SEATTLE, Wash. — When he first inherited the U.S. Men’s National Team, Jurgen Klinsmann had the luxury of giving Michael Bradley, the team’s best central midfielder, some time off. Not only was Klinsmann committed to giving players like Kyle Beckerman a chance to work his way into the national team picture, the new U.S. boss also had players like Maurice Edu, José Torres, Danny Williams to evaluate. By the time Bradley and Jermaine Jones settling into the starting roles, central midfield seemed the U.S.’s deepest position.
Fast forward to today, and the U.S.’s squad suddenly looks thin in the middle, especially with the news that Jones will miss Tuesday’s match. The first choice midfielder revealed Sunday that the concussion he suffered in Jamaica will keep him out of the Panama match. With right midfielder Graham Zusi suspended for the match, Klinsmann has to find two new starters from his limited options.
“These moments happen,” was Klinsmann’s sanguine response when asked about some of his absences. In trademark Klinsmann fashion, he was more apt to talk about the new chances than the misfortunes.
“With every player getting an opportunity, for whatever circumstances — some players injured, some missing, whatever it is — this is the opportunity they get,” Klinsmann explained, espousing his general philosophy while speaking of Brad Evans’ opportunism. “You always break into a team by the fact something happens or you convince the coach that you’re good.”
As it concerns replacing Jones, Klinsmann’s squad has three players who could get the change to show the coach they’re good.
Sacha Kljestan, never fully embraced as a middle-of-the-park option under Bob Bradley, saw time centrally during pre-qualifying friendlies. Often playing in the middle for Anderlecht, Kljestan would be a proactive choice, enhancing the U.S’s ability to hold the ball and dictate play going forward.
Geoff Cameron, however, may be the most Jones-like player of the group. While it would be risky to ask him to replicate the ranging destruction that’s characterized Jones’ play, Cameron is capable of providing a physical (if deeper) complement to Michael Bradley.
Klinsmann was also impressed with what Cameron offered in Jamaica.
“The way Geoff Cameron jumped in and he played a number six was outstanding,” the coach said. “He helped us a lot there.”
If Klinsmann is looking at people who “convince the coach that you’re good,” do Cameron’s Kingston contributions give him a leg up?
Stu Holden is the only other central midfielder on the roster, but it would be a stretch to see him get the start. Perhaps the Bolton midfielder has impressed in training, but playing only nine minutes for the U.S. in the Klinsmann-era, getting a World Cup Qualifying start would be a huge step up.
The trio are a collection of imperfect alternatives, which isn’t surprising. There’s a reason some players start while others are understudies. Still, with the likes of Eddie Johnson having shown the ability to have an impact from wide, you wonder if switching to a 4-3-3 formation could prove helpful.
If central midfield is hurting, Klinsmann may elect to throw numbers at the problem.