Last week at this time, the soccer blogosphere (including this prestigious publication) was calling for Klinsmann’s head. Fast-forward just a short week and a couple of games ahead and we are hailing Klinsmann a genius. All it took was a strong performance against Costa Rica, a scrappy, hard-fought win against Paraguay and a complete collapse of Colombia in their last group game. Due to this improbable combination of events, the U.S. Men’s National Team (USMNT) has won their Copa America group (!) and is gearing up for a quarterfinal match against Ecuador on Thursday night. Perhaps more importantly, Klinsmann, the man in charge, has finally settled on a starting eleven, having started the same line-up three games in a row for the first time during his five-year reign.
Unfortunately, changes will be required as two of the main components of this now finely tuned USMNT machine, Bobby Wood (two yellow cards) and Deandre(d) Yedlin (red card) are suspended for the Ecuador match. Will be interesting to see if Klinsmann tinkers with the 4-3- 3 formation and puts in straight swaps at each respective position or whether switches to a classic 4-4- 2 with Graham Zusi starting in at outside-mid and Gyasi Zardes and Clint Dempsey making up the two-man forward line. The main candidate to replace Yedlin is Michael Orozco, the man who was thrown straight in the fire after Yedlin’s second yellow.
Both Yedlin’s and Wood’s speed and aplomb will be impossible to replace. Neither of their potential replacements offers the same quickness, breakaway speed and ability to change the game by beating guys one-on-one. On the positive side, if the replacements end up being Zusi and Orozco, they would bring in a more disciplined, stay-at-home approach, as well as more experience, both attributes that come in handy during the elimination phase of the tournament.
Whatever personnel and tactical changes are brought on by Klinsmann, one thing is clear – this team has come a long way in the past week, and credit is due to the coach and technical director. We have also witnessed one of the best performances by a U.S. centerback in a long time (J. Brooks) and have seen Michael Bradley and J. Jones settle in nicely in their respective midfield roles, thus giving the U.S. team a strong spine down the middle.
There will be a time to hate, right now this team and coaching staff has regained our faith.