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U.S. Men's National Team

A closer look at Klinsmann's midfield options vs. Antigua & Barbuda

By FRANCO PANIZO

Going into a crucial World Cup qualifier without your two best options at left back might seem like something to be extremely worried about, and U.S. Men’s National Team fans certainly are beginning to worry about Jurgen Klinsmann’s dwindling options at a weak position. But the reality is a weak left back isn’t likely to matter against lowly Antigua & Barbuda, a team that is comprised mostly of players plying their trade for USL Pro side Antigua Barracuda FC.

No, the area of the field where Klinsmann should really be focusing on heading into this Friday’s match at Sir Vivian Richards Stadium is the midfield. The players he deploys there will ultimately decide how successful the American attack is and if the U.S. take home three big points heading into their final third round qualifier against Guatemala.

The first thing Klinsmann has to decide is whether he wants to deploy a three-man midfield or four-man midfield. Klinsmann has alternated between the two throughout his tenure, but in the U.S. team’s most recent game, a 1-0 win over Jamaica in September, Klinsmann chose to play four midfielders and the results were extremely positive.

The Americans dominated possession in that match, passing the ball around sharply against a Jamaica team that was content to sit back and look for counterattacks. The U.S. only scored once in the match, but created a bevy of chances.

If Antigua & Barbuda, who are playing for their World Cup lives, intend to sit back and throw bodies behind the ball as Klinsmann has said he expects, then the U.S. should once again go with a four-man midfield. No, there are no real outside midfielders on the roster (Landon Donovan and Brek Shea have been ruled out with injuries), but that was also the case against the Reggae Boyz last month and the U.S. still dominated possession for large stretches.

Constructing the U.S. midfield begins with the defensive anchor, the No. 6. Danny Williams played that role excellently against Jamaica, and he is the front-runner to handle that role again. With Williams’ range and defensive bite helping the back four snuff out Antigua & Barbuda counters, the U.S. should be able to limit the hosts to few chances and that would allow for more possession.

That’s where Michael Bradley steps in. Klinsmann has stated previously that he sees Bradley and Jones more as No. 8s, or central midfielders with more advanced, attacking responsibilities, and Bradley should fill in now that he has recovered from the injury that sidelined him from September’s qualifiers. It is no secret that Bradley can shoot from distance and make late runs into the penalty area. Both those attributes could come in handy against Antigua & Barbuda.

It is hard to imagine Klinsmann not going with Jones given the tenacity and hustle he brings, but he entered training camp in Miami with an ankle injury and Klinsmann may prefer to let him rest up for the Guatemala match, where his qualities are likely to be more needed.

As for who starts on the outside, Klinsmann does not have many options. Graham Zusi figures to be a starter at one of the spots given his strong showing against the Reggae Boyz, but who else can play out wide? The only other experienced option is Sacha Kljestan.

No stranger to playing on the outside, Kljestan spent time there during the Bob Bradley era and should be favored over Joe Corona due to his previous participation in World Cup qualifiers. Kljestan even manned the left midfield spot in his last U.S. appearance under Klinsmann, a brief cameo off the bench in the Americans’ 1-0 win over Italy in February.

Klinsmann said during his conference call on Monday that Kljestan impressed in a recent Anderlecht game against Malaga, continuously looking to play balls forward and not sideways, pushing forward well, being direct and showing real aggressiveness in his offensive game. That is what Klinsmann has asked of Jose Torres in recent U.S. matches but the diminutive midfielder has not met expectations, which has in part left the door open for Kljestan to further make his case.

Kljestan won’t be the type of midfielder to run down the touchline and whip in crosses, but he can help with possession with his composure on the ball and is also capable of playing the quick one-two passes that Klinsmann so often stresses.

Kljestan should man the right side of the midfield, only because the left side is not somewhere he has spent much time at. Consider also that while Zusi shone as a right midfielder last month, he is not unfamiliar with having played on the left with Sporting Kansas City and he is also able to maintain possession and bring some offensive creativity.

With Zusi and Kljestan tucking in, Steve Cherundolo and whoever is chosen to play left back will be able to roam forward and provide the width that has been lacking at times under Klinsmann, especially with Antigua’s willingness to absorb pressure (they have scored just twice and conceded seven times in four games in this round of qualifying).

Whether it is labeled a 4-1-3-2 or a 4-4-2 does not matter. Klinsmann can go with a more narrow four-man midfield to help keep the ball and wait for cracks in Antigua’s defense to slip balls to the forwards or Bradley. An early goal would do wonders as it would force Antigua to come out of their shell, potentially opening the floodgates and allowing the Americans to score more than the three times they did in their previous meeting in June.

Klinsmann could decide to go with a three-man midfield, playing a 4-3-3, and if he goes that route it is a safe bet he would turn to the trio of Williams, Bradley and Zusi in a triangle. This seems like the less likely of the two options for Klinsmann’s midfield, but it is definitely an option given the absence of true wingers to turn to.

Whether it is a four-man midfield, or the three-man triangle, the U.S. midfield will look to make for in possession what it lacks in width. Is it a perfect scenario playing without true outside midfielders? Not really, but given what tools Klinsmann currently has at his disposal, a combination of Williams, Bradley, Zusi and Kljestan is probably the best midfield he can trot out to secure the much-needed win, and make who is playing left back an afterthought.

67 comments
  • Jake

    What about Dempsey as an outside mid? I know he’s better at forward, but he used to play there a lot with the US.

    Like

    • Eric

      I think you want Clint as close to goal as possible. He’s dangerous in the air and the box. I think between Graham and Sacha, we’ll bo okay in the midfied. Forward is a thinner position.

      Like

    • THomas

      You can put him wherever you want. But one thing I’ve learned is no matter where he’s lined up, he’ll always end up central and close to goal. Put him at left back if you want, he’s still going to be picking the ball up 25 yards out and/or charging late into the box.

      Like

    • The Imperative Voice

      As a general matter, I actually thought our best attack was with Dempsey and Donovan wide mids at South Africa. You can still push Dempsey up late and he has still proven productive.

      However,based on the roster Klinsi has, in the absence of Altidore, Boyd, and Donovan, I think you run into forward quality issues if you dump Dempsey back. Who would start at forward for key qualifiers where the opposition will bunker? Gordon? EJ? You can take this as further Klinsi callup grumbling but the reality is that the cumulative choices bind his hands in terms of tactical re-shuffling. With the current set of people he almost can’t push Dempsey back without weakening the front line.

      Like

  • ThatKidNandez

    Gil ? Morrow ?Bedoya ? Davies ? Iceman? Beasley? Alonso? Klinsi!!!!! Do something!!!!

    Like

  • ThatKidNandez

    Gil ? Morrow ?Bedoya ? Davies ? Iceman? Beasley? Alonso? Klinsi!!!!! Do something!!!!

    Like

    • swoopy

      Isn’t Gil with the U20s? Bedoya isn’t playing. Beasley is hurt. Alonso isn’t eligible yet … Am I wrong? Besides, didn’t JK imply that after the A&B game, he’ll call in reinforcements for the home game

      Like

      • Angel of LA

        LOL funny thing that you ask about Alonso, no offense. It’s funny because I was setting my USNMT on PS3 FIFA13 and Alonso is in the Reserve list. But I think he already was cap by Cuba when he defected in the Gold Cup unless he was under 21 he can do a one switch to play for the US. I think it is time to get Chandler back or Lichaj since we don’t have a LB and call Guay, Gatt, Boyd, Or maybe Taylor he was call to the senior team before

        Like

      • The Imperative Voice

        As I said on the other thread, will he get them before they are tired from playing this weekend? Is Saturday/Sunday enough time to integrate before Tuesday?

        Like

  • Sarasota

    4-4-2 with Bradley, Williams, Zusi and Corona on the left wing. Corona is MUCH more confident and better with the ball than Klejstan. Klejstan has shown time and again he is a turn over machine at the international level.

    Vamos Corona y los Xolos!!!!!

    Like

    • biff

      I gotta good feeling about Corona, and it’s a good sign that he also plays with the first place team in Mexico. But I don’t know details about his club play. If you follow his club play, can you please enlighten us on how is generally played at Tijuana and his strengths and weaknesses and how you think he compares to Jose Torres, who I also like?

      Like

      • Sarasota

        PERSONALLY, I RATE HIM AS A MUCH BETTER WING THREAT THAN TORRES (who I used to like, but he adds nothing to the US team). Corona is bigger, faster, very cool and confident on the ball and has ice in his veins when it comes to finishing. Did you see any of the U-23 games?

        Like

      • Evan W

        Corona is certainly a better winger than Torres but to say Torres adds nothing to the US team is not true. Torres may not be the best fit for the US but that is due to the fact that most of his teammates do not have the instinctive off the ball movement that brings out his passing range. That combined with him being played out of position more often than not. The only reason he was not called up this time is because he is injured.

        Like

      • Sarasota

        Just my opinion from watching him in every game he’s played in a US jersey. I was very exited about him when he first came up, but I honestly believe he adds nothing positive to the team and is sometimes a deficit. There are better options. As Dick Vermiel used to say, “Sometimes you add by subtracting.”

        Like

      • beachbum

        Corona continues to remind me of Clint, especially in the area

        Torres was miscast in that wide role. We all know that. But with a one goal lead and 15-20 minutes to play sure wouldn’t mind being able to call Paco’s number as a sub to help kill of the game

        Like

      • Vic

        Haven’t seen much of Corona but from what I recall he was rookie of the year at Tijuana. Would definately rather see him over Klejstan.

        Like

      • Sarasota

        I’m betting Klinsmann will start Klejstan because he is older and more experienced. But I’m telling you Corona is a much better international level player. Love that Klinsmann became our coach, but VERY disappointed with some of his player decisions.

        Like

      • bryan

        i agree with you regarding Kljestan/Corona. i would rather see Corona but i think JK starts Kljestan for sure.

        Like

      • Vic

        Even if Corona is nervous, is throwing up and has diarhea the night before the game, I still don’t see him causing as many turnovers as Klesjtan.

        Like

      • beachbum

        I’m betting Corona starts. He’s been with the team for many callups now and is more integrated into Klinsmann’s system and is a player the coach has shown belief in for some time. If Sasha does start hope he’s comfortable on the team and plays that way. I would bet he’d start aggressively and IF things went well for the team he’d be OK, but IF things for the team were tight as the game progressed I worry about his confidence waning as the game wears on

        Like

  • Kodi

    Just wondering in regards to calling in replacement players. Wouldn’t it be beneficial to call in younger future players (i.e. Mixx, Gatt,Gyau, etc…I know some of these guys are injured but just an example) just to get them integrated with the system and the older players. It just seems like these are wasted opportunites by not calling in replacements.

    Like

    • bryan

      Mix and Gyau aren’t ready. Mix is close though. But Gyau doesn’t even play. Gatt could have been a nice option. But given he is in Europe, Pontius would have made more sense.

      Like

    • downintexas

      Kodi

      Had we won both games against Jamaica like we should have then yes JK would be brining in more youthful options to get our depth built. However, we can’t bring in inexperiance players. But that still leaves the question why not bring in more experianced players to provide cover. Brad Davis, Adu or some wing options.

      Like

  • KP

    Does anyone know about finding the game online tomorrow? Does beIN Sport put it online or what? No dish by me and likely no bar showing the game…

    Like

  • mistadobolina

    ———–Gomez————-Dempsey————–
    -Zusi—-Bradley———Williams——Kljestian/Corona-
    —–Bocanegra–Edu—-Cameron–Churundolo-
    ———————–Howard————————–
    @ A&B – adding EJ for Kljestian and swing Zusi to the RM once the game is settled.

    Like

    • THomas

      Given what we have, I’d actually go 4-3-3 if the fullbacks are going to be relied upon for width anyways…

      ————————-Gomez—————————-
      ——Dempsey—————————Corona——
      —————————————————————
      ——————Zusi———-Bradley——————
      ———————–Williams—————————
      —————————————————————
      –Boca——Edu————–Cameron—Dolo——
      —————————————————————-
      —————————Duh——————————-

      Like

  • FK Pirin

    This is a good article, but I think Klinsmann might go a different way.

    This might be crazy, but I thought Klinsmann might use Alan Gordon as a Center forward with Dempsey and Gomez running off of him up top. They could easily switch sides to mess with the defense and Gordon could be a great target for crosses, hold up play, and laying off headers and passes to Dempsey and Gomez. Sub in Eddie Johnson for Dempsey or Gomez.

    In the midfield I would image Danny Williams anchoring and Bradley paired with either Jones or Klejstan. Bradley and Klejstan could play one-two passes and try to spring Gomez and Dempsey. Both can also take long range shots. I don’t think you need Jones’ added tenacity, and Klejstan is probably a better offensive option. Then you have Jones as a Super Sub to hold the lead. You also have Corona as a super sub if you need a goal.

    On defense you have Cherundolo getting forward often to put crosses into the box from the right and have Bocanegra hold down the left side of the field. Stick Cameron and Edu in the back because both will have the speed to shut down an Antigua & Barbuda ball over the top or into space. Cherundolo might spend most of his time in the midfield and more advanced because the US should be able to dominate possession. I also suspect Bocanegra will spend a lot of time in the midfield because Antigua & Barbuda will probably leave only one attacker up top.

    Like

  • Glenn

    I’m very confused by the beginning of this article. Who exactly are the two best options at left back that are referenced? It seems to me that Fabian Johnson has put a stranglehold on that position, and has performed admirably. Last time I checked he was on the roster…

    Like

    • Glenn

      Ah, he’s got the flu. Hadn’t seen that until now. I still don’t know who the other option reference is though.

      Like

      • malkin

        Exactly, how dare he not read the site everyday…and how dare he correct himself literally an hour before being called out for not reading the site every day.

        Like

  • Coach K

    Help

    Where does one find this game? Last time IN sport had the game but it was a disater, they actually broadcast the Argentina game ( tho labelled it the USA) and I finally found a rebroadcast at 3am??

    Thanks

    Like

    • bryan

      i saw the game fine. that’s really weird. in fact, this is the first i’ve even heard of this problem. i watched on direct tv. you?

      Like

      • Conrad

        That was a Comcast issue. They originally brought in BeIN ñ, but put in the listings for BeIN 1 in their onscreen guide. That issue has been resolved, but unfortunately Comcast still only Carries BeIN ñ, which is carrying the game on a 7 hour delay, ugh…

        Like

    • The Imperative Voice

      Antigua has played teams to 0-0, 0-1 home results this round, won 5-2, 10-0, and 1-0 last round at home. They did knock out a Haiti team that gave us fits in 2011. So I think they have to be taken halfway seriously.

      However, IMO the present selection and tactics are sub-optimal and rendering the whole exercise more difficult than it has to be. The USA Ferrari is dragging a Klinsi from the bumper. This should be as much of a cakewalk as Mexico took, and they actually had some real competition for their group….CR, ES.

      I’d be more comfortable with the exercise if we were implementing the attacking style we started with, and just occasionally having an off result while playing more attractive soccer. But this is like Bradleyball without the advantages of playing a traditional formation with real wings and 2 forwards.

      Like

  • danny

    I remember those days. Too bad we do’nt use the outside mids we have available to do it now.

    Like

  • mikeandike

    seeing how Klinsmann operates, it’s hard to see Klestjan being plugged into start after not being with the team for 8 months…more likely and aggravatingly (word?) so, he’ll go with Williams on the right, despite his ineffectiveness…

    Gomez-Dempsey
    Zusi-Bradley-Williams
    Jones
    Boca-Cameron-Goodson-Dolo

    Like

  • Aaron in StL

    Would be a big game for Kljestan if he gets a start… although it’s probably a low ceiling. As it’s an inferior opponent he should do well, however if he plays poorly could put him far back down the pecking order again.

    Like

  • Isaac

    I gotta say I’m happy with the new website having seen this place go through two changes now, waaaaay back in the day when it was skinnier and red. Remember that, Ives?

    On to the article. I agree with pretty much everything written in here, but I would like to quibble just a tad. Kljestan has played left midfield plenty in his career. He played there for Chivas and played there for Anderlecht in their draw with AC Milan IN Milan. He’s not uncomfortable with the role. I remember this beaut he managed in the Super Classico for Chivas

    and the goal at 1:31 here came from the left as well:

    Moreover, Graham Zusi can swing in some deadly crosses. Why would we want him on the opposite flank.

    Like

  • Brad

    If Klinsi has plans to play with 2 strikers up top, there is no excuse for leaving Jozy off the list. If you plan on a 4-3-3, I can (almost) see how you could claim Jozy is not our best option, but if you put 4 in the mid, and leave off the only thing close to a #9 we have, you have lost your $#!t.

    Like

    • Angel of LA

      I think Klis is going to play 4-3-3

      __________Gomez__________
      Zusi__________________Dempsey
      _______Corona____Bradley______
      ____________Williams__________
      ?_____Boca______Edu_____Dolo
      _____________Howard___________

      Like

    • Byrdman

      In my opinion there is plenty of reason. I don’t think it is every good to have a dissent in a locker room. Jozy is carrying a bad attitude and can not control himself. I think this is evidenced by his conduct last Sunday, where he received two stupid yellow cards.

      But this has been discussed at nauseum, so I apologize for going there. Having coached baseball at a decent level, I really believe in team chemistry. I know its a different game but people are people. And discontent is very contagious. I’m not saying Jozy is wrong or right in his opinion. Just dealing with the effect he would have in my opinion

      Like

  • bryan

    didn’t see a post about this yet (most likely due to the new website taking up SBI time), but the U-20s lost to Canada in their first game 2-1. disappointing.

    U-17s tied Mexico though 1-1 and placed 2nd in that tourny. i wonder why 16 year old Maki Tall was not called into the U-17 camp. “Tall is one of the most promising prospects at Le Mans, a French Ligue 2 side, where he has led the club in scoring at four different age groups (U15, U16, U17, and now U19) over the last three years.”

    ““He does go back to the U.S. twice a year (Christmas and summer vacations) so he never lost touch.””

    “While the French have kept tabs on the striker, the U.S. has yet to contact him about a potential call-up. Maki said it “would be fantastic” to attend a U.S. youth national team camp.

    Madani said that he is more inclined to see his son represent the U.S.”

    Like

  • Datrufth

    The problem is that klinsmann still needs to call in players to give them a taste of the World Cup Qualifying Experience.

    Like

  • Darwin

    A trademark Marc Pelosi (Liverpool) run up the wing delivered the assist on the only goal in the U-20s defeat to Canada in yesterdays Marbella cup match. At least with Shea, Gatt, Pelosi, and Gyau, we have some potential wing options for the future. Pelosi and Gyau are far from a call up in my opinion though.

    Like

  • PD loves the new SBI look

    it’s that age old question isn’t it? does the system force the players adjust or do the players force the system to adjust? The fact that a 4-2-2-2 is one of the stronger options available to JK at this point makes me rethink the criticism lots of folks leveled at Senior Bradley for his favored formation and his decidedly “unsexy” approach to tactics and style of play. I’m a huge fan of long term development and not using a W-L record to gauge progress, but in the end when it comes to WC qualifying it’s all about finding what works, right?

    I’d like to see the following against AB:

    3-5-2

    ————-Howard————–
    —Cameron Goodson Boca—
    ————-Williams————-
    ‘dolo–Bradley—Jones—-Zusi
    ——-Gomez–Dempsey——-

    and against Guatemala
    —————Howard————–
    –‘dolo–Cameron–Boca–FabJo–
    —————-Williams————-
    Zusi—-Bradley—Jones–Dempsey
    —————Gomez—————-

    Like

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