Where Is Klinsmann Taking ÜS?
We are four games and one win into the Klinsmann-era at ÜS Soccer, but what have we learned about the new-look team? For one, it's obvious that Klinsmann likes to see his players be more creative on the ball and maintain possession. That doesn't always happen, but it appears Klinsmann's actions are matching his words when it comes to making the style more attractive. Taking a look at his player choices and the only concern I have at this point is that he hasn't used more players. In the long haul, these are meaningless games and these first seven matches could provide a foundation of knowledge from which to build his squad for 2014. However, looking at Klinsmann's choices and you can see he's already got a rather clear picture in mind. It's easy to understand why Klinsmann loves Tim Howard. He's on track to being the best goalkeeper the US has ever produced, and that's some pretty rich company. However, four games in and we have yet to see who's next in line. We already know how good Howard is and there has been plenty of time for some second half minutes for someone else. Bill Hamid seems to be the Crown Prince but I am curious as to why no other keeper has seen any action, especially in meaningless friendlies. At right back, there was a relatively successful performance from Tim Chandler early on, but he seems to be the closest answer to the impossible question at left back. So, Steve Cherundolo looks to be unchallenged for the moment. However, he'll be 35 by the kickoff of the next World Cup and Klinsmann will be looking for a solid left back to allow Chandler to slide back. And when he's healthy again, expect Eric Lichaj to get a look. On the left side, Edgar Castillo got some early exposure, and was exposed early and often. While he is still young enough to grow in to the spot, he showed little of his offensive flair displayed so often in Mexico. The New Mexico native did show his defensive frailties a bit too frequently, though. That led to the Chandler experiment. Against Honduras, Jonathan Spector got some late minutes on the left. In the center of the defense, Carlos Bocanegra and Michael Orozco Fiscal have seen the most action. Whatever leadership and positioning sense Bocanegra provides is in danger of being negated by his inconsistent distribution out of the back. Meanwhile, Orozco has shown flashes, but has also displayed a tendency to get burned, often. Klinsmann obviously likes his skill set, and he's young enough to be in his prime when Brazil rolls around. However, I know I'm not the only one scratching my head when Klinsmann includes Orozco in his description of the best the US has to offer as he explains why the likes of Omar Gonzalez and George John have not even been invited to camp. Tim Ream has also seen some time at center back, but stumbled. Clarence Goodson was solid in his stint and Oguchi Onyewu showed flashes of the Gooch of old. However, all of the center backs appear to be a disaster waiting to happen when it comes time to pass the ball out of the back. We've seen the greatest variety of players at holding midfielder under Klinsmann. After an early, brief experiment with three central midfielders, and then a dalliance with one it seems as if Klinsmann has settled on going with two. While Ricardo Clark and Jeff Larentowicz have not seen enough time to make a firm judgment on how they fit into the new system, Jermaine Jones has headed for the back burner after a rough outing. Kyle Beckerman, Michael Bradley and Maurice Edu seem to be the cream of the crop. It's arguably the most important position among the 11 when it comes to providing support, and a conduit for the back four. Right midfield is more of a question mark. Landon Donovan and Clint Dempsey have both played there, but both seem to have their greatest success in the middle of the attack. Danny Williams fit quite nicely against Honduras (and fellow German-American Fabian Johnson will likely get a chance to impress when he recovers from his neck injury.) Robbie Rogers looked great off the bench against Mexico, but woeful in starts against Costa Rica and Belgium. Rogers’ role for the moment, if any, looks to be as a late substitute. On the left, Jose Francisco Torres was lost in the first half against Mexico. A move inside did him wonders. Now the only question is how quickly will he recover from a broken foot that has knocked him out of action for the rest of the Mexican Apertura. Brek Shea has become a marathon man, and deservedly so. He seems to be the player that Klinsmann will build this team around, as he did with Bastian Schweinsteiger back in Germany 2006. DaMarcus Beasley rejuvenated his career with a move to Puebla, and in a reserve role against Honduras showed he can still contribute. Who will direct the offense? That is still a work in progress. Landon Donovan has the full backing of Klinsmann. Clint Dempsey was more of a withdrawn forward than an attacking midfielder against the Catrachos, but the US displayed some of its most creative football in the second half. And while many US fans still question Klinsmann's faith in Torres, his ability to turn under pressure, dribble and deliver quality passes should keep him in the mix. If he's not the guy, he's the guy next to the guy. Sacha Kljestan has only seen limited play, but seems to be in the mix. Up front, Jozy Altidore always seemed to have the edge and his recent purple patch at Dutch challengers AZ has given him a more confident air as the central striker. Juan Agudelo seems to be next in line, but he has yet to duplicate his stellar start with the national team. Edson Buddle is also in the picture, but at 30 years of age he better start contributing soon if he wants a chance three years from now. I'd like to see more of Onyewu, Beasley and Williams against Ecuador on Tuesday. And of the players called in for camp, but yet to make their Klinsmann debut, I'd like to see Bill Hamid and Teal Bunbury get a chance to play. I'm interested to see what changes, if any, Klinsmann has in store for the friendly in New Jersey. And I'm even more intrigued by his call-ups for the next two exhibitions in November. I'll have more on that later this week, as well as an analysis on the coaching staff situation. There are signs that a spark has been lit, but will the Klinsmann-style catch fire or just go down in flames? Things look promising, but if it doesn't click soon, his seat could get a bit hotter with World Cup qualifiers on the horizon.