For the last six months, US men's national team coach Jurgen Klinsmann has largely reversed his propensity for throwing random lineups onto the field, with his best players in random positions and the team operating at random rather than in concert. And for the last six months, the Klinsmann's version of the US have strung together their best run of results and performances since he took over.
These two things are linked. Cohesion builds chemistry, and chemistry leads to winning soccer.
I don't know the why or wherefore leading to this philosophical change, but it's the thing I like most about the US roster heading into the Hexagonal opener against Mexico on Friday (7:45 pm ET; FS1 & Univision). There are other things to pick apart regarding the roster, which I've laid out for you in bullet points below:
Things I Like
• There's balance and back-ups in defense, midfield and forward. One of the worst sins any coach can commit heading into a tournament is failure to bring "Oh crap, my absolutely essential No. 9 just got hurt" break-in-case-of-emergency players, and Klinsmann has avoided that here. So even if Jozy Altidore pulls up with another hamstring strain, there are other guys who can mostly do his job.
• Tim Howard has been named the No. 1 'keeper. I wasn't a big fan of alternating No. 1s, and with Brad Guzan permanently stapled to the bench, it was an easy call.
But Klinsmann didn't have to make it. He could've played coy in the press and in the locker room instead. I'm glad he didn't.
• Omar Gonzalez's strong 2016 has been rewarded. Omar has had some bad moments for the US over the years, but he's probably the best equipped center back to stand in for the injured Geoff Cameron against El Tri and perhaps against Costa Rica next Tuesday as well.
More to the point is that he's earned his way back in by playing well for his club -- the same way Sacha Kljestan did earlier this summer.
• Kljestan and Jermaine Jones are both back.
• The make-up of the roster leads me to believe that Michael Bradley will continue to play as a d-mid, rather than being wasted as a No. 10. Thank god.
• There's a good helping of youth on this roster, some of whom (Christian Pulisic) will actually play.
Things I Don't Like
• "Injured Geoff Cameron" is a brutal thing to write ahead of the second- and third-most difficult games of the Hex. The strength and stability of the last six months came from the central defensive partnership of Cameron and John Brooks, with Bradley cleaning up in front of them.
Gonzalez is nowhere near Cameron's stratosphere as a distributor, and lacks Cameron's agility for 1v1 defending. And Mexico will force that backline to defend 1v1 as much as possible.
• No Matt Miazga. It took him two games to win a substitute's role for Vitesse, and two more to win the starting job over a host of veterans. He's gone 90 in each of his club's last four outings and his defending has been very good (distribution still needs work). Maybe for the next qualifiers, I guess?
• The guy who'll be backing up Bradley doesn't play much for a bad team in a subpar league:
If Bradley rolls his ankle on Friday morning, that means the US either go into the game without a true d-mid, or with a guy who's struggled to find minutes as a first-team pro.
Why Stanko over more proven options like Danny Williams or Perry Kitchen? Or -- it's basically fanfic to even speculate about this, but still -- Dax McCarty? This is the one truly baffling choice on the roster.
Hopefully, in the end, it doesn't matter. If Bradley stays healthy it's not even a footnote. But remembers that the last time the US were in Costa Rica for a qualifier, he didn't stay healthy. So, fingers crossed...
USA 26-MAN ROSTER (vs. Mexico, Costa Rica)
Goalkeepers (4): Brad Guzan (Middlesbrough/ENG), Ethan Horvath (Molde/NOR), Tim Howard (Colorado Rapids), William Yarbrough (Club Leon/MEX)
Defenders (9): Matt Besler (Sporting Kansas City), Steve Birnbaum (D.C. United), John Brooks (Hertha Berlin/GER), Cameron Carter-Vickers (Tottenham Hotspur/ENG), Timmy Chandler (Eintracht Frankfurt/GER), Omar Gonzalez (Pachuca/MEX), Fabian Johnson (Borussia Moenchengladbach/GER), Michael Orozco (Club Tijuana/MEX), DeAndre Yedlin (Newcastle United/ENG)
Midfielders (9): Alejandro Bedoya (Philadelphia Union), Michael Bradley (Toronto FC), Lynden Gooch (Sunderland/ENG), Julian Green (Bayern Munich/GER), Jermaine Jones (Colorado Rapids), Sacha Kljestan (New York Red Bulls), Christian Pulisic (Borussia Dortmund/GER), Caleb Stanko (FC Vaduz/LIE), Graham Zusi (Sporting Kansas City)
Forwards (4): Jozy Altidore (Toronto FC), Aron Johannsson (Werder Bremen/GER), Alan Gordon (LA Galaxy), Bobby Wood (Hamburg/GER)
NOTE: Gordon replaced the injured Jordan Morris, who was originally called in.