KANSAS CITY — Jurgen Klinsmann’s roster and lineup choices can be confusing at times. He’s like the blind and deaf pinball wizard from the old song: he plays by intuition, think and feel. Similarly, Klinsmann is less bound by conventional selection tenets.
It’s not the right or wrong approach, necessarily, it’s just his approach. Lots of coaches make their selections the same way – even if they don’t feel as secure about it all, so they tend to rationalize through public explanation. Klinsmann, rather immune to criticism, having dealt with so very much more in previous playing and coaching stops, doesn’t feel the need to validate his choices beyond the basic “this guy is ahead of that one.”
He’s not being snotty about it; quite the contrary, Klinsmann is typically candid and actually tries to explain his choices. It’s just that the criteria are frequently more subjective, so what makes “this guy better than that one” is sometimes less clear.
In the end, he’ll be proven right if the United States gets to Brazil 2014 and makes a good account. He’ll be proven wrong if his quirky ways produce less.
One of the real head-scratchers over Klinsmann’s 15 months at U.S. control is Jermaine Jones, a man who seems to add little to the American effort beyond some midfield bite. And he does certainly have ample stores of that.
Too much, in fact; the man is a yellow card or red card waiting to happen. Some call him a “hatchet man,” and to see the foul that led to last year’s lengthy Bundesliga suspension, it’s hard to argue the point. He’s not so far from Nigel de Jong that way, except that the infamous Dutch midfielder (who broke Stuart Holden’s leg two years ago) has greater technical skill and passing ability over various ranges to go with his “bad cop” ways of midfield enforcement.
Beyond that? Jones’ does have a sense of tactical discipline, but his passing is too labored to make it count for much. He holds the ball too long, frequently stalling the advance. He doesn’t have a great feel for late runs into the box. His long range shooting is adequate but nothing special. He’s hardly a playmaker and not fast enough to drift wide and occasionally run at a defender.
He’s certainly not in development stage, either. At, , Jones is what he is.
The larger discussion is moot for Tuesday because Jones collected another yellow card in Friday’s match with Antigua, a silly and completely needless intentional handball at a spot on the field where such a thing simply wasn’t required. With that, he was suspended for Tuesday’s match; the Schalke man is already back in Germany training once again with his club.
Kyle Beckerman or Maurice Edu can provide the midfield tackling and enforcement – and they are apt to smarter about it than their German-American teammate. Danny Williams probably can, too, although he’s younger and perhaps not as comfortable taking the tactical yellow card when it’s absolutely necessary, or knowing how far he can push the limits with international referees.
So long as Michael Bradley is on the field, Klinsmann can probably choose between any one of the three; Beckerman, Edu or Williams can shield the back line effectively Tuesday, with Bradley playing slightly higher in the arrangement.
The bigger point on Jones: he won’t be around to take a potential red card.
One of the recipes for U.S. disaster Tuesday (unlikely as that seems) would be this: an American does something stupid and gets himself ejected. Guatemalan confidence soars as the home team surrenders the initiative at that moment. From there … Well, I think we see where this particularly unpleasant scenario is going.
Everyone who knows the U.S. personnel would look at Klinsmann’s selections from last week and immediately circle Jones as “most likely to do something stupid,” and get himself ejected.
Again, it’s hard to see what particular skill, what bigger-picture ability or intangible Jones brings to the United States effort, at either micro or macro level. Klinsmann clearly sees something a lot of us don’t.
Either way, in this case, Jones may have saved Klinsmann from himself.