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By now it seems that every USMNT fan either loves manager Jurgen Klinsmann or hates him. Those that love him will defend his quirks, mannerisms and decisions while those that hate him will always find a way to criticize him.
When Klinsmann names his starting XI for the USMNT final World Cup qualifier in CONCACAF’s semifinal round, he’s going to take criticism over his selection. We know this in advance because at this point Klinsmann always gets criticized for his team selection.
Perhaps the most popular criticism of Klinsmann is that he is always “playing players out of position.” This was the criticism last week when Klinsmann chose to start 21-year-old Kellyn Acosta at left back in the team’s World Cup qualifier at St. Vincent and the Grenadines. Acosta, who is a natural left back and has played there his entire career with the national team and youth national teams, now plays as a holding midfielder for his club team, a position he’s played the last two years.
Aside from the fact that deploying players in different roles from that of their club team is something that every international manager does and has to do, Klinsmann seems to be the only one who is constantly criticized for it.
Last April, Klinsmann started Geoff Cameron at right back in a World Cup qualifier against Guatemala. The U.S. laid an egg in that game and much of the blame was put on Klinsmann for playing too many players out of position. This however doesn’t take into account the fact that up until last season Cameron had been playing right back full-time for his club side Stoke City. It was only last season when they moved him to a central role either at center back or as a holding midfielder.
In both those examples, Acosta and Cameron aren’t playing out of position so much as playing their other positions. They’re both versatile players who can play more than one position, sometimes it just turns out that their club managers and international managers need them to play different roles.
Every national team has issues like this. It’s simply part of the game, yet Klinsmann seems to always get criticized for it.
But then there’s Fabian Johnson, the one player that Klinsmann never gets criticized for moving around the field, even if he takes him out of his best position.
Johnson is a versatile player. Very versatile, actually. He’s the team’s best left midfielder, best right midfielder, best left back and best right back. That versatility could create a bit of a problem for Klinsmann, but it also gives him flexibility.
Johnson’s best position is as a left midfielder, the same position he plays for his club team. From the left flank, Johnson provides an element to the attack that the United States doesn’t get from anyone else. When he plays as a fullback, the U.S. is missing their best attacker.
However, when Klinsmann decides to start Johnson at left back no one makes a peep. The same people who complained about Cameron playing at right back in March were fully behind the idea of Johnson lining up at left back during upcoming Copa America.
It should be noted that prior to the late March match where Cameron lined up at right back he had started two of Stoke City’s three matches at right back as well as playing the position full-time during the 2014-15 season. The last time Johnson lined up at left back for his club team was in January of 2014.
When asked about his versatility back in March, Cameron acknowledged his ability to play at right back, but said he preferred to play centrally. Cameron’s desire to play in the middle was used by critics as an argument against Klinsmann in that if Cameron prefers to be in the center of the park, that’s where he should play for the national team.
For some reason that same logic doesn’t apply to Johnson, who has also expressed his desire to play as a winger. Johnson has not only verbally expressed that desire, but his attitude on the field shows it as well. When Johnson lines up as a full back, he seems to drift in and out of games and can never seem to get involved on the attack, that takes away from the overall ability of the USMNT.
For the game against St. Vincent, and again against Trinidad & Tobago, Klinsmann has a simple choice, It’s either move Kellyn Acosta out of the position he plays for his club, or do the same with Johnson.
Yes, Johnson is the team’s best left back and if he were to play there Klinsmann’s critics would remain silent. But Johnson is also the teams best attacking player and dropping him back to left back makes the team worse overall.
U.S. fans and media have created a double standard when it comes to Johnson, and it’s not a good one.