When Jurgen Klinsmann unveiled the 23-man United States World Cup roster in May, all media attention fixated on the omission of Landon Donovan, but Portugal’s stoppage-time equalizer on Sunday night highlighted a rapidly growing hole in Klinsmann’s squad: defensive midfield depth.
For Brazil, Klinsmann selected four players capable of occupying a holding midfield role: Michael Bradley, Jermaine Jones, Geoff Cameron, and Kyle Beckerman. Bradley and Jones are starting as expected, Cameron has been moved to center back, and Beckerman, surprisingly, earned a place in the starting XI. While Beckerman’s rise helped solidify the lineup, Klinsmann now has no reliable reserves to help finish games as his bench is glutted with attack-minded options. Need pace on the wing? Select DeAndre Yedlin or Julian Green. Want guile in attack? Add Mix Diskerud. Looking for a goal? Bring on Aron Johannsson or Chris Wondolowski.
But there was no player capable of replacing Michael Bradley on Sunday night when he looked the definition of exhausted. Before conceding a turnover that sparked Portugal’s counter-attack goal, the midfield stalwart had covered over 15 miles combined in his past two games, the second most of all players in Brazil. It would have been ideal to replace a gassed Bradley late in the game with a player like Maurice Edu or Danny Williams, whose fresh legs could have helped maintain possession and stifle nascent Portuguese attacks. But Klinsmann had left both central midfielders in the United States.
Against Portugal, Klinsmann was forced to rely on reserve central defender Omar Gonzalez and forward Chris Wondolowski to contain Portugal after the American go-ahead goal. Both players did not make an impact on the match, failing at their one job: stopping Portugal from scoring late.
The post-Manaus hangover, as I reported earlier, is a myth, and the American midfield trio of Bradley, Jones, and Beckerman should be fully recovered and ready to start against Germany on Thursday. But Klinsmann will need to figure out how to manage their minutes late in the game, especially in hot weather that, as D.C. United midfielder and native Texan Davy Arnaud told me, makes it harder to play. “You’re just not what you would normally be” in those conditions, Arnaud said over the phone.
Unfortunately for the United States, the forecast for Thursday in Recife, where they will take on Germany, is downright Manaus-like: a high of 82 degrees with 77 percent humidity and a chance of thunderstorms. In that heat, Bradley, Beckerman, and Jones must go another full 90 minutes if the United States wants to earn the result that will get them out of the Group of Death. As Arnaud said, “It’s just the American way. You go again.”
But don’t forget: due to Klinsmann’s roster selections, they don’t have any other choice.