What went wrong for Klinsmann and the USMNT against Brazil?

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by Carlos D. Mojica () | Photo by Jorge O. Martínez

Let’s be honest: the U.S. was probably not going to win against Brazil. After all, this is the verde amarelha we’re talking about. But while the majority of pundits didn’t expect the U.S. to win against Brazil, few thought that the match would be as one-sided as it was.

After allowing one goal in the first half, the U.S. gave up three goals over a 30-minute span in the second half, including a brace from Neymar.  Danny Williams managed to score a goal in the 91st minute, but it did little to console the American crowd.

At no point during the match was Brazil troubled by the American side. On the contrary, Brazil looked like it could have scored plenty more goals and probably would have, had Neymar started in the first half. The speed of players like Marcelo and Douglas Costa terrorized the American backline, who simply had no answer for the visitors.

Simply put, more was expected from the Americans, especially after notching impressive wins against Netherlands and Germany earlier this year. In the aftermath of such a resounding loss, questions arise and fingers are pointed in an effort to explain what happened and place the blame somewhere.

Let’s explore some of these questions.

WHAT DOES THE RESULT MEAN FOR THE U.S.MNT?

Well, that depends on who you ask.

If you ask the anti-Klinsmann crowd, Jurgen tinkered too much and fielded an experimental line-up when he should have fielded a stronger starting XI, especially given the caliber of the opponent at hand and with the Mexico game in the horizon.

If you ask the pro-Klinsmann crowd, an experimental line-up is to be expected in a friendly. They would also mention that against an international soccer behemoth like Brazil, the score would have been the same regardless of the players on the field.

The truth lies somewhere between these two schools of thought. While friendlies shouldn’t be judged solely on the result, the loss against Brazil is too resounding to ignore. Friendlies should be judged in the quality of play shown by teams, and by that standard the U.S. failed, as it looked completely out of its depth.

The American side that played against Brazil lacked cohesion and chemistry, but it also had significant absences, as the likes of Omar Gonzalez, Fabian Johnson, and Clint Dempsey were not present.

WHO WAS AT FAULT?

Given that the U.S. did not perform well as a whole, it’s hard to blame any one player for the result. Rather, a large portion of the blame should be placed on Jurgen Klinsmann. The manager chose a very experimental starting XI which included Alejandro Bedoya, normally an attacking midfielder, in a defensive role.

The choice to play Bedoya there seems quite odd given that he has never played in that position before, which showed during the game. Bedoya’s inability to provide cover for the backline meant that other players had to help out defensively to cover up his mistakes, which then kept them from performing their own duties.

Michael Bradley was the main victim here, as despite being deployed as an attacking midfielder, he was forced to drop deep in order to help defend and play the ball out of the back. As a result, the U.S. was devoid of ideas beyond ‘running-really-fast-and-crossing-the-ball’, something illustrated by the fact that Brazil had more shots on target than the Americans had total shots. 

It was not a pretty performance by the U.S. players, but Klinsmann’s choices are certainly worth questioning.

WHERE CAN KLINSMANN AND THE U.S. GO FROM HERE?

During his stint as manager of Germany, Klinsmann was heavily criticized for his rotation of players in and out of the national squad ahead of the 2006 World Cup. This is something that has held true for Klinsmann during his time at the helm of the U.S. squad.

One of the biggest issues that many pundits have with Klinsmann is that he claims to choose players based on club form, but often overlooks players who are performing well in favor of players who are having trouble getting time with their clubs, such as DeAndre Yedlin.

An example of this is that players like Benny Feilhaber and Ethan Finlay, who are having excellent seasons, are left looking from the outside in. This is not to say that Yedlin shouldn’t be part of the national side, but rather that Klinsmann isn’t consistent with his own rhetoric.

The U.S. would greatly benefit from giving an opportunity to playmakers like Feilhaber, who could potentially fill in the current gaps in the American squad. Additionally, if Klinsmann can settle on a starting XI and begin using it consistently, it would help improve the chemistry of the team.

WHAT WILL HAPPEN AGAINST MEXICO?

Klinsmann’s constant tinkering rendered Bedoya ineffective well before the game began, so it is imperative that he does not make the same mistake against Mexico. Although Bradley can be effective as an attacking player, he performs better when playing as a box-to-box midfielder or deep lying playmaker.

If Klinsmann fields an experimental line-up like he did throughout the Gold Cup, the U.S. will probably lose. But if he uses as starting XI that incorporates his best players in their respective positions, the U.S. will be in a position to win. The U.S. needs to solidify its defense and find a way to link its midfield with its attack, something Bedoya could do if played in his natural position.

Although the result can go either way against Mexico, Klinsmann must win if he is to restore his team’s reputation, which has taken a knock in recent outings. If the U.S. fails to beat Mexico, there were will be a big backlash, and deservedly so.

Klinsmann may not need a win to convince Sunil Gulati that he’s the right man for the U.S. team, but he does need a win to convince the rest of the American public.

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