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Jürgen Klinsmann has made changes to his team for every World Cup qualifier, and Friday's match won't be any different. However, these changes do not mean this team lacks continuity or cohesion.
Continuity is important for national teams, but Jürgen Klinsmann's team selections indicate that continuity in player personnel is not one of his primary concerns. The U.S. is dedicated to a certain style of play, and the omission of Jozy Altidore from the most recent squad is a strong indicator of Klinsmann's dedication to that style, but their style does not require the team to stick with the same formation or the same personnel from game to game.
Tim Howard, Clint Dempsey, Herculez Gomez and Jermaine Jones are the only players who have started in all four of the United States' World Cup qualifiers. Klinsmann started qualifying with a hybrid 4-3-3/3-4-3 formation against Antigua and Barbuda, switched to a 4-3-3 against Guatemala, went to a 4-3-1-2 away to Jamaica, then switched into a more attacking 4-1-3-2 for the return leg in the United States. While the results of those games were all vastly different, the Untied States attempted to play the same way in all of them.
While arguably not repeating the same formation twice, Klinsmann has also not repeated the same XI twice. This seems to reflect a lack of continuity when compared to other national teams at this stage in the qualifying cycle, but there's nothing inconsistent or incoherent about the way the United States has played under Klinsmann. The team has often struggled to get results -- not to mention their struggles with width and movement off the ball -- but they've played the same way in every match, regardless of their formation, personnel, or overall performance on the night.
Klinsmann has earned plenty of criticism for poor results and odd team selections, but if there's one thing he can't be criticized for, it's sticking to his convictions. He's said from the beginning of his tenure as national team manager that he wants to play a possession-based game with the ball on the ground, while also requiring his forward players to work very hard and pressure the opposition defensively. He's dropped or refused to call in players who don't fit what he wants to do, as the exclusion of Altidore from his most recent squad illustrates. Players who don't help the team possession or win possession back don't have a place in Klinsmann's team.
It's also tough to criticize Klinsmann for the changes he's made from game to game. Altidore didn't help the United States keep or win back possession against Jamaica, so he was dropped. The United States played with no width in that match, so he introduced Graham Zusi into the team. Kyle Beckerman and Maurice Edu did not bring enough defensively to justify their inclusion as they struggled to find Clint Dempsey and Herculez Gomez, so Danny Williams entered for the return match in Columbus. Altidore has since been excluded from the squad, while hard-working target man Alan Gordon and the hyper-versatile, technically sound Sacha Kljestan were brought in.
Should it have taken Sunil Gulati's long-coveted savior of U.S. soccer and a man who coached Germany and Bayern Munich more than a year to find the players best suited to his system? No, probably not, but that's irrelevant now. What matters for the USMNT -- and what should matter to fans -- is that it looks like he's starting to get it. He's becoming more familiar with CONCACAF and with the players at his disposal, and the players are becoming more familiar with what he expects of them.
The team that takes the pitch on Friday will be Klinsmann's fifth different set of 11 players in qualifying, and there's a good chance that those players line up in his fifth different formation. They should keep the ball better than any U.S. team that has been fielded under Klinsmann has before them. They'll probably work harder to win the ball back. Even though the absence of real left backs might make for some less dynamic wide play, the midfield players will probably play with a better concept of how to spread out the pitch. The United States will play with the ball on the ground, press Antigua and Barbuda's central defenders, and more likely than not, look like a slightly better version of the team that beat Jamaica in Columbus.
It doesn't matter which players take the pitch, and what formation they line up in. The U.S. is going to play the same way that they have for the entirety of Klinsmann's tenure. The only difference, hopefully for Klinsmann and U.S. fans, is that they'll play a little bit better than they have in the recent past.
Like it or not, Klinsmann does have his team playing his style of soccer, and they play that style no matter who takes the pitch. He may not end up as a success in his role as United States manager, but he's succeeded in that one aim.