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Breaking down Eric Wynalda’s gripes about the USMNT – does he have a point?

Written by Will Parchman

Over the Fourth of July weekend, Eric Wynalda made an appearance on the Dan Patrick show to rail against Jurgen Klinsmann’s management of his side in the 2014 World Cup. It may have been something you’d expect to hear out of Wynalda, a historically feisty commentator, but it gave voice to a wide range of issues that’ve been trumpeted over the last week on a national scale. Some more valid than others.

You have to get beyond Wynalda’s initial moment of self-aggrandizement when he sounds vaguely like Uncle Rico from Napoleon Dynamite (I’D TAKE STATE) to get to the real meat, but there are some morsels worth pausing over here. Let’s go blow-by-blow through Wynalda’s 10 minutes of Dan Patrick glory and see what we can find.

“The number one problem we had in this World Cup is Michael Bradley playing out of position.”

I don’t see a way to refute this. The theory behind Bradley’s deployment was to push him higher and let him create as a sort of regista while Beckerman sat between the center backs and Jones roamed horizontally both as a safety net for the fullbacks and to link play. The reality behind his deployment was that he operated as a glorified marathon runner, covering scads of ground while looking generally unsure as to his exact role. Bradley’s pass to set up Julian Green’s goal was a thing of beauty, but the shifting sands in his role didn’t allow him the ability to play. It was obvious he was thinking too much.

So Wynalda got this one right. Bradley was too high, and the fact that Klinsmann had two other holding midfielders with him on the field at all times made the midfield look mighty redundant. To Wynalda’s earlier point about the U.S. repeating Bora’s mistakes from 1994, it’s hard to argue Klinsmann didn’t wade right back into that fetid pool.

“Landon Donovan would’ve been a great option.”

This was a spin-off of Wynalda’s original point that three defensive midfielders didn’t work. Again, no arguments here. Mix Diskerud never got a game in Brazil, which cuts a couple ways. Could Donovan not have been more valuable (in myriad ways) than Diskerud? Or even Zusi? I’ve come to believe that while Donovan was probably never going to start in Brazil, he would’ve been an incredible bench option.

I wade into this fully realizing the Donovan horse was flogged to death more than a month ago, but it does bear repeating that he was an outlet that wasn’t taken. Mistakenly.

“We’re not better off than we were 20 years ago.”

This is Wynalda letting the emotion of the moment defeat him. Patently false on a number of levels, though I approach it developmentally as much as anything. I did a story specifically contrasting Wynalda’s era with the current one, and it’s impossible to make this argument with any seriousness.

“The worst feeling in the world as a player is when that coach pulls up that sheet and says ‘Here’s the starting lineup,’ and the whole team kind of goes, ‘Well I guess we’re just content to play, but we’re going to play defense, and then you have no belief. The whole country is singing this song ‘I believe,’ and the only guy who didn’t believe was Jurgen. That’s hard on the players.”

This is perhaps Wynalda’s most interesting comment, the one we circle and ponder for a few weeks. When Landon Donovan commented on that shell shape last week, he spoke about the impact a defensive mindset has on players ready to play forward a bit. As a former player, Wynalda gets some leash to make these kinds of comments, because Bora did it in 1994 and Sampson did it in 1998 and so we go.

My gripe is not in the specific World Cup lineup itself, because Klinsmann left himself few outlets to play a fluid proactive game. Even if Diskerud was World Cup ready (a topic that’d take us a long time to unpack on its own), who are the central playmakers on this team? Or even in this pool? Klinsmann’s reliance on three central defensive midfielders drills back to the beginning of the Hex, when he deployed three destroyers in the middle – in a losing effort against Honduras.


This was not a World Cup problem. This was a pool problem. Klinsmann spent little time over the past three years cultivating a high central midfielder, and he was hamstrung by that lack of flexibility at World Cup time when it became time to pick a 23. In that regard, Klinsmann gets a bit of a pass. He can’t create creators.

But he can tailor his formation to the quality at his beckon call via deployment, and it’s hard to argue for the diamond with this set-up. We start a conversation about different personnel sets, different theaters of emphasis, different focal points. But Klinsmann backed himself into this corner, and by the time decisions needed to be made, he went with the sensible ones at his fingertips. In essence, he’d created his own false dichotomy.

Wynalda comes across as a wild firebrand at times with more figurative passion than literal substance, but he was not entirely off base here. The points about playing a more proactive game are valid, and while they go beyond simple marketing (the whole Messi vs. USA on the Fourth weekend is a bit overblown I think) there is teeth in that. I don’t necessarily think Klinsmann had many options other than the ones he left himself, but that’s a valid criticism in itself. Perhaps it’s something he’ll keep in mind as we plow forward into his second four-year term.


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  • Chris Tobin

    The choice should not have been Donovan over Mix. But Donovan over Brad Davis. Davis is a 32 year old MLS veteran that has 17 USA caps, the 17th of which was his dismal start against Germany. Maybe the Donovan-Klinsmann relationship is so broken that it was never considered. But when it comes to roster building the Davis inclusion was a disaster that left us hamstrung when Jozy was injured.

  • Sean

    I love Wynalda’s assessment here. I am not always glad about his outspokenness but I am really grateful for it here. Great interview.

  • wandmdave

    I don’t see us playing much better against Belgium with Donovan on the team or even with Jozy healthy. We had some possession in the Belgium game it was just all in the back. We turned it over pretty quickly as we crossed Belgium’s line of confrontation. That is because we have no one better than solid overall technically and no speed in either winger position or the CAM. Eventually an above average to elite team will expose that lack of talent and it happened.

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