By THOMAS FLOYD
WASHINGTON — In overseeing the U.S. Men’s National Team, coach Jurgen Klinsmann has auditioned a slew of attacking philosophies. Certain games have seen him attempt to instill a possession-oriented style. Others required the defend-and-counter approach. Sometimes a direct method was called upon.
The effort to pinpoint a definitive system is an ongoing one, with Klinsmann’s search for the right blend of players and tactics leading to 26 different lineups in 26 games.
“We’re just trying to find that identity on the field,” forward Eddie Johnson said, “to find that right group of guys to be on the pitch and form a chemistry.”
Thus far in the hexagonal stage of World Cup qualifying, the American identity has been that of disciplined defense balanced by a conservative attack. Going into upcoming qualifiers against Jamaica, Panama and Honduras, the U.S. sits at a respectable 1-1-1 but has scored just two goals.
While the Americans turned a corner kick and penalty kick into tallies in a 4-2 friendly loss to Belgium on Wednesday, opportunities from the run of play were hard to come by.
“It’s a work in progress,” captain Clint Dempsey said. “We’ll just keep creating chances and putting shots on goal, and if you do that you’ll get goals. But the most important thing is that we iron those things out.”
Forward Jozy Altidore, who is coming off a 31-goal season for Dutch side AZ Alkmaar but hasn’t scored for the national team since November 2011, is the most notable player looking to find a rhythm. No one in that lone striker role, in fact, has found net from the run of play for the U.S. since Herculez Gomez did so in a 3-1 win over Antigua & Barbuda last June.
So how is the U.S. squad trying to remedy those issues going into Sunday’s friendly against Germany at RFK Stadium?
“Different things, different movements for our forwards, keeping the ball more,” veteran DaMarcus Beasley said. “We need to give Jozy and Clint more service. It’s not their fault; it’s more of our team not providing them with the right service they need to get in front and score goals. But we’re working on that in training, and hopefully we’ll get that right.”
Hammering home a strategy, however, can only go so far if the personnel isn’t quite right. Qualifying cycles always involve fluid rosters, and flowing in new players can lead to a constant lack of cohesion.
But as Klinsmann said, “The only way to improve is by seeing different elements and trying things out and taking the risk.”
It was a notion Dempsey echoed by drawing upon his personal experience, recalling that he was a fringe national team player throughout qualifying for the 2006 World Cup before breaking through to start two matches in Germany.
If Saturday’s training session was any indication, Klinsmann is ready to unveil a new look on the left side, with the recently resurgent Beasley at left back and Fabian Johnson in front of him.
It’s an intriguing setup that lends itself to frequent overlapping and interchange, as Beasley and Johnson have plenty of experience playing both roles.
“I feel more comfortable” at left midfield, said Johnson, noting he finished the Bundesliga campaign playing there for Hoffenheim. “I’m a technically good player, I’m fast, I’ve got a good eye for the other players, the free player. I think this is going to help the team.”
It could be the latest move in a long line of tinkering from Klinsmann. Considering the wealth of high-level experience the U.S. now boasts throughout its midfield and forward corps, the pieces needed for success seem to be available — it’s just a matter of finding the optimal way to put them together.
“We’ve got some great attacking players, great with the ball, speed, good technically,” Beasley said. “So the sky’s the limit for this team attackingwise once we get clicking on all cylinders.”