The United States Men’s National Team will probably qualify for the 2018 World Cup in Russia. Yes, they are trailing Guatemala and Trinidad and Tobago in the Group C standings. Yes, they have played conservatively without the defensive ability to make that style work. A day after the U.S. got humiliated 2-0 down in Guatemala City, there is semi-legitimate worry that the Yanks will get bounced Canada-style before the Hexagonal round even starts.
They won’t, but the team has regressed badly under Jurgen Klinsmann, and they need to fix a lot if they want to do anything at the Copa America this summer or the World Cup two summers from now. In this round of World Cup qualifiers, the team has three games left to catch Guatemala, Trinidad, or both, and two of those games are at home and the other is at St. Vincent, who is bad. Even with mangled Klinsmann lineups, you’d expect at least two wins out of those three games.
About those mangled lineups: For some reason, Klinsmann keeps playing Michael Orozco. This is inexplicable, since Orozco is bad and can’t even find playing time for his club. Last night’s backline of Geoff Cameron, Omar Gonzalez, Orozco, and Edgar Castillo had never played together before. Injuries left Klinsmann with few options, but he still managed to play multiple players out of position.
Mix Diskerud doesn’t play defensive midfielder for NYCFC, DeAndre Yedlin doesn’t play in the midfield for Sunderland, and Cameron doesn’t play right back for Stoke. Klinsmann’s pathology for tinkering with the starting eleven is one thing, but playing a new combination of players together in roles they’re unfamiliar with is never going to work.
The player pool he has to work with isn’t as weak as recent competitive results might lead you to expect. The USMNT has precious few European starters, but Michael Bradley, Darlington Nagbe, and Fabian Johnson are true centerpieces. Klinsmann has never achieved less with more, and the team’s consistent failures with all manner of lineups and formations point to a coach in over his head, unprepared to implement the Big Idea reforms he pitched when he got the job in 2011. When he experiments (like when he plays dudes out of position every single game), he harms the team, and when he tries to stay consistent (sticking with Jermaine Jones and Jozy Altidore no matter what) he holds them back.
Not even Klinsmann’s avant-garde lineup proclivities should keep the USMNT from qualifying for the final round of CONCACAF World Cup qualifying, but this team’s ceiling feels lower than it has in a long time. A team that tries to generate chances through a pair of defensive midfielders playing too high up the field is not going to scare anyone. There is defensive talent in the pool, but we have yet to see it coalesce into a consistent backline. The USMNT shouldn’t have to answer such basic questions on the eve of hosting the biggest tournament the country’s had since the ‘94 World Cup. Hey, at least the Olympic team played well yesterday.