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On USMNT: Bradley, Klinsmann not on same page

Photo by Kirby Lee/USA Today Sports
Photo by Kirby Lee/USA Today Sports

The relationship between a head coach and a captain is important. The captain is supposed to serve as the link between the coach and the players, to say nothing of being the de facto leader on the field and motivator in the locker room.

It is certainly not a good sign for the U.S. Men’s National Team then that Jurgen Klinsmann and Michael Bradly are not on the same page.

The Dos a Cero domination over Mexico at Mapfre Stadium in Columbus, Ohio, came to an end for the U.S. on Friday, as a late Rafael Marquez goal doomed the Americans to a 2-1 defeat in the sides’ opener in the final round of CONCACAF World Cup Qualifying.

While Marquez provided the difference with an 89th-minute goal, it was a poor first half that set the tone for the stunning U.S. loss. The Americans came out in a never-before-used 3-4-3 formation and were overwhelmed by their arch-rivals, giving up several good looks to Mexico before ultimately conceding to a Miguel Layun strike in the 20th minute.

Things got better for the U.S. when Klinsmann moved his players into the more familiar 4-4-2 setup midway through the first half after having a conversation with Bradley and Jermaine Jones during a stop in play. The damage had already been done, however, as the Americans were forced to overcome a disjointed start that seemed preventable.

“Tactically they do some interesting things,” Bradley told FS2 when asked directly if the initial formation Klinsmann deployed was to blame for the subpar first half. “They space themselves out in good ways and it means that things have to be very clear so that when you go to close down you’re not stepping out of one space and leaving things wide open. I thought as we got to the end of the first half and into the second half that that got better.”

Bradley had a point.

There were times during the open half-hour of the match when the U.S. was outnumbered greatly in the midfield. With wide midfielders Timmy Chandler and Fabian Johnson dropping to serve as fullbacks when Mexico had possession and Christian Pulisic staying high in a No. 10 role behind forwards Jozy Altidore and Bobby Wood, Bradley and Jones were left to cover swaths of space.

It was clear on the 10th-minute Mexico attack that ended with a saved shot off the post that the U.S. system would not hold up. It was also evident in the 16th minute when Hector Herrera fired high on an open look.

The Americans’ back three was repeatedly turning into a back five when El Tri penetrated their half, and that left Bradley and Jones to try and close down acres of land and passing lanes. That doomed strategy is why Mexico scored so easily, as Bradley lost a challenge about 23 yards out from goal with no midfielder to cover for him. He, like Jones, was left on an island. It was mission impossible.

Klinsmann, however, deemed it doable.

“The key in that (3-4-3) system is that your central midfielders need to get into these 1-on-1 battles. That’s something that was not happening in the first 25 to 30 minutes,” said Klinsmann. “Their players could roam and that puts you in difficulties. It gave them their best chances, so we changed it.”

Seeing Klinsmann point the finger at his players for faulty execution is nothing new, but Bradley’s comments about needing things to be very clear to counter Mexico’s tactics are. Bradley is among the most measured and astute players on the U.S., so for him to even hint at the gameplan being fuzzy is an obvious sign of frustration with Klinsmann. Why else speak out, even if by the subtlest of ways?

The contradiction in their takes also demonstrates that the coach and captain did not have a good understanding with one another entering Friday’s match, which is a cause for concern given that the Americans were playing their rival from the south in their biggest home game of the World Cup Qualifying cycle. It also raises questions as to how healthy their relationship is right now, and whether other players are in a similar boat with regards to not knowing exactly what Klinsmann wants tactically.

The good news for the U.S. is that it will not have to wait long to try and correct things. A road game in Costa Rica awaits on Tuesday, and an unprecedented first win there would definitely help soften the blow of seeing the Americans fall at the hands of Mexico in a World Cup Qualifier in Columbus.

Still, Klinsmann and Bradley need to try and get on the same page. It is unacceptable for the coach and captain to not be on the same page, and the sooner they sort things out the better the U.S. will be.



  1. Here’s what worries me about the Costa Rica game: Since the mid ’90s CR has always had at least one very good center mid whom they play through. If you can keep them from playing through their center mids, their usually talented forwards can atrophy during games. Ruiz and Campbell are dangerous. But they are highly reliant on flow through the midfield. Bradley scares me because he tends to give center mids a lot of space. I used to just think that’s the way he plays with the USMNT for tactical reasons. But I’ve seen it at TFC too. Jones is capable of destroying CR’s midfield flow, but he is not disciplined enough to be well positioned for 90 minutes. I don’t know what the solution is, but I am not convinced Bradley is part of the answer if CR’s center mids are controlling the game.

    • Meh, I am not terribly worried about CR. The dynamic there is much like the dynamic with the US and MX right now. CR is going to have to change their tactics after that Copa loss and so, even though they are at home, we will be able to adjust to their unfamiliarity with a game plan. i.e. we will go 4-3-3 and if they run out a weird formation, we will drop to a 4-5-1. Its almost definitely going to be Altidore, Wood, Julian, Bradley, CP, Jones as the front 6 with Yedlin and FJ giving width along the sides. Birnbaum v. besler will be interesting.

  2. The formation argument is way overblown by the US media. We did not lose the possession battle, the ability to complete decisive passes, pressure their attacks and win the ball back routinely when Jurgen made the starting lineup. Michael is in top form for Toronto and he looked like he was gassed and out of his league on Friday (before and after the formation change) Maybe it was just a bad day or maybe it’s just been a while since he played vs this level of completion.

    Of course if someone wrote that they would get a talk from MLS – so let’s blame Jurgen

  3. I think you are reaching here. I don’t see either man assigning blame, just explaining what the plan was and why it didn’t work. As upset as I am at JK for tactical naïveté I don’t see anything that suggests he and his Captain are at odds.

  4. In the CONCACAF championship last year, the US played a 4-4-2 and Mexico totally dominated the midfield. If you remember, the US rarely saw the ball. While Klinsmann never mentioned that, it has to have been a factor in trying the new formation. Especially with 3 forwards, if they can press high and disrupt play to their midfielders and forwards, it could cause Mexico real problems. I’m not defending this, but when you consider the last time we played Mexico and what happened, then this formation makes some sense.I think the problem is that Mexico is too skilled for our high pressure to work and once they got past the midfield our defense was really pressured and help from the midfield couldn’t arrive fast enough, especially when Mexico overloaded the US right side.

    • The 4-4-2 was pretty effective in the 2nd half until the last 10 minutes when we started to sit back. Perhaps it was Mexico’s renewed vigor when Lozano came on or Jozy, Wood, and CP had tired too much to continue pressing. That formation also caused CR fits this Summer, although I expect them to be more calm at home. Maybe we see Green on for Besler and move FJ back to deal with Campbell and Ruiz. Green is used to high pressuring for Bayern. Put Green on left and CP on the right, might be enough to keep Mataritta at home and not causing trouble up the flank. I thought Jozy and Wood looked pretty good together, just missing a couple times, with a couple more days training together maybe those misses are connections.

    • My opinion – the problem is not so much the shape of midfield but how low a line we are playing. With Mexico I think it is better to press higher. When we back into our box we play to their strengths.

    • It was a 3-5-2. Then, as the MF kept getting bypassed entirely (I mean one pass through to the space being vacated by Chandler and FJ) they tried to press EVEN higher in a 3-4-3. That was at about 15 minutes in. at that point we conceded numerical advantage in the MF and Mexico possessed for 10 minutes, hit a bunch of posts and scored. At that point, we switched to 4-4-2 to re-set the MF and give support from behind. I agree that this was, in large part a reaction to confed cup… and I think it could have worked, but our defenders were giving up 15 yards on either side of the field to the outside. and the MX defenders were just going over the top/through our MF with ease, knowing that their wide guys were fast enough to beat Besler and Gonzo to the ball. Besler, Gonzo… apparently not Bonucci and Chiellini.

  5. JK is not a good tachtician. The US team will be fine once he eventually loses important games, and switches to something that makes sense. Right now, we need both Jozy and Wood centrally, and that means a 4-4-2. That means more discipline from whoever is manning the wings, and it requires Bradley and nameless partner to do a lot of dirty work. But if Atletico Madrid have taught us one thing, it’s that the 4-4-2 is not dead. If played in a disciplined way, it can move mountains.

    The US lost their home opener to Mexico, not a total disaster. There are still plenty of games to go. JK needs to play a formation that makes sense with the players he has. It always takes him too long with the USMNT.

  6. How can someone who turns over the so often be captain of the team? He doesn’t deserve a free pass for people to forget this deficiency.

    Don’t pass it off as having a bad game, it has always been this way with him.

  7. I didn’t even have to look to know Franco wrote this one. I don’t think either was blaming the other from those comments. JK’s comment is like a football coach saying we’ve got hold our blocks, its not blaming or calling out players, its stating what went wrong. Bradley if anything seems like he is saying the players weren’t communicating with each other and leaving space when guys stepped up. I don’t think Bradley believes JK is the greatest manager, but he’s not firing a shot here.

  8. I can understand wanting to find a way to push Fabian further up the field, but in order to play 3 in the back things need to be clearly defined, and I didn’t get the feeling that was the case on Friday.
    I truly believe we need to keep to a 4 man back-line when playing against top quality teams until such time as our players become more familiar with the 3 back formation. That means that Fabian has to play LB, unless we can find a viable alternative, which we haven’t been able to do yet. We’ve tried a number of different players at LB without success.
    Until our central midfield options improve drastically our best formations are either a 4-2-3-1 or a 4-1-3-2 against good teams. We can experiment all we want against weak opponents or during friendlies, but Hex matches against Mexico & Costa Rica are not times to trot out formations that the players are not accustom to.

  9. Stop it.
    Of all the Mexican players DoSantos is the one that plays at the lowes level. MLS. The rest play top flight in Germany, Spain, Italy, Portugal and Mexico. The best coach in the world cannot guarantee a win with these players.

    • Julian Green – Bayern (6 game unused sub, played 5 games…and I shouldn’t even have to tell you how hard it is to be on the 18 man roster, let alone break into the starting 11 for one of the best winning teams in the world)
      Christian Pulisic – Dortmund (9 starts),
      Fabian Johnson – Mönchengladbach 90 mins
      Bobby Wood – Hamburger SV 90 mins
      Aron Johannsson – Werder Bremen
      Deodre Yedlin – Newcastle / Sunderland 90mins
      John Brooks – Hertha BSC
      Timmy Chandler – Eintracht Frankfurt 90 mins
      Gooch, Lynden – Sunderland
      Cameron, Geoff (Stoke City) 90 mins
      Williams, Danny – Reading 90 mmins

      yeah that excuse doesn’t work anymore. Green is part of a team that is the best in Germany, Pulisic the second best team in germany….better than Chicharito’s Bayer Leverkusen , Chandler plays with Marco Fabian… yeah we have the pieces to do the job but we just lack the architect to put it all together (and it was apparent if you compare the first half and second half of the Mexico game…night and day)

      • Some of those players didn’t play in the game on Friday but overall you are right. I don’t see this Mexico team as being any better than the last four teams that lost in Columbus. And once we stopped using a new formation we were on top for the most part. These teams are close enough that coaching and tactics can make all the difference. We were fortunate not to be down 2 or 3 goals before the formation change.

        To be fair to JK, the second goal had nothing to do with tactics, that was just someone falling asleep at a corner (and a very nice header by Marquez). Obviously that is on the players 100%.

      • The first goal was not down to tactics or formation either, rather heart and want to! Bradley has to come away be it has that steal, and others around him needed to step up to the ball as well. It was lazy defending and inexcusable to me! Lazy defending cost us 2 goals and ultimately the game

    • Go back and watch the replay. When Bradley looks up to pass it back, Wood is still reeling and trying to regain his balance. By the time he has regained his balance (and is wide open), Bradley has already made the decision to shoot. It’s more unlucky timing than selfishness.


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