In preparation for the release of Howler magazine, the whatahowler tumblr released the full text of an article with the ambitious title, “What is American Soccer?” by MLS Armchair Analyst Matthew Doyle, and it is a riveting read for CONCACAF nerds especially (full disclosure—I contributed a short piece for issue one).
I was struck though by the final paragraphs on US mens national team coach Juergen Klinsmann’s dogmatic belief in the possession-based 4-3-3, and they should be of interest to Toronto FC fans in particular, still reeling from the collapse of the Aron Winter era:
The 4-3-3 has become so dogmatic that the U.S. U-23 squad—using a much more attacking set-up than the full national team—refused to switch out of it even when they were getting run out of Olympic qualifying by the likes of Canada and El Salvador. Klinsmann, it seemed, was content to sacrifice a chance at the Olympic stage to make a tactical point. The question is whether that’s a point which needs making—and if he’s picking the right guys to make it.
This is a different era, though, with a coach who has been tasked specifically to force an evolution. But even if Klinsmann knows what his players need to do to create a new national identity for American soccer, the question remains: Can they do it well?
While Guardian tactics historian Jonathan Wilson has garnered an unfair reputation over the years for sparking the current age of tactical reductionism, his long time readers will know he tends to preface columns on emerging tactical trends with the caveat that the most effective teams mould tactics to the best team available, rather than the other way around.
This is why Pep Guardiola and now Tito Vilanova’s reliance on 4-3-3 is not simply borne of heavy-handed ideals, but by the fact the team has been immersed in the echoes of the Dutch approach for decades now as part of a comprehensive approach that begins in the early years at La Masia. The same simply cannot be said of the US mens national team, and certainly not Toronto FC.
The irony is that Bob Bradley, Klinsmann’s predecessor, was sacked in part because his critics believed he was incapable of making the appropriate tactical adjustments mid-match. Broadly speaking, he was believed to be too conservative. Klinsmann, despite his new wave-y enthusiasm, new age ideals, and belief that football should be “played the right way”, seems cut from the same cloth.
This is also why Klinsmann recommended Winter become manager at Toronto FC, which can now be regarded as one of the worst appointments in Major League Soccer history. The jury is still out on Klinsmann and the USMNT, but it would help if those in power realized that “soccer played the right way”, while a noble concept, really comes down to employing the best tactical approach to suit the players at your disposal.