Just over two months ago, US Men’s National Team was at the center of both traditional and sports media. After exorcising old demons against Ghana, settling for a disappointing tie against Portugal, and surviving against eventual champions Germany, the United States was poised to face Belgium in a very winnable game.
We know how the game turned out. In spite of Tim Howard’s word class performance, the United States could complete a rally in extra time, losing 2-1 to the Belgians.
For most fans and even most players, it was still considered a successful performance. While we failed to advance in the knockout stages, advancing out of the Group of Death was a feat in itself. However, prior to Wednesday’s friendly with the Czech Republic, head coach Jurgen Klinsmann said in an interview with NBC Sports that the goal for the USMNT in the ’18 World Cup is the semifinals.
He followed up those comments with a surprising 4-3-3 formation in the match against Czech, one which featured lots of attacking a little defending. It’s the type of lineup Klinsmann was known for. And it’s the type of lineup we should expect from Klinsmann.
With an influx of youngsters, Klinsmann can shape the national team into the version he likes. In the lead-up to the 2014 World Cup and in the tournament itself, we saw a USA team that was defensive and built more for counter attacks. In the biggest game in four years for the team against Belgium, we started not one, not two, not three, but four defensive midfielders: Michael Bradley, Jermaine Jones, Geoff Cameron, and Graham Zusi.
On Wednesday, albeit with a crop of youngsters with limited international experience, Klinsmann trotted out line-up devoid of defensive midfielders and a philosophy that was evident in the first half: attack, attack, attack. While it left the US open to counter attacks, it also resulted directly in a goal, as the pressing of the USA forwards and midfielders led to a turnover and goal.
This is the type of teams and games we expect from Klinsmann. With 2018 now the focus and his future to that point certain, Klinsmann will mold the team to his liking. The likes of Jones and likely Cameron likely cycling out of national team competition and players like Alejandro Bedoya, Mix Diskerud, and Julian Green cycling in, the USA is going to become an attacking team.
Too often the US played on the back foot, inviting pressure and hoping to break on counters. If not for a last gasp goal from John Brooks, the US would have tied Ghana. Only when US pushed forward against Portugal did they find the lead, and then subsequently lose it as they sat back late in the contest. It’s a style that is rarely successful on the biggest stages with the best players, especially for a USA squad that lacks the level of talent of a Spain, Germany, or Argentina.
Instead, the US is going to become a team that forces the issue, bring the pressure, and get in your face. With the attacking talent at their disposal heading into the next cycle leading up to 2018, Klinsmann will be more than happy to use it.
The goal is clear. The talent is there. The plan is in place. Buckle up, fans. It’s gonna be a fun ride.