International Soccer
Klinsmann's biggest task is developing back four

By Brian Westfall, Soccer Editor

Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - New U.S. men's soccer coach Jurgen Klinsmann's concerns after his debut Wednesday night uncovered his biggest challenge, even if the difficulty in assembling a back line was just briefly discussed.

You can forgive Klinsmann for glancing over the issue as the focus centered on his first match and the influx of energy from second-half substitutes Juan Agudelo, Brek Shea and Robbie Rogers, who produced the U.S. goal in a 1-1 draw with Mexico.

In the brief time Klinsmann discussed the defense at Lincoln Financial Field, it revealed the Everest-like task ahead for the former German international and coach.

"The most challenging part of building a team is always the back four; that's the backbone of your team," said Klinsmann, a striker on Germany's 1990 World Cup championship team.

"Step-by-step we need to get more comfortable with the back four lineup, but that comes game-by-game."

It was a telling statement from Klinsmann, who spent his playing career as a prolific striker for Germany and various club teams throughout Europe. And it also asks the question, who will be the back four?
Jurgen Klinsmann's debut as the USA head coach was a 1-1 draw with Mexico.


It's hard to argue against captain Carlos Bocanegra and Steve Cherundolo, for now. But, hopefully, those two will not be Klinsmann's best options for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. They'll both be 35 at that point.

In the other two spots in the back four against Mexico, Klinsmann took a look at Michael Orozco Fiscal and Edgar Castillo. Although young, the two Mexican- based players failed to impress in just their second U.S. appearances.

It's possible - likely even - none of the four has a starting role in Brazil.

Goalie Tim Howard did praise Fiscal, who played in central defense along with Bocanegra, saying, "He made the right passes and when the ball needed to go, he launched it."

Klinsmann will require much more from his back four as he develops this team, though. They will be required to distribute (not just launch long balls) from the back, play higher up the field, connect with the midfielders, attack from the fullback spots, and stay tight and compact defensively.

Klinsmann has more options at his disposal, including a pair of defenders who are plying their trade in the English Premier League, in 25-year-old West Ham fullback Jonathan Spector and 22-year-old Aston Villa fullback Eric Lichaj.

Timmy Chandler, a 21-year-old German-born fullback who plays for Nurnberg, is another exciting option outside. Although initially named to the team to face Mexico, he backed out to remain with his club team.

In central defense, 23-year-old Tim Ream of Red Bull New York (who was on the roster) and 22-year-old Omar Gonzalez of the Los Angeles Galaxy are two young options, and 29-year-old Clarence Goodson of Denmark's Brondby (who pulled out of the team with a hamstring injury) and 29-year-old Oguchi Onyewu of Sporting Lisbon provide a pair of veteran possibilities.

Of course, don't be surprised if Klinsmann unearths a few more options. He transformed an aging Germany side when he took over in 2004, managing an overall young team to third in the 2006 World Cup.

Klinsmann's fate doesn't rest with developing the first great American scorer, or finding the right mix of his abundance of midfield talent, but instead with the back four. That's where wins will ultimately be produced, and that's what Klinsmann will ultimately be judged by.

WHAT JERSEY IS THAT?

American fans could have a little more trouble buying jerseys in the future if Klinsmann sticks with his idea of using numbers 1-11 for his starters for each game. Many players wore unfamiliar numbers against Mexico and Klinsmann stated "it's a bit of signal that it's a fight going on for those numbers." Players' last names also were left off jerseys, but only because "there was not enough time (to put the names on)," he said after revealing his numbering plan.

FREQUENT FLYER MILES?

Klinsmann allowed U.S. regular Clint Dempsey to skip the match against Mexico, but did make it "clear to the players that we expect them in camp every time." Many of the team's European-based members have often been allowed to stay with their club teams but "our goal is to have them always with us, no exceptions," Klinsmann said. He added that because of the limited amount of time national teams have with their players, it was invaluable to have the full squad.

EMOTIONAL DAY FOR JK

Klinsmann, who has lived in the United States for 13 years, admitted it was an emotional debut for him as he coached his first match for his adopted country. "It was a special moment already before the game, listening to the anthem and feeling the energy in the stadium and the energy from the players," said the 47-year-old. "Unfortunately, I'm too old to play so the second-best solution is coaching, but I really enjoyed it."

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Contact Brian Westfall at bwestfall@sportsnetwork.com.

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