Welcome to the Wednesday Q&A series, where we focus on one particular topic – today's being the best Starting XI for the USMNT in Friday's Copa America opener – and ask you to react, share, and discuss in the comments section. However, feel free to ask about anything game-related (MLS, USL, NASL, USMNT, CanMNT, etc.) over the next several hours.
"First do no harm" is the Hippocratic Oath historically taken by physicians.
I think it should be taken by managers across all sports as well. The very first thing a manager has to do is play his/her players in the correct spots, and the second thing is not to overtrain his/her team so they're playing on shredded hamstrings from the very first whistle. Any manager who's done that will have fulfilled the soccer version of the Hippocratic Oath.
Over his nearly five years in charge, Jurgen Klinsmann has failed in that responsibility. He declared war on hamstrings from Day 1 with three-a-day training sessions, empty stomach runs and the like -- which culminated in a rash of injuries at the 2014 World Cup and 2015 Gold Cup. Even more frustrating has been his stubborn refusal to play his best players in their best spots, which led to the Michael Bradley-as-trequartista experiment in Brazil; which led to Jermaine Jones getting handful of run-outs at center back; which led to Clint Dempsey as a lone target forward, etc. etc. etc. ad infinitum.
Klinsmann's tinkering has not gone away, nor will it. He is still very likely to start Dempsey as a No. 9, a pair of No. 9s on the wing, and his Champions League-caliber winger at left back.
We still live in CrazyTown. But at least in this most recent trip to CrazyTown, the central midfield, the central defense, and the right back all make sense. If you have that spine together -- all that crucial talent in the right spots -- then you have a chance.
So here is the Starting XI I think Klinsmann will trot out on Friday against Colombia in Santa Clara (9:30 pm ET; FS1)
This is an ultra-defensive set, since both Beckerman and Bradley are defensive midfielders, Jones is a defensive-minded box-to-box midfielder, and Bedoya is more of a link player than a pure creator on the wing.
On the flip side, this lineup is almost guaranteed to have critical defensive breakdowns along its left side, especially in transition. Johnson does not play as a defender in Germany because of moments like this:
Sure, the turnover happened along the right touchline. But why was Johnson pushed up so high along the left touchline? And why do we think this is an isolated incident when Johnson has had trouble tracking his runner after turnovers literally every time he plays in defense?
With that in mind, here's the Starting XI I would put out on Friday:
LB: Edgar Castillo
Only one personnel switch, with Castillo coming in for Beckerman (and it would actually be Eric Lichaj if he'd made the 23-man roster). That shifts Bradley to d-mid -- which I think is key -- and Johnson up to left wing. I've also flipped Dempsey over to the right wing, where he'll have superior defensive cover behind him (seriously folks, Yedlin's legit as a two-way fullback).
I think this gives me a more balanced and dynamic midfield, and ameliorates the defensive weakness of the left wide at least a little bit. Johnson is a forgetful defender as a fullback, but is as honest as they come for a winger. And while Castillo can be beaten at the back post -- see Pachuca's winner in the Liguilla championship -- he's not as prone to getting pulled out of position in transition. Against a team with the likes of James Rodriguez and Juan Cuadrado, that matters quite a bit.
And yes, that means Beckerman, Darlington Nagbe, Christian Pulisic and Gyasi Zardes start on the bench. I'm fine with all of that and you should be, too -- choosing from a handful of game-changing subs is a luxury no US coach has ever had before. That means Klinsmann can mold the game to his liking as it goes on.
Assuming, of course, that he first does no harm.
Ok folks, thanks for the abuse!