- - Sunday, June 15, 2014

Some argue that Jurgen Klinsmann is an innovative genius. Others lean toward loose cannon. But either way, no one can deny that the German legend has put his stamp on the U.S. national team.

Since Klinsmann took over as coach in July 2011 following Bob Bradley’s exit, the former Germany and Bayern Munich boss has changed the tenor of the U.S. squad.

Bradley’s direct, counterattacking style has been replaced with a possession-based system. Increased emphasis has been placed on pushing players out of their comfort zone, physically and mentally. And of course, Klinsmann moved on from Landon Donovan by unceremoniously cutting the Americans’ all-time leading scorer last month.

Here’s a closer look at Klinsmann’s 23-man World Cup roster, which opens its imposing Group G slate against Ghana on Monday before facing European powers Portugal and Germany.

Goalkeepers: Tim Howard, Brad Guzan, Nick Rimando

When it comes to the Americans’ ability to survive the “Group of Death,” there are question marks aplenty. But there is no need to worry about the situation between the posts, where Howard will start for the second straight World Cup.

Coming off a strong season with Everton in the English Premier League, the 35-year-old knows his authority and communication will be key to an inexperienced back line.

“More often that not, I’m orchestrating, telling them what I think I see in terms of where the danger is,” Howard said. “And sometimes I need to give them a kick on the backside, which happens.”

While Guzan would start for many nations at this World Cup, the Premier League veteran will settle for being a top-notch insurance policy behind Howard.

Defenders: Matt Besler, Geoff Cameron, Fabian Johnson, DaMarcus Beasley, Omar Gonzalez, John Brooks, Timmy Chandler, DeAndre Yedlin

Nowhere has Klinsmann’s changing of the guard been more evident than the back line. Of the eight defenders in Brazil, just one is a World Cup veteran — converted midfielder Beasley, who appears to have beaten out Chandler at left back.

The U.S. center back duo has been a source of particular concern. With his slick passing and knack for reading the game, Besler was a rock there during World Cup qualifying. But a penchant for mental errors has seen former partner Gonzalez replaced by Cameron.

A starter in the Premier League for Stoke City, Cameron offers strong credentials. He plays right back for Stoke, however, and had only partnered with Besler once before the pre-World Cup friendlies.

“It is hard,” Cameron said recently of the jelling process. “But we’re dealing with it. We’re getting along with each other, the guys are working hard for one another and we’re all on the same page.”

After mostly playing left back and left midfield in qualifying, Johnson has found a home for the U.S. at right back. The German-American’s attacking tendencies have been crucial to Klinsmann’s new formation, which calls for a compact “diamond” midfield that opens space out wide for the fullbacks to expose.

Midfielders: Michael Bradley, Jermaine Jones, Alejandro Bedoya, Graham Zusi, Kyle Beckerman, Mix Diskerud, Brad Davis, Julian Green

Although Donovan’s snub has slipped to the backburner, the reality is that his absence leaves a substantial hole in the U.S. midfield. While Klinsmann has pushed the narrative that Donovan is an aging star, the numbers indicate he is still a force to be reckoned with.

In the past year, Donovan has created more scoring chances for the national team than any other player. His eight goals in 2013 tied for the U.S. lead. Last summer, he was named the Gold Cup’s top player as the Americans won their regional championship.

So who will fill the void on the flanks? If Klinsmann goes with two true wingers, he’ll likely turn to the workrate of Bedoya and the distribution of Zusi. Klinsmann could also add an extra central midfielder, starting Beckerman in a defensive slot to give Jones and Bradley freedom to roam.

Bradley’s role is particularly in flux. Usually deployed in a deep position shielding the back line, the Toronto FC midfielder has recently been moved to a more offensive spot just beneath the forwards. There, he can use his vision to influence the match from dangerous areas.

“Whether it’s scoring goals, setting up goals, winning tackles, intercepting balls, I try to have as big an impact on the game as possible,” Bradley said. “I think when you look around the world now, midfielders who can do everything are so important.”

Should the U.S. be looking for a substitute to impact the match, set-piece specialist Davis and playmaker Diskerud have thrived as options off the bench.

Forwards: Clint Dempsey, Jozy Altidore, Aron Johannsson, Chris Wondolowski

Whether one considers Dempsey an attacking midfielder or withdrawn forward is a matter of semantics. What can’t be debated is his importance to the U.S. attack, which relies heavily on the Seattle Sounders star’s creativity and goal-scoring prowess.

Yet Dempsey can’t carry the U.S. out of the group on his own. Much of the pressure has been heaped on Altidore, whose physicality as the target forward is critical to the Americans’ possession game.

Coming off a rough first season with Premier League club Sunderland, Altidore managed to end a six-month goalless drought when he scored twice in the U.S. team’s final warm-up game, a 2-1 win over Nigeria.

If Klinsmann finds himself in need of a goal late, he could turn to the precise finishing of Johannson or the poaching instincts of Wondolowski. But for the starting role, he’s all in on Altidore.

“I think Jozy has a very special World Cup ahead of him,” Klinsmann said. “He can prove a point. He had a tough path there at Sunderland, but it’s a learning path he went through. And he fought himself through it.”

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