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Sometimes it takes a mad scientist: In defense of Klinsmanns experimentation...

Jurgen Klinsmann has made some strange decisions with the USMNT since the World Cup. But is it helping the team? And has he already proven he knows what he's doing?

Robert Mayer-USA TODAY Sports

A week without the Black and Gold leads a man to do strange things... such as reappraise the job performance of Jurgen Klinsmann.

Klinsmann has been dealt a difficult hand. He has the expectation placed on him to win the Gold Cup this year, make a run in the Copa America next year, and progress to the quarter finals (at least) in the World Cup in Russia 2018. Russia is still a long ways away, but an argument can be made he doesn't have the talent available to meet those expectations.

Who is Americas best player? Tim Howard? He is currently the worst goalkeeper (in save percentage) in the EPL (and on sabbatical). Michael Bradley? He was riding the bench at Roma before he went to Toronto FC. Fabian Johnson? He is struggling to get starts consistently for Borussia Mönchengladbach. The fact of that matter is, outside of players in MLS, Alejando Bedoya is the only outfield player that gets consistent playing time.

What does that mean? The United States' player pool simply isn't very talented. Garreth Bale isn't walking through the door of Klinsmanns training room. Luis Suarez isn't running 3 v 3 drills at the Stars and Stripes training ground. Klinsmann doesn't even have the likes of Danny Welbeck, (arguably England's 8th best player) to insert into the starting IX.

So what is Klinsmann to do? He is left to experiment with seemingly off the wall tactics and positioning to try to make the team greater than the sum of its parts. This process, predictably, makes him look clueless in the short term and has fans questioning his abilities. But is this criticism fair?

To put things into perspective let's compare the United States roster to the (subjectively selected by me) top players on the rosters of England and Spain (Two teams that didn't make it out of group stages at the World Cup).

United States

England

Spain

Clint Dempsey

Wayne Rooney

Andres Iniesta

Jermaine Jones

Frank Lampard

Santi Cazorla

Jozy Altidore

Joe Hart

David Silva

Michael Bradley

Steven Gerrard

Xavi

Fabian Johnson

Harry Kane

David Villa

The table above is sobering. Klinsmann has essentially nothing to work with compared to the England and Spain coaches, yet he outperformed them both. The USMNT simply had no business advancing farther in the World Cup than these two teams but did anyway with Klinsmann at the helm. How did he do it? By using the same mind that has thought of the 3-5-2, Jermaine Jones as a center back, Bradley as an attacking midfielder, Gyasi Zardes as a right winger, and a plethora of other controversial moves.

This article isn't about giving Klinsmann the benefit of the doubt because of past accomplishments. It's about giving him the benefit of the doubt because the last six months of madness is necessary for the growth of the USMNT and taking home the Gold Cup this summer.

Since the World Cup, due to Klinsmann trying different things (in games that do not matter by the way), we have learned a lot.

  1. Brek Shea has use as an attacking fullback with help defensively. The 3-5-2 showed his speed on the wings can be dangerous. The 4-4-2 diamond showed he can overlap the right midfielder to add width to the attack, and with a defensive midfielder sweeping to cover he can still handle defensive duties
  2. Jermain Jones adds attitude to a team lacking identity. Klinsmann is thinking 2018 and Jones wont have the endurance to play defensive mid. No, he isn't good enough now to play center back, but he doesn't have to be. He needs to be good enough in 4 years and Klinsmann is working far in advance to ensure that he can do that.
  3. Jozy Altidore works better with a partner. Most of the formations Klinsmann have tried have had two forwards, Altidore seems to benefit from this. Whoever he plays with up top looks better to Aaron Johanssen, Dempsey, and Zardes have all scored goals playing alongside him.
  4. The "second tier" of the United States players aren't good enough. Klinsmann could call a consistent first team into camp every few months so they could become incrementally better than they were at the World Cup. To be realistic, a "knock out round" finish was probably the ceiling for that group. So what Klinsmann decided to do was throw out the second tier into difficult friendlies and watch them struggle. They have not shown well, but no player can be confused on where he needs to improve to compete. This will pay massive dividends during the Gold Cup when a full squad is assembled. This has more short and long term value than watching a team that has already peaked make marginal improvements.
What can we conclude? That through 5 years Klinsmann has done more with less in games that mean something. This should give fans comfort as they watch their favorite national team struggle in meaningless friendlies. Much like Bruce Arena and Bob Bradley before him, Klinsmann has probed the depth of the player pool, but he's extended that to how the team plays. Coaches and fans alike have learned much more about the United States National Team then they ever would have with a coach who goes strictly "by the book".