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USMNT still searching for right attacking formula heading into Germany friendly

Dempsey (Getty)


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.”


  1. People need to get off dmb at left back, Castillo and Johnson are better dmb struggles at lb when taken 1 on 1.


    Castillo—Gonzo–besler/cam– Danny

  2. How about a good group of players just play 2 games in a row, instead of the constant changes….Almost all starter selections should be set….Howard, Gonzalez, Besler or Cameron, Cherundolo or Chandler when healthy and 100%, Fabian Johnson or Beasley interchanging, Bradley, Jones, Dempsey, Altidore or Gomez, Zusi, and hopefully the return of Donovan soon

    • That’s nice any everything, but seriously stop making comments like this.

      You act as if Klinsmann has any control over the “constant changes,” and he really doesn’t. Players are constantly absent from camp for all sorts of reasons.

      Bradley and Johnson missed camp because they still had club team games. Gomez and Dolo and Chandler have knee injuries. Donovan just started playing soccer again a month ago.

      Seriously, what do you want from Klinsmann–he isn’t a miracle healer and time-mover. He can’t magically make those players available.

      • You misunderstood the comment. That is obvious about club commitments, injuries, etc. But even when they are not available, cohesion and consistency cannot be found if ANY group of players are constantly in a state of flux. Klinsmann has a group of players at his disposal right now. Why not play a majority of a group together for at least 2 games in a row. The Besler (possibly injured) omission or not using Cameron at centerback was a perplexing decision as Goodson and Gonzalez were not clicking. Granted, Belgium can make any centerback tandem look bad. I know he’s trying to give guys a chance to move up the pecking order, but sometimes one game isn’t enough as a group needs to develop an understanding….If anything, I probably should have clarified more about it if that is what you read into it

      • I reread it from that perspective and I see what you’re saying. Ideally we’d like to have a tandem ready for every match, but I don’t think we even know who our best pairing is.

        And Cameron does play RB for an EPL club, so I’m not surprised by his move over there to cover for the injuries to Chandler and Dolo.

      • Thank you. The different lineups aren’t wholesale swaps, it’s usually 2 players, 3 tops. In some cases, just 1, but it still counts as a different lineup. Too much fuss over nothing…

  3. Fabian Johnson did not finish the Bundesliga season at left midfield. He started at midfield in the last game but in the 30th minute the left back was pulled (for weak play) and Fabian moved back to defense and he had an excellent rest of the game at LB.

    Do I think DMB at LB and Fabian at LW offers more attacking potential than some of Klinsmann’s previous puzzling line-ups? Yes, has potential to create some fireworks. Nonetheless, I would rather see Fabian at left back, where he is very, very good, rather than left wing, where I am not yet convinced he is a long-term solution. Johnson just seems more dynamic to me when he is coming from the back. My first choice for LW today would be Damarcus Beasley with Fabian at LB. But I also think Clint could be effective for the USMNT at left midfield, as he has shown at Tottenham, and would also interact well when Fabian moves forward.

  4. Our right side is a little lacking at the moment. Out left side will be charging up the field 20 yards ahead of the right side. Ok maybe not 20 yards.

  5. Stewart Holden has no business in the starting line up of the USMNT. With the competitive nature of our midfield he has a free pass just being selected. He hasn’t done anything recently to warrant a call up, he hasn’t played consistly to be eligible for play time and to even say he’s there as part of his rehab…..then why didn’t we do that for Charlie Davis, Gooch etc. In form he’s slightly better than Kljestan….and he is not even close to being 100%. We all love stu and want him back but he is far from the way he use to be

  6. Against even a depleted German team, I think we need to worry more about defending than attacking. I know that’s not the theme of this article, but it should be the focus of the team.

    • What more can be done to the defense? Surely you don’t want to see 5 in the back line, right? We already have 4 + 1 and a half D Mids. This team needs to keep possession and score goals, no matter who we’re playing…

  7. More offense and chemistry….get Holden and Gomez on the field with Fab on the left flank.


  8. Chemistry and time is the problem

    I think we’ve identified a problem on this site, and JK’s tenure. Somehow, we think that, “if we just give so-and-so a look” or “if we cycle some more CB’s through came” we could find “the guy” that will make a HUGE difference in the WC. The reality is that anybody who could make a HUGE difference has already been identified. Now we’re really just arguing about stupid things like, “who would be the better second holding mid off the bench; Williams or Kljestan.” That matters little to nothing come WC.

    JK’s greatest contribution to the MNT is that he’s broadened the player pool. It’s reaped undeniable benefits. But now, we’re only a year out, and we need to narrow it back down. We’re not getting a significant more talent between now and next year. Instead, we need to focus on playing time, and people working together. How is our defense or attack going to get coordinated if we keep trying out new players all over the place. The reality is that if we want to advance past where we have been then we need to be able to compete regularly with teams such a Belgium (not a top-five team), especially at home even with some players out, and we have the talent to do it. We need to stop screwing around with all these marginal players, and focus on around 26 guys that JK thinks will be the most ready. I don’t pretend to know enough about it to really know, but I think those players should be.

    G: Howard, Guzan, Hamid
    D: Cherundolo, Chandler, Goodson, Gonzo, besler, bocanegra, Cameron, Bealsey (?), Castillo, Johnson (?)
    M: Donavan, Zusi, Jones, Bradley, Williams, Edu, Shea, Holden, Davis
    F: Johnson, Dempsey, Gomez, Altidore

    could you make a million arguments of swap Kljestan for Davis or Holden, or Corona for Shea, Blah blah blah. Of course, but in the end the talent would be marginally different, and the result would be the same. These are the guys with the most time on pitch for klinsman/ or that have the talent to make a difference if they are fit (holden/Donavan), and we should focus on that.

    players that should start if healthy, no matter what, friendly or not, so that we can build chemistry (Howard, Dolo, Cameron (our best all around CB right now), Gonzo (the most talented CB, and best we have in the air), Bradley, Dempsey, altidore. Any shifting and subbing should be to answer one of these three main questions that still exist. the answer to any of these questions actually would affect the WC.

    1. Will Zusi or Donovan be more fit to start WC at RM?
    2. Should Johnson play LB or LM?
    3. Will Holden be fit by WC, and if so where should he play?

    These three questions will answer the final roster decisions, and starting spot decisions. All the other questions that cause so much grief on these reply threads really won’t matter a year from now.

    • I think you’re right about narrowing the player pool and I would guess it will start happening after the Gold Cup. If we’re still seeing the same shuffling going into the fall qualifiers that is happening now (barring injuries) I’ll be pretty concerned.

      • I’m hoping that the narrowing of the player pool starts immediately after the match against Germany. Experimenting during friendlies is fine by me, up ’till about a year to go until the WC. We’re just about there. We do have the injury/availability problem with the outside backs to deal with, so taking a glance at Evans at RB in a friendly shouldn’t cause too much concern. (I’d rather see Evens at RB than Cameron. Apparently Parkhurst hasn’t impressed.) JK started a year late for this WC cycle, so it’s not really surprising that he’s still looking players over. Not to mention that in some spots no one has stepped up yet.

    • Yes yes yes. All of what Paulwp says is correct. And for the team’s sake, let’s hope Donovan can be again the creative attacking force we so desperately need.

    • Wow, a lot going on here. Let’s see, in regards to this roster selection I would make the following changes:

      Dempsey is a midfield player, though he can be moved up top when needed, so Boyd would be the fourth striker. Williams and Davis are not ready now and will not be ready for Brazil, so make them alternates at best. Fabian most likely will be played in midfield, with Beasly in defense. Sasha is too versatile to leave off of the squad, and I have a feeling that Holden will be more healthy and in better form than Shea. He makes the roster if JK brings one less defender or forward. Castillio will probably be included just because we need at least one true LB, unless he is just terrible in the next games he plays. Finally, Boca is done, so get over it.

      Here’s the squad of 23 (World Cup max roster) we should be looking at for the rest of qualifying:

      GK: Howard, Guzan, Hamid
      DB: Dolo, Chandler, Gonzalez, Besler, Cameron, Goodson, Beasly, Castillio
      MF: Jones, Edu, Bradley, Dempsey, Donovan, Sasha K., F. Johnson Holden
      FW: Gomez, Altidore, E. Johnson, Boyd

    • @paulwp: Nice comment. Agree with your central arguments. One of the several lines in the article above that caught my attention was…

      “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.”

      That is mind boggling. Might even be a world record. And there are at least two players who should have been called in for a look, just a look, long ago. Freddy Adu and Eric Lichaj. Maybe they would have flopped. But maybe not, and gosh knows that Klinsmann has wasted numerous friendlies on dead experiments like Daniel Williams at right wing. Lichaj played two years ago in RFK providing the impetus for a Jermaine Jones goal and yet Klinsmann does not once bring him in for a look? I don’t get it.

    • There are a lot of truths in this post that I think many on this board have trouble accepting.

      #1: There aren’t “answers” out there that haven’t been identified. I’ve heard names thrown out like George John, Lichaj, Gyau, Adu…none of these guys will make the team significantly better.

      #2: Gonzo, Cameron, and Jozy are the best we got at their positions. They are going to struggle, they are going to make mistakes, but they are better than the alternatives. It’s easy to have backup quaterback syndrome and groan for replacements ever time one of these guys makes a mistake, but if the team is going to preform at it’s peak, these guys have to be on the field and they have to figure it out.

    • I don’t get it. This whole squad is not good enough. We generated ZERO to ONE chance/SOG game after game against teams like Honduras, Costa Rico, Mexico and Belgium and you ‘re suggesting this is our final roster. TBH, I am not sold on players like Boca (CB), DMB (LB), Holden (M), Shea (Winger), Goodson (CB), Zusi (M), Davis (M), Edu (DM), Williams (DM)… This squad hardly beat Antigua and Barbuda ONE goal here in US last year. I mean norrowing the player pool at this time is unwise decision imo

    • JK has added players to the national team pool at a lower rate than Bradley did. In fact in the last full year BB was coach (2010) 55 players had playing time while in 2012, JK’s full year he played 49 different players. Bradley looked at about 100 different players in the various camps and Klinsmann has called in similar numbers. The turnover has not been as big as you seem to think.
      Can you name more than 5 players over age 24 whom JK has used that BB did not (to fairly eliminate players who were young when BB was coach, like Wiliams who did not play professionally until 2010 or in B1 until 2011 or Justin Morrow who also did not play professionally until 2010). There are FJ, Besler, Beltran, and Zusi? I can come up with no others.
      There is no reason to believe BB would not have called in the younger guys so if that group of (only 3 new) players is your idea of bringing a lot of new players, I think you need to rethink.

  9. “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.”

    uh, mr. beasley–the imperative voice would like a word with you.

    • I can’t believe even DMB is making this lame excuse for Jozy. He DID get good service against Belgium and could not convert.

      Jozy Altidore has gotten soooo many opportunities over the last 5 years to prove himself and has not.

      It is time to let others get a chance. Herculez Gomez, Terrence Boyd and EJ deserve a chance to start.

      • He’s proven in his 2 years at AZ that he’s far and away the best striker we have. If the USMNT is going to play to it’s peak potential, JK must figure out how to incorporate Jozy.

        Granted, against Belgium he (and many others) look unconfident and unsure of what he was supposed to be doing. That’s concerning, but throwing him out is not the best solution. You may get more production out of EJ or Gomez in the short term, but if USMNT wants to be the best it can be…the Jozy riddle must be figured out.

      • His “good service” was greatly helped by his off-ball movement and ability to bring other players into the attack. No, he didn’t finish, but as soon as he went out we lost all ability to transition into the attacking third.

        That wasn’t a coincidence.

      • You have got to be kidding. The only moderately good setups were one from Dempsey when Jozy still had 3 defenders to deal with and a cross from (Evans?) that did not reach him. The other chances were balls he had to come back for 25 0r 30 yards from goal. You must have been listening to Lalas make his consistently silly comments.

    • If the US wants even to make this match competitive and not get blown out in the 1st half, Klinsmann will have to stop using Jozy ALtidore as a lone forward. Time and time again, Klinsmann has used this formation and has resulted in a big fat goose egg for the USMNT. JA does not yet know how to play well in a lone forward formation. All his training and all his scoring at AZ Alkmaar have come in a multi-forward formation, either paired with one or two other strikers.

      And despite what many think, a lone forward does not result in a better defensive formation. It’s true that you will have more midfielders back defending, but they will be deep defending. Having players forward defending, like the strikers going after the opposing defenders with the ball will result in more losses of possession, more bad and hurried passes than with a single forward up front having to do this by himself. Keeping the opponents possession of the ball in his half as long as possible is a good thing

      The US must also refrain from using it’s defensive backs defending and ranging too far forward like they did against Belgium. The US was defeated by simply using long balls out of the back or midfield to it;s Belgium speedy winger before the US could get number back or even a defender to cover the wing. The result was that it put a huge amount of pressure on Goodson and Gonzales to cover the box as the Belgium winger, undefended and unhurried, could place precise crosses into the box..

      In short, the US must use it’s physicality, it’s speed and good defensive tactics to stay in the game against Germany. Using formations that it’s players do not do well in and/or using gambling tactics against Germany, even a younger and more inexperienced German side the US will see, is a sure path to defeat.

  10. Fabian Johnson at on the left could make a big difference, but I’m also hoping Donovan, Bedoya, Gatt, Diskerud, and McInerney show well at the Gold Cup. Wing play, creativity, and finishing. Please let it happen.

    • Do any of them have any combination of the letters a-s-s in them? Like p@ss? Or m@ssive? Or embar@ssing? That’s an automatic ticket for moderation.

  11. With fabian and DMB on the left we should at least be able to keep opposing defenses honest. Once Dolo and donovan are back on the right we can really start to stretch teams out and leave space for MB and Jones to do some damage.

  12. Here to hoping Danny Williams plays rb hes better than slew foot Jeff Cameron anyway of the week. No matter if he hasn’t been getting minutes or not. He’s not a winger but neither is Jeff. He’s better with the ball, faster, and thinks quicker. So I say until dolo and Chandler come back put him at rb. Castillo lb, fabian LW, belser cb, gonzo cb, will ams rb, Jones cdm, bradely cm, deuce cam, jozy st, and corona/Beasley at lw.

    Job done. Now make me head coach already.

  13. Clint Dempsey: “We’ll just keep creating chances and putting shots on goal, and if you do that you’ll get goals.”

    Say, Clint…you have to CREATE some chances before you can actually KEEP CREATING chances.

      • I meant the team as a whole, not Clint in particular. He’s about the only one we can expect to score at this point.

      • Idiotic? No. You confuse “most proven” with “effective”. He does not create many chances, disappears for large portions of games (with club and country) and is a poacher. I think that his comment was ridiculous. We are creating very few chances and scoring is almost non-existent. We complain about the lack of mid-field creativity, yet continue to praise Clint (who plays the ACM/CM/WFWD role frequently). And, if you point to his header assist, I will point to the other 89 minutes. You can’t have a captain that only hustles if he thinks that there is a goal in it for him.

      • Amen. Dempsey and Gomez, you get them the ball in the 18 and they’ll get you a shot on cage.

    • I think it’s style, system, and personnel.

      Style, there needs to be more running off the ball, combo play, we’re too stuck in positions.

      System, shift to a 442 so we have two options to move forward and stay in possession.

      Personnel, get Dempsey and Gomez in instead of Jozy.

      Unlike defense, we have plenty of undisputable offensive talent, it’s a matter of exploiting our resources.

      Defense is another issue, there are no standouts, not a lot of help on the youth NTs. You can tell how thin the depth is because we draw so much on MLS. I know Klinsi’s sales pitch is attack but the success of our next 10 years depends on whether we can find and/or develop some CBs and some backline depth. We could very well make the World Cup then struggle if we show up with 1 forward and a defense that struggles to stop people.

      • I keep finding myself responding to your comments….. anyway….

        The 4-4-2 is interesting to me still. Jozy certainly needs some help in attack and seems to do better with 1-2 guys closer to him. Who wouldn’t though right? Klinsmann seems dead set on keeping Dempsey central in our attack. How do we do that and play 4-4-2? its tricky….

        I’m starting to believe that Klinsmann hasn’t really let us loose offensively because he sees the weakness in defense. We have been so focused on protecting our brittle back 4 that it has hindered our offense. As we saw vs Belgium, without proper protection our back line will get picked apart. How do we balance that while also trying to jump start our impotent attack? I hate to direct the conversation this way but I think the answer is bring Landon Donovan back in. I’ve been harping on the 4-3-2-1 for a while now and would still love to see it. Solid, compact, hard working, and still skilled midfield with arguably our best 11 on the field.


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