Jurgen Klinsmann

Jurgen Klinsmann and the Guatemala Paradox by Jared Young

The frustration with the state of the United States Men’s soccer team is at a new peak in the Jurgen Klinsmann era. After a disastrous second half of 2015 which saw them suffer historic losses to Jamaica and Panama in the Gold Cup followed by an extra time loss to rival Mexico, the Federation was hoping 2016 was a new beginning. But following another tragedy against Guatemala in World Cup qualifying on Friday, the U.S. has now failed to win its last four competitive matches where the talent gap was not obscene (apologies to St. Vincent and the Grenadines). The demons from last year are still lurking it appears. But to what can we attribute those demons?

Is it Klinsmann or the players?

What those demons are is the subject of much debate. Many claim that Klinsmann himself is the problem as questions surrounding his tactics, player selection and the positions he prefers for those players are appropriately criticized. After promises of progressing the U.S. style of play to compete with the more proactive national teams, Klinsmann has employed a more pragmatic reactive approach since before the World Cup. He likely regrets his promise as he’s since been unable to collect a midfield with enough talent to play a possession oriented style of soccer. When he trots Alejandro Bedoya and DeAndre Yedlin out to the wings, away from their preferred positions, in a World Cup qualifier he can't be expecting a cohesive midfield performance. Nor should the fans. But the team did waste too many balls in the final third attempting high risk passes. Do we blame the tactics, the players or both?

More after the jump.

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USMNT World Cup Qualifying Review: Klinsmann Stays Afloat by Jared Young

World Cup qualifying review: USMNT rebounds in opening weekend
The USMNT opened World Cup qualification for Russia with two solid, if unspectacular performances. They started with their easiest match of this round with a 6-1 home win over St. Vincent and the Grenadines. The second match was the most challenging, a road game against Trinidad and Tobago, and resulted in a 0-0 draw. The goalless result in a non-friendly was the first for the United States since their World Cup game against Germany last summer, a run of nine games. It was their seventh clean sheet overall in that same time.

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Time For A Change by Drew Olsen

Warning: This is an atypical piece from us. It's purely an opinion piece. There are no numbers or graphs below. If you're looking for unbiased and hot-take free writing, skip this one. We'll be back to our normal analytics stuff shortly.

Inspired by this piece over at LA Galaxy Confidential from our own Sean Steffen, and surprised at how easy it was to find his email address online, I set out to write a short email to the president of the United States Soccer Federation, Sunil Gulati, on why it's time for Jurgen Klinsmann to be fired as head coach.

It soon turned into something of an existential personal release and awakening on the state of the USMNT, and more for me than for him. At the encouragement of my fellow ASA writers, I'm posting it here. Feel free to send me your own thoughts (or tell me how wrong I am) on twitter.

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USMNT 1 - Brazil 4: USA GetS Waxed by Harrison Crow

If you were to read through the headlines this morning, though I'm not sure I'd advise doing that, you'll likely find a good share of articles that talk about the United States' inability to keep the ball or build possession to penetrate Brazil's defense and create goal scoring chances. Others will mention a lack a terse focus for a back four that surrendered multiple goals that should probably have never happened. The rest will consist of sharp lashings that end with the inevitable and deserved questioning of leadership within the hierarchy of US soccer.

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USMNT 1-2 Jamaica: The Reggae Boyz clear the dance floor by Jared Young

Hey U.S. fans, look on the bright side. We get an extra soccer game this fall! The USMNT will be in a one game playoff against either Mexico or Jamaica for the privilege of representing CONCACAF in the 2017 Confederations Cup. That bit of fun was brought to you by a loss of stunning proportion to Jamaica. The U.S. gave up two goals in five minutes off of set pieces in the first half and couldn’t mount a useful attack against a determined Jamaican defense. The 2-1 loss, the first to a Caribbean side on U.S. soil since 1968, will sting for a long time, especially for yours truly who was looking forward to going to the Gold Cup Final to watch the U.S. with his son. Not all stories have Hollywood endings. And certainly sports wouldn’t be sports without the heartbreak.

This game was a perfect example of why soccer statistics can sometimes lie. If you didn’t watch the game and just looked at the box score you might think that the U.S. was simply unlucky. They held 60% of the possession and completed 82% of their passes. They outshot the Jamaicans 20-10 and put 7 more shots on goal (10-3). The U.S. won the expected goal battle by a score of 2.3.-1.0, but looked up at the scoreboard at the end and saw the final score was actually reversed.

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USMNT 1 - 1 Panama: Sitting back and taking it easy by Jared Young

A desperate Panama team did enough to draw the United States 1-1, and earn the point they absolutely needed to have a hope of advancing to the quarterfinals of the Gold Cup. The USMNT, perhaps distracted by the heat and a game that meant little, woke up in the second half enough to salvage their result and fend off the critics. Panama must now wait to see if they advance while the U.S. awaits the identity of their opponent.

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United States v Honduras Recap: Quality over Quantity by Jared Young

The USMNT held off a confident and gritty Honduras team and started Group A play in the CONCACAF Gold Cup with a 2-1 victory. Jurgen Klinsmann’s side was not sharp, holding less than 50% of possession against a team that was sitting back in a 5-4-1 formation, but they earned two goals off set pieces that found the magnificent head of Clint Dempsey, and broke up enough counterattacks by Honduras to survive.

The U.S.A.’s struggle with possession was part Klinsmann, part poor play and, of course, part Honduras. The troubles started tactically with Michael Bradley being placed at the top of the 4-4-2 diamond formation. The usually strong possession link between Kyle Beckerman and Bradley was broken up leaving the shuttling duo of Gyasi Zardes and DeAndre Yedlin to bring it back together. Both players are playing in an unnatural role and are not possession oriented players to begin with. Couple the midfield issue with just 50% pass completion percentage from right back Timmy Chandler and you have the recipe for a choppy performance.

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Mexico at USMNT: Klinsmann stays the course by Jared Young

By Jared Young (@jaredeyoung)

The USMNT avoided their trademark collapse on Wednesday and easily defeated their arch-rival Mexico by the classic score of dos a cero. The final score was about the only stat that changed however for Jurgen Klinsmann’s team, as the USA continued the style of play that has characterized their post-World Cup friendlies. Klinsmann continued to experiment with new players and played a conservative style focused on getting good shots while limiting the opponents’ quality chances. He said that he was starting to hone in on the Gold Cup and so fans might have expected the US would come out of their shell. Perhaps the surprise of the match was that they stayed the course, in what could be Klinsmann’s preferred strategy for the next cycle.

Klinsmann went with a 4-4-2 diamond set up, while El Tri came out in a conservative 5-3-2 setup. Both teams offered very low defensive pressure to start the game before slowly opening up. Both teams combined for just 8 shots in the first half with only two being attempted inside the 18 yard box. There was just no space for either offense to operate.

In the second half as the teams opened up, it was brilliant play from Michael Bradley combined with a little luck and solid finishing that gave the US their only two goals of the game. Jordan Morris, a 20 year old, scored his first goal for the USMNT. Much will be made of Jordan being a college player but we need to remember that most of the best players in the world are not playing soccer in college. It’s simply not part of a good player’s development in any country but the US. Just over four years ago, the 2nd goal scorer of this match Juan Agudelo, scored a USMNT goal as a 17 year old. Did it matter that he was or was not in college? Heck, he wasn’t old enough to be in college. The media loves a good story but this country won’t show soccer maturity until we can bring that global perspective to the game. Celebrate a young player scoring and give that context, just please not that he’s choosing to play in college.

486 minutes from “newbies”: Klinsmann said his focus was turning to the Gold Cup, but he continued to experiment with new players. More than half of the minutes played were by players who did not play in the World Cup. This was the second highest minute total for the young guys in this series of friendlies, only exceeded by the Switzerland match.

72% pass completion percentage: Blame the poor field conditions but this pass completion percentage was the lowest from the US during this cycle. When a team is sitting deep, low completion percentages are expected, but at home this was perhaps too sloppy a number.

Four shots on target for USMNT to two for Mexico: Yet again, the USMNT gained the shot advantage despite giving up more shots. Mexico outshot the US 12-8 but eight of Mexico’s shots were hail Mary’s from outside the 18 yard box. The USMNT’s TSR (Total Shots Ratio) since the World Cup is 39%, but they make up for it by putting 44% of their shots on target and getting quality looks. That remained a key strength of the US team against Mexico.

Rough go for Garza. The only space in the attacking half that Mexico found in the first half was in Greg Garza’s area. Garza has been given a long look by Klinsmann in these friendlies. He’s earned the most caps of any non-World Cup player with seven. 

The circled passes above were attempted by Mexico in Garza’s area. There was clearly space to operate and Mexico was exploiting. Yes, it appears that El Tri was building more often down the right side, but the fact that they found so much space in that area is disturbing. Meanwhile DeAndre Yedlin was playing very aggressive defense and his area remained primarily clean. That is until the 2nd half.

Mexico, perhaps seeing that Yedlin was aggressively playing the ball, shifted their focus to his side. Luckily they didn't have enough success to score a goal. It should be noted that Brek Shea kept his area on Mexico’s right hand side clean in his second half shift.

A win over your arch-rival will always be good, and this team needed to finish off a match and get a good result. With difficult road friendlies at the Netherlands and Germany on the horizon, we should expect more of the same style from Klinsmann. His speeches about playing proactively with the rest of the world seem to have quieted, but he’s found a nice recipe over the last few friendlies. The US has allowed just four goals in the last four games, and just one in the first half. At the same time they’ve put 13 shots on target and limited their opponents to just 9. The US has converted seven of those 13 shots as well. Hard to complain where the US sits as they approach the Gold Cup in July.

USMNT IN Switzerland: Beyond the Score by Drew Olsen

By Jared Young (@jaredeyoung)

The USMNT took on Switzerland Tuesday, their 9th friendly since the World Cup, and in the process relinquished their 6th second half lead. The 1-1 draw wouldn't have been as much of a disappointment if the result didn't tell the same story about a team unable to hold a lead against top competition. The USMNT is now eleven goals against and just one goal scored in the second half of these friendlies. And that’s all I’m going to say about that. Here are three other stats to take away from the latest International weekend.

9: Is Klinsmann too conservative? Jurgen Klinsmann’s team didn't escape Europe with double digit shot attempts, as they finished with just nine. Is the team too conservative when it comes to shot selection? Three goals in nine attempts is an excellent conversion and there were a few shots that could have easily been converted, Michael Bradley’s sitter against Switzerland being the most notable. But are there too few shots taken? Consider that eight of the nine attempts were taken inside the box and even more crazy, inside the area of the spot. There was only one shot attempted from outside the 18-yard box, and that was Brek Shea’s laser goal off of a free kick. In other words, the team didn't attempt a shot outside the box in the run of play. Pause on that one for a moment.

This weekend the USMNT attempted 18.7 passes in the final third for every shot while their opponents attempted 10.8 passes in the final third per shot. Considering the US was playing a more direct style on offense that does imply they may be too picky once they get the ball in position. The results this weekend weren't terrible, especially offensively, but it does beg the question: does the US have the right shot selection balance offensively? More in part III of this post.

19.8: High energy, low team pressure. Colin Trainor has been publishing work on a metric that attempts to measure how much a team employs the high press. The metric takes opponent passes attempted in their defensive half plus about 20% of the offensive half of the field (so about 60% of the field that is the farthest away from their goal) and a team’s defensive actions in that same area. The lower the passes per defensive action, the more intense the high press. A measure of mid-single digits would indicate a consistent high pressure strategy. Here is the PPDA metric chart by team and area of the field.

You can see from the chart that Switzerland was much more aggressively defending up the pitch than the US. When the action was in the defensive end, both teams employed similar pressure. This resulted in the possession being strongly in favor of Switzerland at over 60%. The US did have high individual energy in their opponent’s offensive half but mainly that running around was just to disrupt the Switzerland offense as much as possible. The team as a whole was willing to wait to employ significant pressure. We didn't see a particularly aggressive US team this window and it makes you wonder if Klinsmann isn't perhaps going for results instead of pushing his team to be proactive like he was doing during the last World Cup cycle in these friendlies.

2: Blocked shots against UEFA teams. I now the late game defense is the big issue, but I’m not done harping on the shot selection. In this nine game stretch the USMNT has taken to the road against four European foes and have managed a 1-1-2 (W-D-L), but could easily have been 3-0-1. They did this attempting just 29 shots in the four games, an average of 7.3. The crazy stat is that only two of those shots were blocked, or just 6.9% of the total shots. A typical blocked shot percentage is roughly 25%. You can’t argue with the 17% finishing rate in those four games, but it does make you wonder the team is too picky on offense. 

Let’s do a little thought experiment to see if this trend is something that should change. Back to the latest window and games against Denmark and Switzerland. What if the US took shots as frequently as their opponents but also finished their shots at their opponents’ lower rate. The numbers would look like this:

The US would have only scored 2.6 goals had they been as selective as their opponents, and so while the sample sizes are clearly small, at least it looks from here that Klinsmann isn't too crazy.

Next up for the US is the rowdy rivalry with El Tri in what will hopefully be a Gold Cup Final preview (said by the guy living in Philly, home of the Gold Cup Final).

ASA Podcast XLVI: The One Where We Talk World Cup 30-Man Roster by Drew Olsen

Hey, we're back... just like that we have two podcasts (not one, but two!) in less than seven days. This one is a special edition, as Jurgen Klinsmann announced his USMNT 30-man preliminary roster for the World Cup yesterday. In response, Matt Hartley and I decided to record a podcast. The result is brilliant, and you should listen. [soundcloud url="https://api.soundcloud.com/tracks/149278254" params="color=00cc11&auto_play=false&hide_related=false&show_artwork=true" width="100%" height="166" iframe="true" /]