A new World Cup cycle is upon us and the USMNT has begun with a resounding sputter. They have recorded a disappointing 1-2-2 record, the sole win coming from an away game against the Czech Republic.
Ironically, the lone victory was secured by an experimental group of youngsters and not from a tested contingent of veterans. In the remaining four fixtures, the U.S. consistently underwhelmed and lacked cohesion.
Many obvious trends have surfaced for Jurgen Klinsmann’s team, causing fans and social media to dish out blame and point fingers. Yes, the team is failing to hold on to leads, and of course they are giving the ball away too easily. The list goes on and on with an array of difficulties the U.S. is experiencing on the field.
It is good to point out issues and educate yourself on areas that need to be addressed, but the real question is, “Why is this happening?”
- Transitioning Systems
Klinsmann promised to bring a pragmatic, attacking style to the USMNT, but once again we saw the same “American” performances down in Brazil. Klinsmann has been successful playing conservatively and there is an argument that he did not have time to fully integrate a new system before the World Cup.
Now, he has a full cycle to leave his impression on the team and has started taking steps to implement the new system that he vowed to deliver. He has called in a plethora of young, promising players that are not bogged down by a preexisting conservative mentality, and are free to be molded into Klinsmann’s liking.
It seemed that this youth movement would pay dividends as an experimental U.S. lineup secured an impressive away victory against a solid Czech Republic team. However, once integrated with the regulars and established veterans, things haven’t been clicking. As a matter of fact, the newer faces in the lineup seemed to produce stray passes and appeared to be irresponsible with possession.
It is easy to boil this down to lack of experience or nerves, but I don’t think that’s always the case. Klinsmann wants his defenders to keep possession and build from the back, which means more passes under pressure and in tight spaces. So, naturally, there are more defensive miscues as the back line hones the new skill.
- Not On the Same Page
How many times have you scratched your head lately and thought to yourself, “who was he passing to?” Too often passes have gone awry and rolled out of bounds or floated listlessly to empty areas of the field. At the international level, you have to imagine that such perplexing distribution is not due to lack of skill, but derived from some alternative explanation.
When you combine players that are used to a conservative system with youngsters who are attempting to play the new style Klinsmann is moving toward, there will be a disconnect. While Jurgen knows how he wants the team to play, it seems that the players on the field are not following the same approach.
Defensively, the National Team has a few kinks to work out. There are the obvious issues, like conceding late in games or failing to maintain defensive shape that need to be addressed, but for me one of the National Team’s most alarming problems has yet to surface. When alternating between high pressure and low pressure, they don’t always commit as a unit. At that level, if you don’t press together, gaps will open up that quality teams (like Colombia) will exploit and then catch you on the break.
Fortunately, these disappointing performances have come from international friendlies and have provided valuable experience for some of the younger projects. The USMNT is far from a crisis, so don’t reach for the panic button just yet. Learning a new system takes time. Be patient.