We saw a lot of guesses from experts in the days leading up to tonight’s match, but you’d be hard pressed to find somebody in the know who nailed this one. When U.S. Soccer announced the starting lineup for tonight’s World Cup qualifier in Antigua, head coach Jurgen Klinsmann was predictably unpredictable:
G – Tim Howard
LB – Carlos Bocanagra (c)
CB – Geoff Cameron
CB – Clarence Goodson
RB – Steve Cherundolo
CM – Danny Willams
CM – Michael Bradley
? – Clint Dempsey
? – Graham Zusi
? – Eddie Johnson
F – Herculez Gomez
That’s a lot of question marks, uncertainty born from the fact U.S. Soccer’s tweet seemed to have Eddie Johnson in midfield …
… which would be weird.
Some talking points:
1. Bocanegra at left back – It was the captain’s position last cycle, but Klinsmann’s been reluctant to use him out there. Michael Parkhurst was an option. Instead, Klinsmann’s sent Boca back to his second home.
2. Williams’ ascension – We talked about it in the depth chart, but last break’s performances seemed to vault Danny Williams above Kyle Beckerman in the pecking order. The Hoffenheim man gets the call tonight in what’s likely to be a rare two-man midfield.
3. Bradley’s the man – Did the return of Michael Bradley allow Klinsmann to select all of Johnson, Dempsey, Gomez, and Zusi? It’s much easier to play a two-man midfield (as opposed to Klinsmann’s normal three) when Michael Bradley is one of those guys. If there’s one guy in the squad who can carry that load, he’s it.
4. Attack! – This might be the most attack-oriented team Klinsmann’s thrown out there. All of Johnson, Dempsey, Gomez, and Zusi, plus Bradley supporting from midfield. More on this, below.
5. Johnson gets his chance – As the week went on, it seemed more and more likely Johnson was going to get into the starting XI. At least, there were hums to that effect, though nothing that didn’t sound like idle speculation. Today, that idle speculation came good.
So we have a team unlike we’ve ever seen under Klinsmann. How will they play? We’ll find out in half an hour, but by the personnel, you can expect a team that leans right thanks to Cherundolo, Williams and Gomez (who is more effective going toward that flank). Bocanegra at the back lets the U.S.to for a strong back three (both Bocanegra and Cameron proficient at their respective sides), allowing Cherundolo to be aggressive getting (and staying) forward.
Also, expect Eddie Johnson to spend a lot of time attacking that far (left) post. When Gomez goes right and Dempsey fills the space and supports, Johnson’s going to get the benefit of a defense that has to shift away from his side. Expect Cherundolo to target him liberally, with Michael Bradley perhaps coming on to a number of second balls. It’s more direct than we’re used to seeing from Klinsmann’s teams, but that’s why he brought Johnson in.
At least, that’s one way it could play out. Consider it a glimpse into (the possible) mind of an opposition coach. Without a left back, you could see a very right-heavy team that depends on Johnson to keep Antigua and Barbuda honest.