Stop me if you've heard this before: The USMNT struggled with some basic defensive ideas and used several players in positions not suited to them in a loss. Jurgen Klinsmann said something after the game that no one bought, and then Klinsmann doubled down. The players were at fault in his mind, and no evidence to the contrary will sway him.
All of these things could be applied to last week's 3-2 loss on the road against Chile, or to quite a few recent USMNT outings. This cycle of events is way past the point of being old, but it also appears to be semi-permanent at this point. This time, Klinsmann is blaming a lack of fitness and/or the MLS schedule, even though a) the same player pool that produced Bob Bradley's ultra-fit sides hasn't had an obvious shift in culture and b) the MLS offseason is actually shorter - comfortably so, actually - than the leagues he keeps saying all USMNT players should go play in.
Anyway, today's game against Panama should provide a different sort of test than the game against Chile. Panama doesn't press as high as the Chileans, they aren't as attack-minded, and they don't have the technical ability that La Roja did. However, they are more physical, and this is more of the sort of game that we'll be seeing this summer in the Gold Cup. It's a good chance to right what has become a badly listing ship against a team that we should be stronger than on all fronts.
Key player: Perry Kitchen
It's hard to pick a key player given the fact that Klinsmann may abandon the 352 for a 4312, or a 4231, or something else because why settle on a formation? Why bother giving the team a structure to build out of?
Bitterness aside, this is a D.C. United blog and therefore the key player in our eyes is Kitchen. It'd be really nice to see him get his first cap, and it would be even nicer if he was used in an appropriate position (in the midfield!!!one!!). There's plenty of room for him in this group of players to play alongside Michael Bradley, or Mix Diskerud if Bradley is preferred as a #10. We saw Steve Birnbaum get his first cap, and now it's time for the linchpin of United's midfield to make his senior international debut. Everything else that can happen in this game is secondary, particularly if the 352 is abandoned.
Key question: Are we really going to talk up a formation switch and then abandon it after 45 minutes?
Klinsmann brought up the prospect of playing a 352, and called up a squad kind of built to play it. Naturally, this went awry: Jermaine Jones is not the man for the job in the middle of the back three, and in any case it was scrapped at halftime because Chile was exploiting the space in the midfield. Never mind that the whole point of trying out a new formation in a friendly is to stick with it through the hard minutes so the players can learn; Klinsi decided to move back to a 4312, but didn't have an actual left back to send on. The overtraining in camp reared its head as notoriously durable players like DeAndre Yedlin - who is in season with Tottenham Hotspur, too - started making mistakes based on fatigue.
Personally, I like the 352 as a concept with the players in the overall pool. Play Geoff Cameron where Jones was against Chile, and add Fabian Johnson in the wingback role he's probably best at, and I think we'd be onto something. The only way we'll ever find out, though, is to actually play the 352 for more than half of one game. I want to see it again for the full 90 minutes today against Panama.
Match date/time: Sunday 2/8, 1:00pm local, 4:00pm EST
Venue: StubHub Center (Carson, CA)
TV: ESPN (English), UniMas (Spanish), Univision Deportes (Spanish)
Online: WatchESPN (English), Univision Deportes En Vivo (Spanish)