Klinsmann’s puzzling roster tactics

klinsmann-smilingJuergen Klinsmann will not unveil his roster for the World Cup qualifier at Honduras until Monday morning, just 55 hours before the Americans swelter in San Pedro Sula.

The Catrachos released their list Tuesday. Ahead of a qualifier against Jamaica, Mexico put out the roster late Wednesday. The Reggae Boyz did it Friday.

The U.S. boss is typically tight-lipped about selections, declining to reveal anything until most, if not all, players are in camp. His predecessors, Bruce Arena and Bob Bradley, were similarly secretive, though more forthcoming than Klinsmann about personnel issues.

Arena played games with rosters too: In the build-up to a 2002 away qualifier, if my memory serves me correctly, he declined to release the list until the delegation arrived on site. As the group entered the hotel lobby, a USSF representative distributed an outdated roster sheet to local reporters scrambling to recognize players before they piled into the elevators.

Is there a competitive advantage to holding out on roster information? Sure — if the list isn’t made public until the team bus pulls up to the stadium. Imagine Honduras’s surprise if Landon Donovan, who is on hiatus, trotted into Estadio Olimpico Metropolitano.

But waiting until two days before kickoff instead of putting it out four or five in advance doesn’t provide an upper hand.

So why not satisfy the public’s insatiable appetite for news by releasing the names early, like most other programs around the planet?

Until the opening whistle sounds, fans care about two things in the build-up to an important match: the full roster and the lineup. Keeping the lineup quiet until one hour before kickoff is paramount to maintaining competitive advantage. No arguments there.

But a roster announcement, revealing between 22 and 25 players, causes no significant harm. It’s beneficial to a growing soccer country because it fuels healthy debate about who should play and what combinations would be most effective. It’s part of the sport’s culture, embraced around the world, and it should become a bigger part of the American discussion as well.

At the most, 14 players are going to get into the match. Barring a weekend injury, the Catrachos have a pretty good idea who is traveling. They don’t care whether Joe Corona or Chris Wondolowski is available in reserve. It won’t change their preparations or tactics a bit.

One defense of a late roster announcement is to hide injuries: Let the opponent believe everyone is healthy. But the key Americans perform on big club stages, and the slightest limp is detected immediately by supporters and reporters.

Another argument to wait: What if a player has a nagging injury and his availability won’t be determined until two days before the match? Fair enough. But there’s no harm in naming him to the roster and scratching him later.

Waiting to go public also feeds the rumor machine (aka Twitter):

“My cousin’s ex says Boyd boarding flight in Frankfurt!”

“Just saw Beasley on SoBe. Well, looked like him”

“Deuce tweetin about eatin fish n chips. Shouldn’t he be in Honduras by now??? WTF”

It also puts the players in a difficult position: Must they refrain from social media and shy from conversation with family and friends during the roster blackout in order to prevent spilling clues about their whereabouts?

Klinsmann is charismatic and fan friendly. He has embraced open practices the day before home matches and he addresses crowds. He speaks his mind. He fills reporters’ notebook with colorful stories. He has never shied from a TV camera and is expressive on the sideline.

Arena and Bradley were good coaches but never comfortable in a bright spotlight, especially Bradley, and neither showed much emotion in public. Nothing wrong with that — it’s just who they were. Klinsmann is full of energy and personality — it’s who he is.

It is a critical time for both him and the U.S. squad, who begin the hexagonal with three away matches out of the first four fixtures. CONCACAF’s final round is no cakewalk — no matter what the rest of the world says. And with a $2.5 million salary, four times larger than Bradley’s base earnings, Klinsmann faces the expectation to earn his pay by not only qualifying for Brazil, but to do it with style and raising the quality of play.

By holding out on the roster, Klinsmann comes across, fairly or unfairly, as paranoid, dark — and maybe a little nervous.

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