How Klinsmann can fix his midfield

By Mike Woitalla

I'd suggest for Jurgen Klinsmann, after opening the Copa Centenario with a 2-0 loss to Colombia, to have a team-building event.

Perhaps a bowling tournament or a scavenger hunt. And team up Michael Bradley, Jermaine Jones and Alejandro Bedoya. Because that was Klinsmann’s midfield against the Colombians and they played like they hadn’t been introduced to each other.

If your midfielders aren’t working well together -- what chance has your team got? This trio did not connect.

Bradley played very deep, like a sweeper in front of the backline, and there was usually lots of green between him and his midfield mates. Bedoya made runs forward, waving his arm in hopes of a through pass, instead of moving toward Bradley. If you blinked, you missed any combination play between Bradley and Jones.

The 4-3-3 formation is tough on midfielders and only succeeds when they’re in sync with each other. That’s why it’s advocated at the youth level -- because it’s so challenging and forces players to figure out how to read the game and share offensive and defensive responsibilities.

It must be said, when Colombia is on top of its game, Los Cafeteros are as good as any team in the world. Take the terrific right winger Juan Cuadrado, a pleasure to watch and a menace to any defense -- enough so that Jones attributed the USA’s midfield problems to him having to help out left back Fabian Johnson.

“I had to spend a lot of energy to help Fabi,” said Jones. “So I came away a little bit from my own game.”

I asked Jones if the lack of midfield cohesion stemmed from Colombia being such a good team:

“We have to be more focused on us,” he said. “We have a midfield with a good game plan where we can put a lot of pressure on other teams. Today was more focused on Colombia and the left side to help Fabi so we lost one guy in midfield.”

And on whether a formation with only three midfielders might not be the best approach, Jones said:

“We showed in other games we [could] play really well [with three midfielders]. Today was a little bit tougher.”

I asked Bradley whether he’s confident that U.S. midfield will find its rhythm against teams not as formidable as Colombia:

“It’s not just the midfield. It’s everybody being better. It’s everybody being sharper ... be more dangerous. Move a little bit better.”

Of course, but so much of the game is played in the midfield.

The 28-year-old Bradley has been the U.S. midfield chief for nearly a decade, because he marshals the defense and sparks the offense. He’s hailed when the USA succeeds and blamed when it doesn’t. But his great games and his good games have far outnumbered his bad games.

Enough so that whatever Klinsmann does to repair the midfield -- scrap the 4-3-3 and add a midfielder or finally give Darlington Nagbe (or even Christian Pulisic) a start -- most important is to line up the team in a way that best suits Bradley.

28 comments about "How Klinsmann can fix his midfield ".
  1. Gus Keri, June 5, 2016 at 8:15 a.m.

    There is no shame of losing to the third ranked team in the world. The difference in quality was there for all to see. Obviously, they came with a plan and executed perfectly. Forget about it and focus on Costa Rica.

  2. Ric Fonseca replied, June 6, 2016 at 1:51 p.m.

    Well put Mr. Keri: I couldn't agree with you more. However, this incessant infatuation some SA writers ave for Bradley is sure as tootin's getting very old and ridiculous. That Mahoney gave him a 3 in his ratings, I feel is a bit high, ought to have been a 2-.

  3. James Froehlich, June 5, 2016 at 12:26 p.m.

    Great comment Gus!
    Mike W -- your childish adulation of MB has become exceedingly tiresome. Most, if not all US fans would agree that MB is one of our best players. However he is not and never has been truly world class. The US hasn't had such a player yet. MB has bad games, some of them very bad! Yet you consistently ignore his failings! The problem with the midfield in the Colombia game was Bedoya's failure to check to Michael!!! C'mon Mike! Grow up. And the coach needs to make sure that any changes are comfortable for Michael!! What planet do you live on?

  4. Scott Johnson replied, June 5, 2016 at 2:25 p.m.

    Even in youth soccer, it's a basic principle that if you want the ball passed to you, you find a seam and get near it, or you check to the ball. Standing behind defenders is not a good way to receive passes.

  5. Raymond Weigand replied, June 6, 2016 at 12:32 p.m.

    Scott, I instruct the kids that if they are not moving (without the ball) then they are invisible. Many times it is a fitness issue ... not only do they forget to move - they think they are moving - when it is really the defenders who are moving in front of them ... hah.

  6. Ric Fonseca replied, June 6, 2016 at 1:52 p.m.

    James F: excellent points!

  7. Steven SIegel, June 5, 2016 at 2:17 p.m.

    It was not a good match, even from Colombia. We did not challenge them or look dangerous until all our subs were in. Then we almost scored a goal.

    It is pointless to wonder whether Bradley has ever been a 'world class' player, whatever that means. USA has had many successful outings with him as a center mid, even against excellent competition. The question is: how is he doing now? For this game, definitely not good, but I am sure that applies to everyone who started.

    Bolivia, in tune up, was an incompetent team, and it presented us with fantasy.

    This game was reality.

  8. Scott Johnson replied, June 5, 2016 at 2:27 p.m.

    The only player who looked good in that game was Guzan, who stopped all the shots he had a chance to stop. Can't blame him for either goal. After that, the US' best defensive player was the crossbar.

  9. Bob Ashpole, June 6, 2016 at 7:01 a.m.

    “I had to spend a lot of energy to help Fabi,” said Jones. “So I came away a little bit from my own game.” I was very surprised to see an admission like this in the press. He is saying he lacks the energy to play both ways. Granted he was playing against a great team, but the field is not going to get any shorter in the future. Will JK start Jones again on Tuesday?

  10. Bob Ashpole replied, June 6, 2016 at 7:09 a.m.

    By the way I greatly respect Jones. The problem is not his, this is on the coaches.

  11. Chance Hall, June 6, 2016 at 9:35 a.m.

    While Colombia certainly brought their "A" game, the US never got out of the starting blocks. They spent all their time and energy on playing defense. That wears any player or team down. The question of whether MB is a world class player is a moot question. He had an awful game, and constantly gave the ball away with lame passes. Anybody else would have been pulled from the game right away. My daughter's high school midfield teammate could have made better connections and passes. Unless he improves his game, time to look elsewhere. Wake up JK time to look elsewhere.

  12. Dennis Mueller, June 6, 2016 at 11:16 a.m.

    Actually the US took more shots than Colombia and had 54% of possession (true a lot of that possession was in their own defensive half as Colombia laid back with the lead). But, I am really confident your girl's team could not do that.

  13. Mike Gaire, June 6, 2016 at 11:28 a.m.

    Jones is too old and injury prone and too dirty anyway and Bedoya is just not good enough to be playing for the national team. I would much prefer to see either Zusi or even Diskerud if he can find his old form or even Kyle Beckerman is more steady and reliable. Bedoya disappears out of the game too often. Fabian Johnson is a decent midfield player but a crap full back! Stop playing him at full back!

  14. beautiful game replied, June 6, 2016 at 5:53 p.m.

    Right, Mike G. Zusi and Beckerman are the difference makers; are u serious? Than u praise Alan Ball in the same breath as LD...LD was a good player, but he never had Ball's credentials on the pitch. Even NJ born Giuseppe Rossi before the knee injury was a much better player.

  15. Allan Lindh, June 6, 2016 at 11:29 a.m.

    Actually we have had one World Class player. Claudio Reyna was voted by the players to the Best Eleven at the 2002 WC, if memory serves me well.

  16. Raymond Weigand replied, June 6, 2016 at 12:42 p.m.

    2002 ... that was an exciting team to watch ... a lot of movement on and off the ball. Along with Reyna there was Hejduk and O'Brien (and of course, a young Donovan) You can do a lot with 4 exceptional players and a GK like Friedel. We are almost there ... again.

  17. Mike Gaire, June 6, 2016 at 11:32 a.m.

    By the way I absolutely do NOT agree with the comments above about Michael Bradley. He is a VERY good player and in a very good team he would be an even better player. And to say we have NEVER had a good midfield player is ridiculous. Did you never see how world class players at Everton were sitting on the bench because they could not displace Landon Donovan? Maybe you are not old enough to remember what a FANTASTIC player Landon was for San Jose when he was 18!! He reminded me of the late great Alan Ball who was the MVP of the England team when we beat Germany in the World Cup final in 1966 and he was one of Blackpool's greatest ever players too, of course! Together with the England Captain Jimmy Armfield ( soon to become Sir Jim?) who was voted best right back in the World for his performance in the 1962 World Cup

  18. Ric Fonseca replied, June 6, 2016 at 2 p.m.

    Mike Gaire: Actually my friend, I may be old enough to be your grandfather as I di remember quite a lot, 'cause when LD was playing for SJ, one would have to take into consideration the level of play in the MLS back in his (LD) day. It'd behoove many writers here on to focus on today and not the "epic players" of yesteryear, and in reference to PJ Rawlins, this is something I think could work as it would give wonder boy MB some support, but I'd put Nagbe with Pulisic to patrol up in the front line. And, maybe sit Il Duece for a half to give him time to study the opponen't defense, spot their weakness and once he' seen that, hell, put him to exploit that very weakness. Just sayin, and PLAYN ON!!!

  19. PJ , June 6, 2016 at 12:38 p.m.

    I agree with Alexi Lalas... we should switch to a 442 and start Nagbe at the 10 instead of Zardes. And we need MB to actually see Nagbe on the field and pass the ball to him. Nagbe can distribute to Wood and Dempsey up top and Bedoya and Jones making forward runs. Replacing Zardes with Nabge would improve our possession and our ability to transition the ball from the back to the attacking third.

  20. Wooden Ships replied, June 6, 2016 at 3:44 p.m.

    I think so too PJ. Get a different left back and put Fabian at mid.

  21. Ginger Peeler replied, June 6, 2016 at 6:15 p.m.

    PJ and Ric...good ideas! Thoughtful and sensible. Let's hope JK is on the same wavelength.

  22. Julio Moreira, June 6, 2016 at 3:29 p.m.

    My comments may sound like an old record, but the American/German team under JK,is a disaster, he has to admit to himself that he is a terrible coach, ruining the prestige we had at one time, with the Balboas, Ramos, Lalas, Winalda and now Tim Howard and Omar Gonzalez just to name a few. Also, he thinks he's on a permanent vacation, he is the worst dresser of all 16 teams participating in Copa America.

    I don't believe we can beat Paraguay and is going to be tough with Costa Rica. And even then, when we do not make it to the quarter finals, Gulatti will not fire him (they did in Germany) and JK will drive our soccer to new lows

  23. beautiful game, June 6, 2016 at 6 p.m.

    IMHO, the combination of Morris, Nagbe, and Pulisic has more potential than the current starters.

  24. Bob Ashpole replied, June 7, 2016 at 1:29 a.m.

    Morris is not an option and the coach has been using Nagbe and Pulisic. I can see starting Nagbe, but I would be concerned about starting Pulisic. I suspect that he is not ready yet to go 90 minutes, or even 65 minutes. I also think I understand JK's game plan and am interested in whether it will work in the next match. The poem "Casey at the Bat" is still true of sports today. It is a fine line of "if-onlys" between hero and scapegoat.

  25. beautiful game, June 7, 2016 at 11:43 a.m.

    Bob A., Pulisic has more soccer IQ than most on the squad...and u think he's not ready to go 90'...who on the current starting squad goes 90'? NOBODY!!!... the disappearing acts would make Houdini proud.

  26. Bob Ashpole, June 8, 2016 at 12:51 a.m.

    Sometimes I don't understand you. What does "soccer IQ" have to do with fitness?

  27. Bob Ashpole replied, June 8, 2016 at 12:53 a.m.

    Just to be clear, I am not worried about Pulisic's play. I am concerned about the increased risk of injury that fatigue brings.

  28. Chance Hall, June 9, 2016 at 9:27 a.m.

    Wasn't talking about the whole team there. Mainly about how badly MB played in that game. BTW, my daughter's team are state champions and ranked #1 in the nation for their division. :)

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