Posted September 11, 2013

For Klinsmann’s U.S., competitive culture pays off in Mexico win

2014 World Cup, CONCACAF World Cup qualifiers, Mexican national team, U.S. men's national team, World Cup qualifying
Kyle Beckerman

Kyle Beckerman stepped in and played well in Michael Bradley’s absence on Tuesday night. (Jay LaPrete/AP)

COLUMBUS, Ohio — The U.S. national team that will fly to Brazil for next summer’s World Cup will consist of 23 players. That limit is unfortunate, because it took a lot more than 23 to earn the trip.

Clarence Goodson may not make it. The San Jose Earthquakes defender was an alternate on the current qualifying roster. He played in Tuesday’s clincher here at Crew Stadium only because of Matt Besler’s suspension. Mikkel Diskerud may not make it. He’s one of several players vying for minutes in a crowded and talented midfield. The same could be said for Alejandro Bedoya.

Yet all three played an integral role in lifting the U.S. to another 2-0 win over Mexico and a seventh consecutive World Cup berth. Their ability to step in seamlessly and contribute in such a challenging, high-profile game is testament to coach Jurgen Klinsmann’s patient, long-term effort to generate unprecedented depth at every position. That effort has resulted in an environment that is both cutthroat and motivational. It also has resulted in a churn in the player pool that can impact even its most celebrated and accomplished members.

Former captain Carlos Bocanegra now is on the outside looking in. Landon Donovan, the national team’s all-time leading scorer, received next to no benefit of the doubt after a four-month sabbatical.

In using 47 players this year, 39 of whom have started at least one match, Klinsmann has developed myriad lineup options and a group that can rebound from setbacks and absences. Michael Bradley was injured in Costa Rica last Friday. Three starters were suspended for the Mexico match Tuesday. And the U.S. barely missed a beat as the likes of Goodson, Bedoya and Kyle Beckerman were ready and able to step in.

“I think the best teams in the world operate that way,” said Donovan, who had a goal and an assist on Tuesday. It was only his second appearance in eight World Cup qualifiers this year. “It’s good for us and from game to game you have to perform or you might not play the next game. It makes it more competitive. It makes the team deeper and you’ve seen now over the last few months, probably 35-40 different guys have contributed. And that’s great.”

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Donovan’s path back to the starting lineup — which started with his exclusion from the June qualifying roster — is the most visible example of Klinsmann’s philosophy. He believes players improve by being forced to repeatedly earn, and then keep, their places.

“He had to understand that he’s not getting anything for granted. He has to work his way back. He has to fight his way back and that’s what he did,” Klinsmann said of Donovan following Tuesday’s win. “He understands the message clearly that nobody has a spot guaranteed. It’s all down to performance.”

Eddie Johnson, who tallied the opener on Tuesday, hadn’t played for the U.S. in two years when he rejoined the team last fall. He started against Mexico because of Jozy Altidore’s suspension and scored for the fourth time in his past six internationals. Beckerman is firmly behind Bradley and Jermaine Jones on the central midfield depth chart yet he was excellent on Tuesday, playing a key role in grinding the Mexicans into submission in the second half.

Diskerud performed well at this summer’s CONCACAF Gold Cup, which didn’t feature the majority of Klinsmann’s first-choice roster. Tuesday marked the Norwegian-American’s first appearance in the Hexagonal. In the 78th minute, he put the match out of reach with a gorgeous run and cross that Donovan finished at the left post.

Bedoya, whose tireless work on the right flank was key for the U.S., was another Gold Cup alumnus who made the most of an ‘A’ team opportunity.

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“I think the Gold Cup really helped us a long way because there wasn’t a lot of the guys (in that tournament) who were in here (with the first team),” Beckerman said. “There’s a lot of gelling that’s going along in a big group instead of a small group.”

Said defender Omar Gonzalez, who played with Besler on Friday and then Goodson on Tuesday: “I think that Jurgen has put together quite a deep roster for us and whoever’s turn it is to step in, they have the quality, they have the confidence from the players, from the coaches, and there’s really no drop off. I think Clarence tonight did a great job … coming in midway through camp and putting everything else aside about not being called up first. He really did his job and I really commend him.”

Goodson made only his second appearance in the Hex on Tuesday night. He and Gonzalez were under an enormous amount of pressure during the first half, but the pair held its nerve as the Mexicans poured forward in search of the go-ahead goal.

Gradually, they imposed their will and weren’t troubled much in the second half.

“It’s just part of being a professional. Jurgen told me to be ready and I did my best to be ready,” Goodson said. “When he called I knew there was a chance I would play (against Mexico), so it was a matter of wrapping my head around it as soon as possible and I think I did a good job.”

Klinsmann’s mixing and matching and the myriad lineups and combinations he tested likely impacted team chemistry during his first year-plus in charge and delayed the group-wide gelling that Beckerman referenced. But over time, as players became accustomed to their manager’s methods and thirst for competition, and as they gained more experience playing with a variety of teammates, the level of comfort increased. Beckerman and Jones, for example, hadn’t started together in more than a year. But by the time the second half rolled around on Tuesday, they had it all figured out.

In the end, when Klinsmann picks his World Cup roster, not to mention his starting 11 for that first game in Brazil, he’ll have the options he wanted. His final decision will be tougher, but that’s by design.

“For the group, yeah, having one of your leaders [Bradley] not there and going down in Costa Rica two minutes before kick off and then the yellow cards that you all saw … It’s important that you see a group sticking together and be there for each other and that’s what they’ve done,” the manager said.

Diskerud couldn’t contain his joy following the game. He spoke through a wide smile. Despite his lack of qualifying minutes, he felt like he had as much right to celebrate as any of his teammates. The competition created a bond.

“I’m just really happy to be part of this group,” he said. “We don’t really think that way, like what position and who’s going to take his place. We’re just part of a team that made the World Cup right now. That’s what I love about soccer. It’s a team feeling. It’s not individual. And it’s the best feeling I’ve ever had.”

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13 comments
Kaultar
Kaultar

J Klins needs to get so much more credit for turning the US into an actual soccer team instead of just a play tough D and hit it long style of play.  He really took grief for making players play international style of soccer.  The results have turned out tremendous though.  Hats of to JK.

DaveHenri
DaveHenri

+1 on Diskerud. Absolutely love his play. I don't see anyone else in the squad -- except maybe Donovan -- pulling the moves he showed off on the way to last night's assist. And that was just a couple of minutes off the bench. His inexperience is a concern, but could be helped by having him start in October. Get him, Bradley, Donovan, and Jozy on the pitch at the same time -- wow, that'd be exciting to watch...

Great great win. Dos a cero lives on!

KenKing
KenKing

I am a JK fan. However, if he does not put Diskerud in the 23, I will never say a good word about him again. Diskerud is the Michael Bradley insurance policy. If Bradley twists an ankle, has an allergy attack, or accrues two yellows, Diskerud is the key to a calm and same midfield.


Jones had a good game against El Tri. However, their need to push forward played into his 'kick the longball and see what happens' game. You can't do that against Italy, or Spain, or Germany. I would LOVE to see what happens when Diskerud and Donovan get some chemistry.

Starters

Howard ( though Guzan or RImando would be just fine by me.)

F. Johnson, Gonzales, Bessler, Chandler (?)

Zusi, Donovan, Bradley, Jones ( though in a year this may well be Diskerud)

Deuce

Altidore


Subs

Guzan

Rimando

Beasley

Parkhurst

Goodson

Brad Evans

Cameron

Diskerud

Bedoya

'Shea

E Johnson

Johannsen


*** This assumes Chandler gets a spot at all, which he seemingly must.


Tough misses:


Beckerman

Corona

Davis

Gomez

Holden


*** Man crush conundrum.  By next year, it may well be that Jermaine Jones could go from starter to outside altogether.  The Cameron / Bradley chemistry looked good.  Will JK opt against starting Jones? Is his value off the bench higher than others like Gomez, Corona, or even Wondo?

BadgerBlood
BadgerBlood

This pool of players have the necessary cojones to not be intimidated by mejico nor any other CONCACAF team. 

DSM
DSM

Solid analysis of a great team effort, although I doubt very much Donovan needed any pressure from the coach to play so well after his time off.

M20
M20

@DaveHenri Diskeruud's skill is unique on this team. He might not be first choice, and he might not be a complete player, but he definitely can add a useful element to the attack. I think he will be on that plane to Brazil.

RickPotts
RickPotts

@KenKing I'm glad we are making final roster decisions a year before the WC but what did the US roster look like this time last years?  My point exactly.  I suspect many of these names will be on the final roster but a year is a long time and a lot can happen between now and then....

Kaultar
Kaultar

@KenKing 

Not sure Shea and a couple others make the squad.  Not a absolute but a very tough decision.  If EJ keeps up his pace of scoring I'm not sure you can keep him on the bench.  Hopefully Evans recovers and can get more time on the D with the NT since that's not where he plays usually.

KenKing
KenKing

@M20 @DaveHenri  Quite a few 'ifs' between now and then, but Diskerud has the potential to be the best US player ever, including Donovan and Deuce. Today, he sees the field better than anyone besides Donovan, and I include Bradley in that statement ( and I have come to really like Bradley.) Right now, I would like to see Cameron behind Bradley with Jones on the bench. Next year, it would be great to see Bradley behind Diskerud.

That move against Mexico could be pulled off by only a handful of players.  Messi, Cruyff, Beckenbauer and Maradona come to mind. You really have to watch it a dozen times to really appreciate how brilliant those two touches were.

KenKing
KenKing

@RickPotts @KenKing Agreed. JK is also well known for last minute changes. I would not be surprised at all if Howard was one of his changes.

KenKing
KenKing

@Kaultar @KenKing I like Shea because he gives you that one thing - a guy who is not afraid to take it straight at a defender on the wing. So, if we are down by 1, with 20 minutes to go, and we need that guy, we have him. In a similar sense, he is another really tall body to have in the game for late minute desperation set pieces.

I don't think Shea will start any games, ever for the USMNT. He probably will never see time before the 70th minute. But when we are down, and the clock is ticking, it is nice to know that the 23rd guy on the bench actually has a specific talent. That is ultimately how I picked the last 5 or 6 guys. Maybe not the best players but a guy who can give JK a specific purpose for 20 minutes.

I agree with you on EJ. Especially with Donovan now playing left wing, he is far better in the air than Altidore. And much better hustle.

KenKing
KenKing

@RickPotts @KenKing @M20 @DaveHenri I am no tone to lean on hyperbole. That move was a lot more sophisticated than it looked at first glance. It only works with a chip to himself, and it only works if placed in a ballsy spot between defenders.  We have not seen a ton of Diskerud, but I have seen enough to know that his field vision is superb.

RickPotts
RickPotts

@KenKing @M20 @DaveHenri Come on.  The "move" by Dix was a simple first touch that caught 3 Mexican defenders flat footed.  you make it sound like he megged 3 players at once while running backwards drinking a cup of coffee. And now you put him in the same sentence with Messi, Cruyff, Beckenbauer and Maradona? Come on.  A little over the top don't you think?