With Jurgen Klinsmann out, Bruce Arena will come in with some things to address immediately. Some are easier said than done, but here are some of the things the new coach is going to need to address.
Put players in their best positions
If there was one most popular criticism of Klinsmann, it’s that he played his men out of position. Whether it was Michael Bradley as a playmaker, Matt Besler as a left back, Alejandro Bedoya as a holding midfielder, Jermaine Jones as a centerback, Kellyn Acosta as a left back, and on and on.
Klinsmann seemed to look more at who he thought his best players were and which open spots they could fill, rather than viewing players as having specific specialty roles. At times, it worked out fine, like with Fabian Johnson. But often, it had the effect of making players look uncomfortable, unsettled and less effective than they really are. Players need to feel confident and like they are being set up to succeed, and Arena should put players in their best roles.
Phase out aging players, or at least get understudies primed
Klinsmann had his favorites, and they served the U.S. admirably for a long time. But sometimes it seemed like Klinsmann was holding on a bit too long and not preparing for the fact that some of these players may not be able to deliver very soon.
How much longer can Jermaine Jones be a starter, for instance? He looked gassed and struggled in the USMNT’s last two games, and his recent bout with injury may simply be a sign of the fact that he is 35 and it's going to be tough to count on him going forward. Klinsmann was hopeful Clint Dempsey could be a factor in the upcoming World Cup when he’ll be 35 and that's up in the air. At the goalkeeper position, Tim Howard has been slowing down and injured.
There is younger talent available that Klinsmann wasn’t willing allow to take over. The team has looked overdue for some shake-ups and Arena will be in the perfect position to start evaluating the players based on where they are now, not what they have done in the past.
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Start giving long-time snubs a chance
While Klinsmann had his favorites, there were the other players who couldn’t seem to do anything to get a look. Arena needs to bring those guys in for two reasons. First, there's a real chance that some of these overlooked players may actually offer something the squad needs. Instead of shoehorning Bradley into a playmaker role, a guy like Benny Feilhaber is suddenly on the table again.
But second, by giving snubbed players a look, Arena can signal a fresh start and an approach where good soccer is rewarded. Players will respect a coach they think is making decisions for the right reasons, and they just might feel a bit more motivated too.
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Clearly communicate each player’s role
While players were reluctant to call Klinsmann out, there has been a growing sense that the players didn’t feel listened to. It’s unclear how much Klinsmann actually sought feedback from his players, but we can see the lack of communication in the tactical debacle against Mexico and the comments from Bradley and Jones about the players feeling unclear on what they were supposed to do.
No one should step on the field feeling unsure of their responsibilities or the responsibilities of their teammates. When there's that disconnect is when players don’t work cohesively and leave gaps to exploit, like Mexico did so well.
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Win over the locker room
If you want to see a team giving up on their coach, look no further than last week’s 4-0 loss in Costa Rica. The players didn’t seem to trust that Klinsmann’s vision could pull them out of their second-straight Hex loss. Klinsmann set his players up to fail in the Mexico match with his poor tactical setup and they followed that loss up with another demoralizing defeat.
On top of what appeared to be waning faith in Klinsmann's vision, Klinsmann also had a tendency to call his players out and publicly blame them after a loss, which couldn’t have helped. No one was immune to it, not John Brooks, Bradley, Johnson or Bedoya – and these have been some of his best players. Arena needs to do what it seems Klinsmann failed to do, at least with some players: Make them feel valued and get them to buy into his vision.
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Put a singular focus on the World Cup
This is not a long-term position for Arena. Especially with the team in a qualifying hole, what matters is qualifying for the World Cup, full stop. It’s not about winning a Gold Cup, it’s not about figuring out a long-term vision for the style of American soccer, it’s not about grooming players for positions they can’t play right now. Everything needs to be about the relative short-term and designing a team that can succeed immediately. The World Cup is only 19 months away and anything outside that window shouldn’t matter.