SAO PAULO – Jurgen Klinsmann has an extreme and controversial tactical option available as he prepares for the United States' decisive Group G clash against Germany on Thursday.
The U.S. head coach will probably play it safe in Recife since the Americans only need a tie to clinch qualification to the World Cup's knockout stage. The textbook move would be to select a virtually unchanged lineup from Sunday's dramatic 2-2 draw with Portugal.
But it would not be a total shock to see Klinsmann go way off script at Arena Pernambuco and make a series of changes to his starting lineup for the U.S.'s third and final match in the Group of Death.
The thinking behind throwing in a bunch of replacements would be risky but potentially effective. For example, Matt Besler and Geoff Cameron are clearly the first-choice central defenders, but both have put in long and exhausting efforts in the first two matches.
Even though backups John Brooks and Omar Gonzalez are considered to be behind them in the pecking order, they should have fresher legs. Brooks has played 45 minutes against Ghana and Gonzalez came on during injury time against Portugal.
"We feel like we can bring players off the bench that have an impact, no matter what their background is … and I think everyone has done a tremendous job," Klinsmann said. "We have more players that are ready to jump in this game against Germany, that maybe haven't played yet and it makes us feel good. It makes us feel confident, because we know they can really step it up when they're asked to step it up."
The benefits of introducing new players would be twofold.
Using men who are coming off a lesser workload could provide an injection of energy in a contest against a German side that moves the ball well and regularly makes opponents run. Then there would be the chance for the tried and tested players to freshen up, recharge their batteries and return rejuvenated for what would hopefully be a round-of-16 clash a few days later.
Of course, there lies the risk. Playing with an eye on the future in a World Cup is a dangerous business and there are numerous permutations that could see the Americans eliminated with a loss on Thursday. Also, having effectively left something in the locker room would be a particularly galling way to go home.
But whatever happens in the knockout stage, getting out of the group would legitimately be considered a success for the U.S. Klinsmann can't be blamed if he puts that as a priority above all else.
The coach was pleased with how his players responded physically to their hard toil against Portugal in Manaus and insisted that, while replacements were possible, they would not be enforced.
"We don't have to consider changes," he said. "They could come, but not because of [the short turnaround]."
Other lineup options could see DeAndre Yedlin at either right midfield or right back, where Fabian Johnson has been tireless. Brad Davis could start at left midfield to bomb forward and whip in crosses. Mix Diskerud is the only legitimate option for one of the central midfield roles where Jermaine Jones, Kyle Beckerman and Michael Bradley have chased and harried and spent vast amounts of energy.
It is the World Cup and no player wants to sit. And if Klinsmann does decide to roll the dice and change things up, he would be opening himself up to volumes of criticism if it backfired.
But this is a coach who is unconventional and unmoved by what anyone else thinks he should do. He'll keep everyone guessing until game time. That's why nothing is off the table, including a shakeup of his starting XI.
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