide, while changing his midfield four to a tight triangle with Kyle Beckerman lending some safety for Jermaine Jones and Michael Bradley to each probe forward.

source: APHe keeps his defense in tact, and Geoff Cameron rewards him with an all-time US flub to set-up Nani for the first goal. But the Dempsey move pays off, as the Texan is a major source of pressure on the beleaguered Portuguese back line.

Klinsmann’s sub of DeAndre Yedlin for Bedoya pays off within nine minutes, as the Seattle Sounders youngster kickstarts the play that led to Dempsey’s equalizer. Cristiano Ronaldo works a bit of individual magic to find Portugal a point late, but most people would’ve accepted any result if it means Ronaldo would’ve only bested the US once over 90 minutes. The Cameron flub is ultimately what cost the three points, and ultimately it’s hard to fault the coach for starting a man who played in more Premier League games than all but nine players in 2013/14 (three of whom were goalkeepers).

Match 3: Germany, L 0-1
“Why is he starting Gonzalez?” was the cry from many, as Cameron exited the lineup after a tough run against Portugal. Klinsmann also plugged in Brad Davis for Bedoya, the latter of whom was ineffective overall despite many chances (see Belgium analysis).

Davis would end up leaving after 59 minutes in favor of a return from Bedoya. This is where those who believe Donovan would’ve made a big difference — I don’t — have a big argument. Clearly, Klinsmann wanted to use this formation with a two men out very wide but could not find an option he loved. We knew this was a problem when Brek Shea continued to get mentions despite doing very little in club ball. Flat out: Klinsmann could not find the man he needed for this position, but is it fair to say it’s because that man was unavailable to his nation?

Whatever the case, the States needed to limit German goals in order to advance. They did that, and Gonzalez was strong. It’s hard not to call this a success.

source: Getty Images

Match 4: Belgium, L 1-2 (et)
The formation went bonkers, as Klinsmann went a little ‘mad scientist’ with his set-up. It’s clear he wanted to get Cameron back on the pitch without sacrificing what he saw as an in-form Gonzalez (and let’s face it: when Omar’s been good, he’s been very good).

Cameron on the outside would allow the dangerous Fabian Johnson to take more chances, while Klinsmann hoped Graham Zusi could handle more central responsibilities in the process (that didn’t work so well). But in doing so, Klinsmann had to pull Kyle Beckerman from the lineup, removing a player who had done yeoman’s work in the tournament. It was a questionable button to push.

It’s clear Altidore was a smokescreen, though he’s also not the sort of player I personally fancy as a sub. You want him out there wearing defenses down for the second striker or swift little attackers.

And here’s the biggest problem I had with Klinsmann the whole tournament: it’s clear Green, while green, has a skill set others on the roster do not have. There’s a little bit of early-Donovan to his game, with the cool to collect that late goal. At age 19, perhaps he would’ve been roasted on the defensive responsibilities that Klinsmann gave Bedoya and other wide players… but maybe not? That position was a big problem for the U.S., and Green slotted home on his first touch (which may be a World Cup record).

For the record, Klinsmann was right about stoppage time. There were a sub and a goal in the second period. That’s rarely, if ever, one minute.

Conclusion: All-in-all, the States were outclassed by Belgium. In fact, they didn’t hold much of the play at all until Eden Hazard subbed out of the match. Frankly, the US may have had the least talented roster of any team that played in the group, but whether it was their mettle, how Klinsmann organized them or, likely, a combination of both factors, the States progressed out of an incredibly-tough group and are a stoppage time finish away from moving on to Argentina.

As an aside on all the Wondolowski-miss hullaballoo, I was around a group of pretty respected coaches for the game and — after an initial cursing bout — most agreed that Thibaut Courtois played the chance very well and probably could’ve stopped an on-target chance. Don’t know if I agree, but…

  1. shepwp1 - Jul 2, 2014 at 10:34 AM

    Monday morning quarterbacks…
    The USA did awesome. No one expected them to do as well as they did. Enjoy their success and hope that they are in the discussion of competitive soccer teams in the next go around.

    • thepftpoetisacrossdresser - Jul 2, 2014 at 10:38 AM

      Agreed. Big stride….and very close to shocking the world had they had a few more breaks in that game. Well done…Klinsmann is the real deal.

      That said….Donovan needs to go away and shut his pie hole before he loses all cred he ever had. He reminds me of Brett Favre acting like a 5 year old when the Packers saw him as replaceable and went another direction.

      • jslip1 - Jul 2, 2014 at 10:45 AM

        We can’t understate Donovan’s contribution to the sport in this country. That said, everyone is replaceable and I think he knows that. I have a feeling that, now that the FIFA commercial is done, he will be more focused on Galaxy stuff and working his way into broadcasting. It will be a good transition for him, ultimately.

    • mhardt14 - Jul 2, 2014 at 11:39 AM

      Wednesday morning Quarterback actually. Nobody is talking about it but Klinsman inexplicably left off Terrence Boyd off the 23 man roster. Related to this was Boyd blabber mouthing about scoring a goal in the closed door. Klinsi has a penchant for punishing players for off field antics. So Donovan for seeing the Dali Lami and Boyd for breaking media silence. Good discipline for sure but left Klinsi high and dry when Altidore went down. Boyd is a carbon copy of Altidore and scored 20 goals in first division play VS 2 for Altidore.

    • midtec2005 - Jul 2, 2014 at 1:08 PM

      Call me a moron, whatever, but I did expect them to get out of the group. Ghana is perfectly beatable, and Portugal is Christiano and friends. Germany was the only team that’s definitely better.

  2. jslip1 - Jul 2, 2014 at 10:37 AM



  3. pcausey3 - Jul 2, 2014 at 10:39 AM

    Very good article. And I agree that overall, JK did a good job of managing this team and the subs. I also would have liked to see Green get on the pitch more. He was fearless in his runs, and his pace could have helped the team and possibly saved the legs of Yedlin and Bedoya, who simply looked gassed against Belgium.

    The one point of disagreement I have is with the exclusion of Donovan. Fitness or dedication issues aside, he is simply a better player than Wondo (who was dreadful in his limited action against Belgium), and Diskerud, who did not even feature. Donovan would have been a great sub to bring in against Belgium, or even to start.

    All in all, it is hard to understate how significant it was to lose Jozy. Dempsey could have stayed in his more natural 10 role, to link up the midfield with the attack. He was forced to move up top, and Bradley was forced to take Dempsey’s spot, and you can see that he was not comfortable in that role at all. Having Bradley drop back into the holding mid, and using Beckerman as a super sub, would have helped keep Jones fresh (who, like Yedlin and Bedoya, were also gassed against Belgium).

    I am excited for the future of this team. Green is a dynamic player that could change the game for us in the future. But I would be lying if I said that I didn’t think we let one slip away. We had the chances, and Howard put in a performance for the ages. But I guess we have to wait until 2018 to see if we can finally make a serious run in the tournament.

    • simonkulberg - Jul 3, 2014 at 8:31 AM

      Well said. But I was very impressed by Michael Bradley against Belgium, especially after half time. Good passing, good runs and the best work rate of any player in the World Cup. Can`t complain about that I think.

  4. cartrasuma - Jul 2, 2014 at 10:48 AM

    I agree with everything you wrote but the grammar and spelling were atrocious.

    Are you really so rushed to get this up that you can’t take two minutes to reread what you wrote, just once before you hit publish? Just a little extra effort would make this site much more respectable.

  5. arrington1279 - Jul 2, 2014 at 11:02 AM

    After I saw the replay of the Wondolowski miss, I gave Courtois a lot more credit. The keeper made himself huge right in front of Wondo, giving him very few options. Only an incredibly calm and skilled striker would have gotten a goal out of that situation.

    • wwsiralexd - Jul 2, 2014 at 11:47 AM

      The key word is “skilled”, which Wondolowski is very underskilled.

    • mdac1012 - Jul 2, 2014 at 11:49 AM

      Part of me is glad he missed that goal since he got called off sides. If it would have went in and we lost the game on a terrible, terrible call, like that, it would have ruined what has been a great World Cup so far.

  6. jaxfootballing - Jul 2, 2014 at 11:29 AM

    The fact that Klinsmann did not put in Mixx for any portion of any of the games to me was a big mistake. I have always liked the creativity that Mixx brings to a midfield that is seriously lacking in creativity. Bedoya and Zusi did not create enough chances given their minutes on the pitch in all games. I do not think that either of them had a shot on goal for the entire Belgium game – something you would expect from a starting left/right midfielder. Look at how many shots on goal the Belgium midfielders had…….Mixx should have been replaced Bedoya in particular around the 60th minute.

    I also think that Green should have gotten some minutes in the Germany game to see what he could do. When he did sub him in look what he did with his first touch!! Pretty unbelievable play that gave them hope….

    Bradley had a better game against Belgium than the Germany game – but that ain’t saying much. Once he went to a deeper seated position in midfield he seemed more comfortable – and popped a perfect setup pass to Green. He just did not look like his normal self during the entire tournament.

    Dempsey is not an out-and-out forward. It showed. Too bad Johannson had a sub-par performance against Ghana and was given another opportunity. Losing Altidore was a bad bit of luck that did not bode well for the team’s goal scoring prospects. Having Eddie Johnson on the bench would have helped to provide a similar hold-up forward with size and aerial ability. Not a huge EJ fan but once Jozy went down, Klinsmann went with Johannson and when he could not deliver he did not go back to him. I think he should have either went back to Johannson or used Green in the Germany game up top.

  7. troy2 - Jul 2, 2014 at 12:36 PM

    Like the guy who bumbles to find his words when talking to the beautiful woman, our players suddenly forget they’re very good players when we play the best. It manifests in our inability to maintain posession, flub shots in front of the goal, and let the opposing team run through our defense almost at will. I don’t think this is “American” I think its just human nature but to progress we need to work our way past the fear, by beating the big teams in games that count.

  8. elgallo2001 - Jul 2, 2014 at 12:50 PM

    Very fair assessment. I do give credit to JK and the boys, especially Howard, as they probably over-achieved given the four very talented teams they faced. If only Wondo could have put that shot on frame! We could have broken Belgium hearts.

  9. tariencole - Jul 2, 2014 at 9:44 PM

    Given the need of this team for a target forward, the one roster choice that hurt, IMHO, was omitting Boyd. No position can have a depth of ‘1’. And that’s what we went in with up top. Deuce is always best in the false 9 role.

    Cameron for Beckerman made sense to me for 1 reason: Marking Fellaini. Kyle gives up 4 extra inches. Cameron could compete with him in the air. And from that standpoint, the choice worked. The Fabian injury turned out to be a deal breaker, given the generally poor performance of Zusi vs Hazard. I would’ve loved to have seen a 2nd half where FJ stayed on, and Yedlin came in at RM for Zusi.

    I don’t think we would’ve been nearly as ‘outclassed.’

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