Is buzz over Klinsmann's babes justified?

By Paul Kennedy

The USA has been so disappointing so often during the Jurgen Klinsmann era that you have to wonder what to make of the optimism surrounding its chances at the Copa Centenario.

Suddenly, the USA is being labeled as serious Copa contenders. There are reasons to back up that claim. The USA's home-field advantage will be significant. And many of the tournament's top South American teams won't be at full strength. But at the end of the day, it will still come down to one thing, how good is the USA?

After Saturday's Bolivia game, Klinsmann said he was pleased with the result and the effort his players put in was "perfect." What else is he going to say after a 4-0 win that could have been bigger?

A sweep of three pre-Copa Centenario warmups sounds good, but two of the wins came against Puerto Rico (enough said) and Bolivia (which couldn't have looked any worse) and the third, against Ecuador, came on a last-minute goal.

Sweeps of pre-tournament friendlies are nothing new. In 2014, the USA beat Azerbaijan, Turkey and Nigeria ahead of the World Cup in Brazil. It went on to beat Ghana and tie Portugal, which turned out to be enough to get the USA out of a group in which it had been given little chance, but it was hardly a world-beater in Brazil.

If ever there was a reason not to put too much into friendly results, it was what happened in 2015.  The USA stunned the Netherlands and Germany on the road and then Guatemala before the Gold Cup. What happened next? It bombed at the Gold Cup, finishing fourth. If anything, the Guatemala game in Nashville -- a 4-0 win -- was more indicative of what would happen next as the USA actually played poorly and was outshot by Guatemala, 13-9.

So which team will we see on Friday against Colombia? The team that showed little for the first hour against Ecuador or the team that earned a deserved win against one of South America's hottest teams thanks to a second-half formation change and a bunch of substitutions.

Klinsmann's decision to move captain Michael Bradley back to the No. 6 position and play Jermaine Jones in a more advanced role was cause for celebration. Klinsmann's rationale for playing Bradley higher -- he was forced into playing the role of the second forward at the World Cup following Jozy Altidore's injury -- has been that he wants to take advantage of Bradley's talents in more attacking positions. That's all fine and good, but the USA has to get Bradley the ball in those positions, and it can't if it can't maintain possession.

Playing Bradley deeper allows him to do more organizing and doesn't necessarily take away from his attacking contributions. Example: the long ball to Bobby Wood that helped set up Gyasi Zardes' second goal against Bolivia. Nor does it take him out of set pieces. Example: his quick restart that led to John Brooks' goal.

For all we know, Klinsmann will abandon what he's done in the last game and a half. He's held out the option of reverting back to Kyle Beckerman as his No. 6, depending on the opponent and its No. 10, and if there ever were a time he'd do it, it would be against Colombia with James Rodriguez.

But much of the the buzz surrounding Klinsmann's boys concerns their youth. At the 2014 World Cup, the youngest player Klinsmann started was Altidore (for one game) and he was 24. On Friday, Klinsmann will likely start four players 24 or younger, DeAndre Yedlin, Brooks, Wood and Zardes, and bring 17-year-old Christian Pulisic -- the greatest talent to come along since Landon Donovan -- off the bench.

Darlington Nagbe isn't exactly a youngster -- he'll be 26 in July -- but he and Pulisic give the USA something it didn't have two years ago after Klinsmann unceremoniously dumped Donovan and Aron Johannsson was injured -- and that's serious help off the bench. At the World Cup, Klinsmann's No. 1 option off the bench was Yedlin and a wing and a prayer.

We'll know soon enough how far Klinsmann's youth movement takes the USA at the Copa Centenario. At least the final four, his stated goal? To the final? A USA-Mexico final -- possible if both teams win their groups -- would be special.

But even if the USA doesn't make it out of its group, the experience Klinsmann's babes have gotten will be invaluable as they head into the Hexagonal.
24 comments about "Is buzz over Klinsmann's babes justified?".
  1. Miguel Dedo, May 31, 2016 at 4:24 p.m.

    One hopes. The US has had many MNT managers who outsmarted themselves.

  2. Bob Ashpole, May 31, 2016 at 4:39 p.m.

    Truly what matters most is how they play, not the result.

  3. Fire Paul Gardner Now replied, May 31, 2016 at 5:52 p.m.

    Not really - this is a tournament and the point is to do as well as possible.

  4. Bob Ashpole replied, June 2, 2016 at 7:44 a.m.

    I think you are in a minority if you are unwilling to trade some results now for long term progress. Most people want the MNT program to grow until they become a real contender for the World Cup. That has certainly been the aspiration at USSF for the last 15 years. At the very least you should be willing to have the team peak at the end of the 4 year world cup cycle, which means giving some younger players playing time this summer even if that might not be the best side to get a result today.

  5. Wooden Ships replied, June 2, 2016 at 1:22 p.m.

    I'm certainly more in line with your view Bob and so are the other Copa teams. Sure, they would all like to win, but there will be selections made with the remaining qualifying and Russia in mind. That goes for the retention of the managers too. WWJKD if Altidore was healthy and on the roster?

  6. Ric Fonseca, May 31, 2016 at 4:44 p.m.

    O good grief Charley Brown! This sounds much like dear old Charly Brown saying, ARGHHHH!!! when Lucy pulls out the ball as he's about to kick it!!! So, this piece is a similar can't win for trying, so how about hoisting one for the colors, and get behind the young guys???

  7. John Soares, May 31, 2016 at 4:44 p.m.

    Play well....Hope for a win. I'm hopping.

  8. Allan Lindh, May 31, 2016 at 5:24 p.m.

    If he doesn't start DeAndre Yedlin, Brooks, Wood -- then he should be summarily fired before the next match. His ego-maniacal juggling of lineups has been a travesty -- and if it continues now that we have a competent back line, and some speed and creativity up front, he should be gone.

  9. Ric Fonseca replied, June 1, 2016 at 2:58 a.m.

    Oh jeepers weepers, Allan, you're whistling in the wind to get him sumarrily fired. How come that guy from NYFC didn't get fired, or Bruce Arena when their team and gk couldn't hang on to the ball?

  10. Fire Paul Gardner Now replied, June 1, 2016 at 10:03 a.m.

    Basically every post from Alan calls for someone to be fired if they don't do what he wants. Glad Alan isn't my boss!

  11. Kent James replied, June 3, 2016 at 1:06 p.m.

    Fire Paul Gardner Now, are you REALLY giving someone a hard time about calling for someone to be fired? Just askin'...:-)

  12. Joe Linzner, May 31, 2016 at 6:13 p.m.

    it has been established for JKs entire tenure that when we win it is spite of JK and when we lose it is because of JK. It is incredible to me how expert joournalists are when it comes to higher level coaching and which player should play which position and how important it is that unless we win every tournament regardless of it's importance. When we win a friendly be it a strong team or a weak one it is not important. It is how we win that is also unimportant but should we lose even against Brasil it is a catastrophe. The problem is quite simple. The only times when when a win by the USMNT will ever mean anything is when JK is NOT the coach. AS for me I think he is doing OK..with the players available to him....

  13. charles davenport, May 31, 2016 at 6:21 p.m.

    uninspired performances by Ecuador and Bolivia in American humidity. Play the kids.

  14. Ric Fonseca replied, June 1, 2016 at 2:59 a.m.


  15. Tim Gibson, May 31, 2016 at 8:57 p.m.

    I'm Excited!....a major tourney right here in our own backyard. Our team representing, Our fans representing & showing off some of our new/awesome stadiums. "F" all the snobs & bring me a beach chair & a cooler fulla brews....,GO USA!

  16. Ric Fonseca replied, June 1, 2016 at 3:01 a.m.


  17. R2 Dad, June 1, 2016 at 1:04 a.m.

    Hopefully one of the benefits of Pulisic coming through at 17 will be the calibration in the minds of fans, coaches and players that 16 is not too soon for top talent to be thrown to the lions via training with the first team and breaking through. The fact that Nagbe is new to the USMNT at 26 and Nguyen re-new at 27 means we're still thinking of college graduate-aged players 24+ as finally able to play with the big boys. This is WAY too late in the developmental stage to solidify MNT experience, cutting off at least 5 years of needed development. NCAA and the rest of the sporting "authorities" in this country need to understand the modern metrics for the game are different from the standard college timeline vv baseball, basketball & football.

  18. Fire Paul Gardner Now replied, June 1, 2016 at 10:05 a.m.

    You're 100% right - the sooner we get rid of a college soccer as a part of our developmental system the better. We are making progress there, with the homegrown player rules and MLS reserve teams in the USL.

    To be fair though, Nagbe only recently became eligible for the USMNT or I think he would have debuted much sooner.

  19. Ric Fonseca, June 1, 2016 at 3:03 a.m.

    Hey R2D2, I mean R2 Pops, what did you just say? Forget the NCAA, and like Tim Gibson said above, let's pop open a few brews, danm the snobs and full speed ahead, or should it be just PLAY ON!!!

  20. Joe Linzner, June 1, 2016 at 8:11 a.m.

    Amen, to both of you......No wonder college isn't doing anything... it is sissyfied beyond recognition..... as long as not FIFA based it is a useless exercise. squad shoul not exceed 40, 23 players for varsity 3 subs, perhaps more ala friendlies but once out, yer out. reserves also play, and rotate bench players to reserves and promote improved payers up into first stupid countdowns, no time the game as it is played everywhere else on earth.... leave for the highly educated to make it into something it is not....

  21. Wooden Ships replied, June 1, 2016 at 1:35 p.m.

    Right on Joe. I coached in college and I've always wondered who changed the game. I always figured it was a bunch of egg ball administrators.

  22. Ric Fonseca replied, June 1, 2016 at 3:56 p.m.

    To Joe and Woodie: FYI, the NCAA has always seen fit to change the Laws of the Game to fit the "college" scene. It wasn't just a "bunch of egg ball administrators (sic)" or the "...exceed(ing) 40, 23 players, (sic)" etc, but I remember very well that it was the AD's with the backing of the "not too all well knowing NCAAers,) virtually ALL of them unfriendly to soccer that changed the rules going abck to the mid '60s and thereafter. Here's a bit of soccer history: In 1970 UCLA made the final 4, played in Edwardsville, Ill, the teams included St Louis, Howard and Brown, four very good teams that played hard and skillfully. Howard and UCLA were lambasted by the local press for fielding a bunch of foreigners, Latinos, Ethiopians, Africans and Caribbeans, etc. Well this is fodder for another story, BUT it wasn't just the make up of the players, it was the officiating team! Imagine, they wore striped shirts, knee-length pants, black socks, AND a hat the shape of a beanie, and they used the two-man-system, and played quarters! The players? Well they just played their game, the Bruins vs the Billikens, two excellent teams with different styles, battled well into the second half, oops, excuse me, the third quarter when a ref halted play, called a UCLA player (he was our leading scorer - I am a Bruin) to the side line scorer's table and insisted to remove and change his shoes because the studs were of aluminim! Jeepers, we went bonkers when the refs continued play as we looked for another pair of shoes (that were not provided then by the university) that took about ten minutes, and another one to get him back on the field! St. Louis eventually won the game 1-0, on a controversial play late in the game (no sideline or goal line crowd control, another story) and this was the final. Bottom line, the NCAA has always molded the rules, even when more sane minds were involved, rules committee began to be comprised of knowledgable university reps, and then we get the divisional structure, Div I, II, III, the NAIA, the NJCAA that used the NCAA rules (with some exceptions) yet in the late 70's and early 80's the Calif Community colleges ALL OF THE 100 that fielded soccer, voted to use the FIFA LAWS OF THE GAME, the only system to do so, and it works pretty damned good!!! This is just the tip of the NCAA rules iceberg... Can any one say PLAY ON?

  23. Wooden Ships replied, June 1, 2016 at 7:31 p.m.

    Ric, my guess about egg ball administrators I believe was correct as most AD's came from those programs. Some baseball, some basketball. And Ric, you know I'm a St. Louis guy, couple years behind you. Most of my buds played at SLU and SIU, 73 to 77. There was some exclusion in those days, pretty political with some religious overtones. I was the first non-catholic to be allowed to play in the CYSO at age 9. It was a diocese vote. Glad I could score goals. Wonderful times and people. Aluminum studs?

  24. BJ Genovese, June 4, 2016 at 9:12 p.m.

    College coaches are lucky to be employed and they know it. In most cases they spend there time fleecing kids to come to there ID camps (fundraisers) for hundreds of dollars after most of these kids are already spending thousands to get with a high level club that will train them and take them to these "showcase". Just so you email can be mass distributed by the tourney director. I get at least two emails a day asking my Son to come to there number one ID camp. And if by chance they do "scout" you. You still have to come to there fundraiser without a discount. They should not be surprised when the best players are not coming to there camps... There parents have already been drained by the system. So out of control. I really wish one of these "soccer journalist" would expose this situation.

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