The morning after Mexico: Big questions include Bradley, Klinsmann, RB
At least in US Soccer terms, the end is not nigh.
Yeah, the USMNT fell to Mexico in a home World Cup qualifier for the first time since 1974*, but it was both the first game of 10 in the final round of CONCACAF World Cup qualifying and possibly the third-trickiest (Away Mexico, Away Costa Rica).
*There was a 16-year gap in home qualifiers from 1982-1998.
And yes, another in that trio of matches is headed its way Tuesday in Costa Rica, where the United States is yet to win a WCQ while conceding two or more goal in the last 7 losses.
But an American result in Costa Rica is far from a long shot, even with a hostile crowd ready to remember the Snow Clasico in Denver.
So let’s chat about a number of significant issues from Friday, and moving forward to Tuesday in Saprissa.
1) Coach, captain need to get on the same page -- Whether Jurgen Klinsmann or Michael Bradley is correct in their assessment of what went wrong with the 3-4-3 formation -- Bradley said it was direction and comprehension, Klinsmann pointed to Bradley and Jermaine Jones -- there’s a reason we rarely see that sort of intra-team finger pointing in sports.
The truth is that Bradley and Jones had poor games in a questionable at best system chosen by Klinsmann. Move on, guys.
2) Yeah, the formation change worked, but also... please don’t forget that while the United States was undoubtedly more comfortable once switching from a 3-4-3 to a 4-4-2, that switch also happened when arguably the best player on the field had to lave the game through injury. PSV Eindhoven’s Andres Guardado subbed off hurt in the 28th minute and the USMNT started to run the midfield.
3) That right side of the defense needs better -- Klinsmann pointed to Timmy Chandler’s fine form for Eintracht Frankfurt and DeAndre Yedlin’s last few camps and status in England’s second tier as the reason for using Chandler at right back.
That maybe so, but Chandler struggled in the first 30 minutes if not longer. That’s not an outlier when he suits up for the United States, but also consider how Eintracht Frankfurt regularly trots out Chandler for their top half Bundesliga side.
[ MORE: Panama, Costa Rica strike first ]
Chandler has a lot of freedom on the right of a five-man back line, where he can take chances without crippling the defense. That wasn’t the case in a 3-4-3, and Geoff Cameron’s absence means the support around the center backs has to be almost pristene and certainly not risky.
So if Klinsmann’s thinking “No” on Yedlin, then it has to be a four-man back line with Chandler... or something even more safe.
4) Brooks’ partner -- John Brooks made a big mistake on the set piece goal that gave Mexico the 2-1 win, but otherwise was perhaps the most important part of the Americans escaping the first half down by just one. Omar Gonzalez was not a nightmare next to him once the four-man back line emerged, but is he the answer for Tuesday? Could Matt Besler move inside with Fabian Johnson dropping to left back? Is Steve Birnbaum the right call?
5) Jones and Bradley must improve -- Bradley is undoubtedly a USMNT legend, but the captain hasn’t had a star performance for country since before the Copa America Centenario -- probably the blowout of Guatemala -- and what the heck was he doing in not laying off to Bobby Wood on that second half 2v1?!?
Jones’ aggression is what it is and he can certainly put it to good use, but he missed the boat on Friday. That’s not too much of a surprise given his long absence for Colorado, but Klinsmann indicated that Jones would be fit to go on Tuesday and wouldn’t even say he expects his longtime midfielder to go less than 90 minutes.
So they better step their games up against Costa Rica’s gritty, cantankerous midfield in Saprissa.
6) Stick with the attack plans, or get aggressive? -- Bobby Wood and Jozy Altidore were sensational in the second half, with the latter setting the former up for several chances including the goal. And Christian Pulisic improved dramatically after some early stumbles.
[ MORE: The evolution of Pulisic ]
So is it 4-4-2 with Pulisic atop a midfield diamond or on one of the wings? Is it the “front three that really isn’t a traditional front three” where Pulisic, Wood, and Altidore are basically lining up wherever the play takes them? Does Sacha Kljestan work as the third midfielder in this situation, or is it Alejandro Bedoya?
7) Regardless of Friday, and Tuesday, what’s the CM future? Jermaine Jones is 35, and the 29-year-old Bradley honestly hasn’t looked the same for country -- at least on a consistent basis -- since coming back to Major League Soccer.
The question is how much of that should be pinned on Klinsmann? If the answer is “a lot”, then some serious conversations have to be had about wasting one of the most talented, intelligent, and important players in United States history for the final half-decade (or so) of his time in the USMNT kit.
If the answer is that Bradley is no longer the same player, then we have questions beyond his implementation. Who is in the pipeline at center mid after him and Jones? Kyle Beckerman is nearly as old as Jones and Osvaldo Alonso -- the near-perfect answer -- is unlikely to get his release from Cuba.
Hearts captain Perry Kitchen will get a look for his defensive acumen, but neither him nor Reading man Danny Williams is even getting called into the team by Klinsmann right now. Kellyn Acosta is seemingly a left back for the United States right now, Dax McCarty isn’t being called in, and Wil Trapp, Emerson Hyndman, and Fatai Alashe are firmly on the periphery.