Through struggles and successes, Jurgen Klinsmann has insisted that his United States team's results in friendlies do not matter and that it was all about building for World Cup qualifiers. Now those qualifiers are just around the corner with just three friendlies separating from their June 8 start of qualifying for the 2014 World Cup.
All is not perfect with the U.S. team, though. While the team certainly is improving, it has a lot of questions still to answer, like what formation to play, what players to play, how to integrate Landon Donovan and how to get the most out of Clint Dempsey. See, easy?
With questions still to answer and three friendlies to answer them, Kevin McCauley and I sat down to talk about what the U.S. team in a two-part chat. Part one touched upon players and positions, while this part two gets into formations, roles and what the team needs to do to make the three friendlies a success.
Ryan: So 4-3-3 or 4-2-3-1 (or their 4-3-2-1 and 4-4-1-1 variations), which is it? If the roster release is any indication (and take it with the smallest grain of salt possible), Donovan and Dempsey are both forwards so that, plus the glut of central midfielders, leads us to believe 4-3-3. That formation gives the team width, which it has lacked, and it allows for a better midfield probably. The problem is that it takes Dempsey out of the number 10 role and is there anything dumber than that right now?
Kevin: The listing of players as forwards or midfielders always seems incredibly random and it's never indicitive of what's going to happen. There aren't great wide players on this team at the moment and there aren't any perfect options. I understand going to 4-3-3 to get the best 11 players on the field, but that involves taking the team's best player (Dempsey, by a mile) out of his best position. I can't endorse that. I'd rather make a tough decision at right wing and bench a good central midfielder than take Dempsey out of the No. 10 role.
Ryan: Dempsey is the type of dynamic, creative player that a team playing Klinsmann's style needs. To take him and spit him out wide would be a smack in the face to everything he's been preaching about since taking the job.
Kevin: Yeah, especially since he's the team's only truly dynamic, creative player right now. Jose Torres and Graham Zusi aren't on that level.
Ryan: And there isn't an incredible, dynamic deep-lying central midfielder to spring the break either. It's Dempsey or, let's not consider the other options.
So three friendlies and then the World Cup qualifiers. What needs to be accomplished in these three friendlies to make them "successful" since we know the score doesn't matter.
Kevin: Whether it's the 4-3-3 or 4-2-3-1, and whether Dempsey is playing wide or in the hole, Klinsmann needs to know by the end of these matches what his first choice lineup and formation is. Additionally, everyone needs to take the step from good short passes, keeping the ball and fluid movement to using those skills to create chances. The forwards' off the ball runs late in games hasn't been great under Klinsmann, and Dempsey is the only central player who doesn't pick the most conservative passing option every time. In addition to solving selection dilemmas, the team needs to be more aggressive in creating chances, as opposed to being a homeless man's Barcelona that walks the ball around the box.
Ryan: That's pretty much it for me. The U.S. needs to create chances. With the players at their disposal, I don't think the slower pace they attack with is the smartest way to go forward so speeding up play and breaking quicker will be a way towards that. Castillo or Johnson, whoever is at left back, and Steve Cherundolo will have to get forward more often to give them some width because this team isn't walking the ball into the goal. However they do it, the chances will have to come.
Kevin: I think Dempsey can do a lot to help the team create chances more frequently than they have thus far under Klinsmann. As much as I like Dempsey sitting in the hole for the United States, he has to start making late runs to get onto crosses, as well as taking a shot from distance once in a while. We need to find some middle ground between Fulham Dempsey and the Dempsey we've seen under Klinsmann so far.
Ryan: That has to start elsewhere, though, doesn't it? Too often the team looks like they have no idea how to go forward and create chances. They know how to pass, but not attack so then Dempsey gets it and he's the only person who seems to know what direction to go. Get the rest of the team an idea of how to attack, not just pass, and Dempsey is free to do those things instead of being THE attack.
Kevin: Well, everyone has to do a better job of looking for runs off the ball, making themselves available when Dempsey does get on the ball and turn forward. He often ends up dribbling into the defense or passing backwards through no fault of his own. Jozy Altidore, in particular, needs to get better at making himself available to receive the ball from Dempsey, but Dempsey has to do a little more of looking for scoring opportunitities when the ball goes out wide as well.
Ryan: It will be interesting to see how Donovan changes things. He hasn't been around and his absence has been a legitimate excuse for Klinsmann and the U.S. In general, the entire team just needs to move more. The amount of standing and watching the team has been doing is incredible. Can a second attacking player in Donovan to play with Dempsey change that? Let's find out.