Photo by ISIPhotos.com
By IVES GALARCEP
Remember when one of the bigger complaints about the U.S. Men’s National Team was the notion of the “Empty Bucket” and the fact that Bob Bradley preferred a central midfield of Jermaine Jones and Michael Bradley? The argument back then was that it was too defensive a set-up, and the U.S. attack wasn’t as potent as it could be with that tandem in the middle.
Fast forward a year and a half and not only has the structure of the U.S. midfield still been built around Jones and Bradley, Klinsmann has taken things a step further by installing a deep-lying defensive midfielder to play behind Jones and Bradley. If the “Empty Bucket” was too defensive, some might call the newer version the “Empty Bus”.
The team’s attacking struggles suggest it might be time for Klinsmann to reconsider his preferences, and the U.S. coach appears ready to try out a central midfield without a pure defensive midfielder sitting behind Jones and Bradley.
“It’s very crucial, the partnership between Michael Bradley and Jermaine Jones. It’s really important that they over time develop a real fine-tuned understanding that when one goes forward and is attacking, the other has to secure him and stay back,” Klinsmann said in a recent episode of his Podcast. “Here and there they both end up in the opponent’s penalty area and you leave kind of a hole behind. Those are things we would love to work on in the near future, when we play both next to each other and maybe we play without a number six that secures them. It only works if one stays and the other goes, and this is very important. Hopefully now we have the time and more training sessions before a game to work on that, and I think in time if we develop that fine-tuned understanding between these two guys then we have a big plus.”
In other words, Klinsmann is open to making a big shift in his midfield philosophy, and we could see a more attack-minded midfield in the upcoming qualifiers than we have seen in previous USMNT matches.
As Klinsmann stated, the big concern about going with Jones and Bradley in the middle by themselves has been the fact that both players like to jump into the attack and if they don’t work out when one goes and one stays, then the U.S. midfield can get overstretched and exposed.
The tricky part is Klinsmann can’t just make one a No. 6, and force them to stay home, because both Jones and Bradley have good attacking qualities. Bradley is arguably the best passer in the U.S. midfield and can do damage with late runs, and Jones showed recently in the UEFA Champions League with Schalke that he can be a threat in the attack and provide some goals. What Bradley and Jones need to sort out is developing a good sense of when one can get forward and one can stay home.
What will it mean if Klinsmann does away with a pure No. 6 and hands Bradley and Jones the keys to the central midfield? It means being able to devote one more starting spot to a pure attacking player, which should help provide a boost for an attack that has struggled to generate chances.
That is assuming Klinsmann does use that extra space on a true attacker. As we have seen in the past with his experimentation with using defensive-minded midfielders like Danny Williams and Jose Torres in flank midfield roles. He could choose to go that route, particularly in Estadio Azteca against Mexico. For those who don’t remember, Klinsmann went with FOUR, not just there defensive-minded central midfielders (Jones, Beckerman, Williams and Torres) in the U.S. team’s 1-0 upset win over Mexico in a friendly last August.
With the stable of U.S. forwards in such good form you can see why Klinsmann might want to get more of an attacking element into the midfield. Jozy Altidore, Herculez Gomez, Eddie Johnson and Terrence Boyd have all scored goals recently and Klinsmann could be eager to take advantage of the good form of players like Altidore and Gomez by having an added attacking element in midfield.
So who would Klinsmann turn to? Brek Shea doesn’t look like a starting option given the fact he isn’t 90-minutes fit, but Graham Zusi looks like a possibility and veteran DaMarcus Beasley is playing his way into the conversation. The fact that Gomez is playing on the right wing for Santos Laguna bodes well for him being an option as a wide player. Klinsmann could also consider Joe Corona, who has been playing well and taking part in big matches with Club Tijuana.
Whoever Klinsmann turns to, it is still very much a positive sign that he is considering a change and considering doing away with the “Empty Bus”. That setup might get you a draw on the road, but for a team that needs a win against Costa Rica on March 22nd, the USMNT needs a stronger attack and this change just might help Klinsmann find that.
What do you think of this development? Excited to see Klinsmann considering a change to his midfield? Who would you start in midfield to help create more chances? Think Joe Corona is ready to step in and start, or would you prefer going with Graham Zusi or Damarcus Beasley?
Share your thoughts below.