On Monday, the US Men’s National Team will open the World Cup against Ghana with its most talented team ever. Despite this talent, the US will struggle to get out of the group stage and may even struggle to win a single match. It’s easy to point to the strength of the other three teams to justify the failure of the US to advance, but here are the five reasons why it seems likely the US will be three and done in Brazil from the US side of the ledger.
1. The reliance on Kyle Beckerman – Against Nigeria, the US appeared to find a formation that best suited its players. Beckerman played as the defensive midfielder behind Michael Bradley with Jermaine Jones having the freedom on the wing to pinch in and contribute centrally when needed. The US played some of its best soccer in this formation in the final game before the World Cup so it may give US fans hope they finally found a formula that works.
While Kyle Beckerman has shown himself capable to sit in a hole and defend, the MLS’ veteran has also shown limited athleticism at the international level and the occassional propensity for a bad turnover. More importantly though, who else on the entire US roster can fill in as a pure defensive midfielder?
The simple answer would be Jermaine Jones as Jones finally began to defer to Michael Bradley in midfield. However, Jones looked overwhelmed against Turkey playing as the lone defensive midfielder. While Bradley can do it, the talismanic midfielder needs to be as close to the opponents goal as possible for the US to succeed. As a result, a huge weight may about to be placed on Beckerman’s shoulders over three games.
2. Left Back – Assuming Fabian Johnson starts at right back, the US situation at left back seems to be a recipe for disaster. Timothy Chandler has failed to impress playing out of position on the left. Demarcus Beasley will provide the hustle and tenacity and earn the occasional foul, but can he hold up on the left side of defense against the competition the US will face in Brazil?
3. Defensive Depth – While Geoff Cameron and Matt Besler have solidified the US defense better than any other combination, the limited minutes both have gotten together have left open questions about whether the pair can hold up against an elite aerial threat or on set pieces. Even if they do hold up, an injury or suspension to either Cameron or Besler and the US may be in huge trouble. Omar Gonzalez continued his struggles at the international level in the warm-up matches. Jon Anthony Brooks has plenty of talent, but still looks naive at times in defense. If Cameron or Besler are forced to sit out, how much faith can the USMNT have in its replacements?
4. Possession – Bob Bradley and Bruce Arena had the US playing more as a counterattacking team than Jurgen Klinsmann. The US though failed to win possession against Turkey and Nigeria in its final two warm-up games. While the US has two central defenders capable of passing well and even one in Geoff Cameron who can unlock an entire team with a great pass out of the back, it seems likely the US will struggle to win the possession battle against its opponents in Brazil. As a result, its more offensively minded outside backs may be forced to sit back and defend leading to additional cards and penalties.
5. Jurgen Klinsmann – Books have been written about Klinsmann’s struggles tactically. Instead of having a fundamental understanding of how some of his pieces worked together entering the final roster selection, the German saw the effectiveness of the skinny diamond against Mexico and built his World Cup roster around it.
If the US starts three central midfielders, why does it need three wingers on the bench? Wouldn’t a Maurice Edu or Danny Williams provide better depth than one of those now apparently surplus wingers. Wasn’t it apparent to everyone that the partnership of Jones and Bradley in midfield was going to struggle? Why has it taken so long for Klinsmann to find the pairing of Cameron and Besler and how much better would that pairing be if it had more than three games together?
Then again if Costa Rica can do it, why not the US? Would anyone in Houston bet against a central defense partnership of Matt Besler and Geoff Cameron succeeding after watching MLS the last five years? How do you doubt the tenacity and grit that Clint Dempsey, Kyle Beckerman, Brad Davis, and others have shown over the course of their careers? There are plenty of questions to ask Klinsmann when the dust settles if the US fails to advance. At the end of the day though, it is the players that play the game and it will be entirely up to them whether the US advances.