Kyle Beckerman (7) has taken advantage of the national team lifeline tossed to him by Jurgen Klinsmann. (Photo credit: Drew Hallowell/Getty Images)
As Jurgen Klinsmann prepares his US men’s national team for what could be its toughest test since he took over as head coach, the big question heading into Friday’s friendly against France is which approach will he take with regard to his lineup.
Will Klinsmann go with an older and more experienced lineup against a young but still dangerous France, or will he continue to try newer faces, like he has in recent friendlies? Will he turn to Kyle Beckerman and Michael Orozco Fiscal, who he has publicly raved about? Or, will he field a team that is closer to being the very best lineup?
That question probably wouldn’t have been asked three months ago, when Klinsmann first took over – when all the talk was about rebuilding and reshaping the national team. In that climate, going with a young and experimental lineup was seen as the natural process for a new coach in rebuilding mode.
Five matches and a 1-3-1 record later, it might be a bit tougher to go with inexperienced (and some would say experimental) players, but you always get the feeling from Klinsmann that he dances to his own tune and isn’t one to feel pressure.
If that’s the case, and Klinsmann really wants to test out new faces, then what better opponent to give them experience against than France?
In other words: Jurgen, if Beckerman and Orozco are really as good as you’ve suggested they are, then play them against France and let them prove it.
The consistent inclusion of Orozco and Beckerman has led to plenty of head-scratching, particularly relating to Orozco, who was never seen as more than a marginal defender before Klinsmann came calling. Beckerman has earned serious national team looks before, and the consternation over his inclusion has been eased by some strong performances under Klinsmann.
Orozco hasn’t been as successful, leading many to wonder why he keeps getting called. The explanation for that, and for Klinsmann’s interest in grooming him, is simple. At the moment, the pool of US national team centerbacks who provide speed and good passing ability is limited.
Now Orozco is hardly a polished centerback. The reality is he’s looked more like a defensive liability than future starter. What Orozco has is the skill set to potentially allow Klinsmann to play the kind of system he would prefer, a system where defenders are good enough technically to pass out of the back efficiently, and fast enough to allow the back-line to press further up the field.
It’s a completely sensible philosophy, but the only problem is Orozco simply hasn’t looked the part. At least, he hasn’t in his few appearances against less than brutal opposition. He was underwhelming against Mexico, then he looked better against a Costa Rica B team that played with just one forward (which was still enough to cause him some trouble). His last appearance was against Honduras, a 45-minute outing that saw him beaten badly on multiple occasions.
Despite the struggles, Klinsmann still saw enough to bring Orozco back into the fold. Why? The reality is there aren’t many other options with the skill set Orozco has. Chivas USA defender Heath Pearce has the speed and technical ability to be an option, but a hamstring injury left him on the sidelines for most of the final month of the MLS regular season.
Houston Dynamo centerback Geoff Cameron is another player with the speed and ball skills to merit a long look from Klinsmann, but the fact he only moved to centerback for the final six games of the regular season (along with the playoffs) may have left him off Klinsmann’s radar (this despite fact Cameron was a Best XI centerback in 2009 in his first year playing the position).
There are other MLS centerbacks who deserve consideration in general, namely Omar Gonzalez and George John, but both are more the kind of big defender Klinsmann would rather not have two of in his back-line. In other words, Klinsmann isn’t choosing Orozco over Gonzalez and John based on talent and ability (where, frankly, both Gonzalez and John are just better); rather, Orozco is being chosen based on a specific set of skills he brings to the table.
With that being the case, Orozco seems a safe bet to start one of the US team’s two upcoming friendlies, but which one? My bet is Klinsmann will leave him for the easier opponent in Slovenia, which means veterans Carlos Bocanegra and Oguchi Onyewu will start. That makes more sense from the standpoint of fielding the strongest lineup against France, but if Klinsmann really wants to challenge Orozco and see how can fare against tougher opponents, France is probably going to be the best chance he will have to put Orozco in a position to prove himself against high-level competition.
Beckerman has had his chances to prove himself as well, and against Mexico and Belgium, he showed signs of being able to handle the starting role Klinsmann has bestowed upon him. But has he really done enough to start over the likes of Maurice Edu and Michael Bradley? A good game against France would help answer some questions, though it is still a bit perplexing that Klinsmann is choosing Beckerman over a proven player in Michael Bradley, who is starting regularly in Serie A.
The return of Jermaine Jones and Danny Williams’ presence as a defensive midfield option will only make the competition stiffer for Beckerman, but you can bet he will still get his chance to shine in the upcoming friendlies.
Will that chance come against France? If Klinsmann wants to learn the truth about two players he has rated very highly, then Beckerman and Orozco should be in the lineup on Friday.