U.S. players that may be helped, and hurt, by Klinsmann's hiring
Freddy Adu could benefit from Jurgen Klinsmann's penchant for attacking soccer
Without his father around, Michael Bradley can now be judged for his ability alone
Oguchi Onyewu won't be able to rely on his past performances with a new coach
Jürgen Klinsmann's introduction as new national team coach lands as better news for some than others. Here's an early analysis of who stands to benefit most from this week's huge news -- along with a shortlist of those who might not fare as well -- as the freethinking German innovator prepares for his first match on the U.S. sidelines.
Freddy Adu. The former child prodigy resurrected his national team career brilliantly late in this year's Gold Cup, so the door was already cracking open for bigger things. Now, Klinsmann's hard-wiring into attacking, attractive soccer seems to have flung the thing wide open. Under his watch, the progressive Klinsmann demanded that German soccer have more zip and zing, less of the plodding, stodgy, traditional German ways. Around U.S. Soccer's camp, that's going to fit a playmaker like Adu snug as a glove.
Michael Bradley. This may seem counterintuitive. After all, seeing his father dismissed can't be easy. But the ceaseless claims of nepotism, hollow as they were, probably weren't easy for Michael Bradley, either. He earned his time with the national team, but always had that "coach's son" label hanging awkwardly around his neck. Well, that's gone, and that might be somewhat liberating. Now if people want to moan and groan about Michael Bradley's place on the team, they'll have to come up with a better reason for it.
Justin Braun. Since Klinsmann lives in Southern California and knows his way around the Home Depot Center, he certainly knows about Chivas USA's promising striker (who hit for his second hat trick of the MLS season last week.) Bradley liked Braun, too, calling him in for the early 2010 training camp. But Braun has been seen very little in U.S. camps (injuries played a part). He's brave and blessed with lots of athletic ability. A few national team training sessions under a former striker of Klinsmann's ability and cunning, and they might really be onto something.
Tim Chandler. The German-born right-sided defender and midfielder was showing big potential anyway, based on two promising spring appearances under Bradley. But Klinsmann's contacts back in Germany and the pair's shared heritage can only make the relationship with U.S. Soccer stronger. The future looks quite bright for the heir apparent to Steve Cherundolo, who has policed that ground so well over much of the last 10 years.
Brad Guzan. This is not to imply that Bob Bradley would have held a grudge, because there's no evidence to support something like that. On the other hand, Bradley couldn't have been pleased with the U.S.' No. 2 goalkeeper's summer planning: a wedding prevented Guzan from taking part in the Gold Cup, on which U.S. Soccer management had assigned such a high priority in 2011. What might have added stress to Guzan's relationship with Bradley is likely to be water under the Gold Cup bridge for Klinsmann.
Eric Lichaj. Bradley inserted the right-footed Lichaj at left back in the Gold Cup more or less out of desperation, attempting to plug a national team hole that stubbornly refuses to be plugged. So, the fix was already at work. But the Aston Villa man has an even bigger opportunity now, because Klinsmann knows about "inverted" fullbacks. Philipp Lahm, a cornerstone of the German defense for years, is primarily right-footed. But he was a left back under Klinsmann when nominated for 2006 FIFA World Player of the Year for his outstanding body of World Cup work. Lichaj is no Lahm, of course; the point is, a free thinker like Klinsmann clearly isn't averse to such less conventional concepts.
Tim Ream. Obviously, Bradley appreciated Ream's abilities, too, briefly trusting the Red Bulls' center back with a Gold Cup starting role. But Klinsmann will probably lean on Ream even more; smooth passing out of the back will facilitate the coach's desire for fluid, forward-thinking play. Of the young generation of U.S. center backs, Omar Gonzalez may be the bigger, tougher defensive force, but Ream is the better passer-by a long way. (Put Chad Marshall in this category, too; he's quite capable with the ball at his feet.)
Robbie Rogers. Alas, Columbus' left winger is essentially the same player we knew four years ago when, as age 21, he found a regular spot in the Columbus Crew lineup. What Rogers really needs is a fresh start at a new club -- but that's not up to Klinsmann. What the new U.S. coach might offer is new ideas or some of those innovative training methods we've heard about, hoping to shake something loose. Rogers needs more precision on those frequently aimless crosses and must improve his choices near goal. Generally, the knock on Rogers is that he's more track star than soccer player. Perhaps another fast left-footer (which Klinsmann used to be) can move the once-promising winger off the plateau.
Brek Shea. FC Dallas' left-sided midfielder is precisely the kind of player Klinsmann covets. Shea, 21, is having an outstanding campaign in Dallas, brimming with confidence and begging to stretch those long legs along the outside channel. Indeed, he has a little Lukas Podolski in him, always looking to run by defenders or to uncork that big left foot. (And look how well a young Podolski did for Klinsmann during that World Cup third-place finish five years back.) Shea's international debut last year was a clunker; he looked nervous and unsure. Klinsmann is a motivator and confidence builder who will encourage Shea to put all that behind him.
Jose Torres. He may as well have been in the witness protection program over the last year based on his notable lack of national team attention. Torres was given one of the coveted places on last year's World Cup team, but he flubbed his starting chance and hasn't been seen since. Clearly, Bradley had lost faith in the young Pachuca man. (And it certainly didn't help that his playing time in Mexico became sporadic.) No one would relish a fresh start more than this guy.
Jonathan Bornstein. Bornstein was frequently Bradley's answer to the left back dilemma ("dilemma," of course, is defined as a choice between equally undesirable alternatives. Ahem.) Those days might be over; Klinsmann won't be afraid to experiment and be innovative in his problem solving, whereas Bradley was more pragmatic. And don't forget, it was Bradley who converted Bornstein from attacker to left back while at Chivas USA in 2006. Bradley always trusted Bornstein, but the final product generally ranged somewhere between underwhelming and seriously flawed.
Oguchi Onyewu. Over the last 20 months since that serious knee injury in October of 2009, every start for the big center back was more about team need and pre-injury reputation than it was about Onyewu's true form. Klinsmann isn't likely to give a German hoot about what kind of player Onyewu used to be. He simply must be sharper, particularly on the ball. Whereas Bradley was willing to overlook lesser passing proficiency if Onyewu could be a shut-down center back, Klinsmann seems less inclined to do so.
Steve Cherundolo. The Bundesliga veteran rarely put a foot out of place during the last World Cup cycle and since. A rock of reliability, he has probably been the most consistent U.S. performer this side of Tim Howard -- and Klinsmann is smart enough to know all this. But the coach also knows that Cherundolo will be 35 years old by Brazil 2014, and he may be quicker to go to the young Chandler (or Lichaj or even someone else) than the more conservative Bradley would be.
Maurice Edu or Jermaine Jones. You might even add Michael Bradley's name here, too. (Bradley was the "good for" list, of course, but this might be another way to look at it.) Lately, Bob Bradley had used Jones and his son in tandem centrally, although both players' skill sets lean more defensive. Same for Edu, who had become the go-to in case of injury or absence to one of the preferred pair. But Klinsmann fancies attacking improvisation over defensive structure in his setup, so one of those three could see shrinking minutes. Germany's midfield was a diamond shape in 2006, with Torsten Frings anchoring behind playmaker Michael Ballack. For the United States, Stuart Holden's return from injury would have done the same thing in terms of reducing minutes for the defensive-minded midfielders. Now, it's going to be that much worse for whoever gets marginalized in the pool.