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Amid new scrutiny, Klinsmann may already have recipe for survival

Mar 20, 2013, 12:26 AM EST

Italy US Soccer

The U.S. Soccer world may be in an uproar after Sporting News detailed the divisions within the States’ locker room, but as the story notes, those divisions didn’t just pop-up post-San Pedro Sula. The loss to Honduras has become a flash point for criticism, but it has done little to change what’s going on with the team. There have always been doubts, there have always been non-believers, and for Jurgen Klinsmann, there have always been huge challenges to change a culture that’s proving more stubborn than expected.

As another veteran of the circuit detailed, all is not lost for Klinsmann, and given some of the responses he gave Sporting News, the U.S. boss is not only aware of the issues but anticipated them. Still, the time for results is nigh, with anything but a win Friday versus Costa Rica turning Tuesday’s match in Mexico into a must win. And if the Ticos do get out of Commerce with a result, expect the U.S. pundits to take the Sporting News’ work and eviscerate the national team boss.

(MORE: Noah Davis on the chaos in Klinsmann’s camp)

“These comments are just normal to me. This team is in a transition. Between two World Cup cycles, faces change. We’re doing that, and you also kind of mix up the chemistry. There will be a new group of leaders coming through that process, and that will be responsible for molding everything together.”
— Klinsmann, to Sporting News

Those are the personal stakes for Klinsmann heading into Friday’s match, though if the Legend of Jurgen holds, he doesn’t care. He might not even care enough to address the Sporting News’ piece with his team, though he will certainly have read it. The U.S. boss is always aware of the conversation, but as the legend holds he doesn’t take any of it personally. Instead of ruminating on what many likened to a dressing down, he’s undoubtedly focused on preparing an undermanned team for a game he’s called as a must win.

Not exactly the best time to be missing your top goalkeeper and all your choice fullbacks while you’re trying to forge a relationship between your new center back combo?

source:  For some, Klinsmann’s made his bed, but you can’t help but notice a number of factors beyond his control have contrived to set up a trap for the U.S. boss. Klinsmann didn’t relish Landon Donovan’s health issues ahead of his sabbatical, factors which have left the U.S. without their biggest star for much of Klinsmann’s tenure. He didn’t contribute to Clint Dempsey’s injuries or dip in form, Tim Howard’s broken bones, Michael Bradley’s lost playing time, or injuries to Steve Cherundolo, Timmy Chandler, Fabian Johnson, and Edgar Castillo. He didn’t wreck Omar Gonzalez’s knee, and he didn’t age Carlos Bocanegra and move him to a second division team that has benched him. If detractors get their chance to toss dirt on Klinsmann’s grave, they may want to acknowledge the circumstances that led to his demise.

(MORE: Bocanegra speaks out | Howard follows | Bradley calls out sources)

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. For all their issues, the States are far from doomed. On paper, they have a team that should beat Costa Rica, particularly if the facets Klinsmann has tried to emphasize prove valuable in Commerce. Those facets include fitness, a new more adaptable mentality, but perhaps most importantly (and most maligned) a style of soccer that focuses on technique, possession, and building a style of play that isn’t unduly dependent on athleticism.

“It’s not the same routine they were used to before we came on board. And my job is to elevate the program and I can’t do that by doing the exact same of what they did before me. I can only get to another level by bringing in new players and challenging the older players. By challenging them in every training session, by giving them uncertain feelings here and there—‘Do I play or not play?’—and so on.”
— Klinsmann, to Sporting News

All of which translates into a method to protect the defense. Eight times in their last 16 games, the U.S. has held at least 59.7 percent of the game’s possession. They kept a clean sheet in four of those matches and never gave up more than one goal.

Granted, none of those games were against Costa Rica, and none of them were in The Hex. But they did keep 69.1 of the ball in shutting out Jamaica last year. Against Guatemala, their possession numbers were 62.8 and 74.3. Versus Venezuela, they fished with just under 60 percent of the ball, while 61.9 and 66.1 possession in two games against Canada produced 180 shutout minutes.

All of those matches may prove easier than Friday’s, but they outline a recipe. Possession may not necessarily lead to wins, but it’s hard to argue with the basic logic supporting its virtue: It’s almost impossible for your opponents to score when they don’t have the ball. And the best way to protect a potentially suspect defense will be for Michael Bradley, Jermaine Jones, Clint Dempsey and the rest of the team to do what they’ve proved they can: Keep the ball.

(MORE: Dempsey to captain U.S. vs. Costa Rica, Mexico)

Should that recipe save the U.S. on Friday, Klinsmann will have a measure of vindication in what’s been his most trying time. The Sporting News report was damning in its quality – an inscrutable survey from an established source – but it didn’t offer conclusions. It left its conclusions to the readers, most of whom let the anxiety surrounding their national team see the features as an indictment. More readily, the article presented a conflict, one which may be resolved on Friday.

If the U.S. lose, the players who detailed Klinsmann’s faults will be seen as overlooked canaries in a contaminated coal mine. But if Klinsmann wins and does so with an approach he’s fostered over the last year and a half, the besieged boss may deserve a series of anonymous recantations.

  1. tackledummy1505 - Mar 20, 2013 at 1:31 AM

    What I seem to have a trouble understanding foreign Football (Soccer) people is their want to win. They always blame the fans for their want to be the best and nothing less. They almost all take us as idiots of the game of soccer. Since soccer isn’t the most dominating sport in America, we must not know or understand as much as they do. That’s a joke, we don’t like cop outs and we don’t want to hear, “poor ol me.”

  2. creek0512 - Mar 20, 2013 at 2:12 AM

    To me the article reads as more of an indictment of the US players than of Klinnsman. They all come across as whiny (you knows). What kind of captain is Bocanegra that he chooses to mope about his absence in the starting lineup rather than support his team? And complaining because he doesn’t announce the lineup a day early? They should all be ready to play anyways.

    • wfjackson3 - Mar 20, 2013 at 9:08 AM

      I agree completely. Some of the technical challenges and lack of game plans sounds more like the coaching staff just saying “lets play our style and make the other team deal with it,” which also clearly bothers lots of people. I think they will come around eventually.

    • dp2310 - Mar 20, 2013 at 11:20 AM

      I think it’s both.

      First, I always had a feeling that Klinnsman’s tactical aptitude wasn’t the greatest. There’s been rumors since 2006 mentioning that the mastermind behind Die Mannshaft’s tactical success was Jogi Low. As the article mentioned, players are confused many times tactically how to play. That falls on Klinnsman 100%. “Playing our style” isn’t adequate when the culture of the soccer team is in flux. Klinnsman is trying to change the style us American’s play from relying too much on athleticism and less on technique, and to be honest, many of our players aren’t soccer geniuses (“players who can be placed into a position not normally played and excel”). Many of our players have been playing this style of athletic but technique-devoid soccer since we were children. I understand the players’ gripes about technique, as it has seemed to look like they weren’t sure how to play against certain teams (i.e. do we go wide? or play through the middle?)

      On the other hand, I completely disagree with the reactions of the players when faced with not-playing, cliques, etc.

      1.The xenophobic feeling that some American born players have against their German teammates is unacceptable. Cliques on teams is a given, but, to say that there’s a divide between the Germans and Americans ultimately means that the teammates aren’t communicating. The American players that say that the German’s keep to themselves and don’t integrate with the other teammates don’t understand what it’s like to be an outsider in an unfamiliar place. They’re obviously going to gravitate to what they know and feel comfortable with, especially since the team is only together for weeks at a time to train. The language barrier is the obvious issue. We can’t forget that these players are technically “American” but in reality, culturally German. The fact that Landon Donovan isn’t in this locker room where he’s been in this situation (reverse) is the biggest travesty. He is the bridge between these two groups, but he isn’t available because of personal reasons. Cherundolo is another one who should be called into every camp because of his language skills.

      2. I am very disappointed with Bocanegra’s reactions to him not being called into playing. Maybe Klinnsman asking him to give a pep-talk before the game might have rubbed people the wrong way, however, I don’t think Klinnsman did it to twist the knife. I think he completely misjudged Bocanegra’s character. Klinnsman saw him as the leader, and thought he would be the best person to provide pep. Boy was he wrong. Bocanegra should be ashamed with not understanding the situation. It’s tough for a veteran starter to be placed in an unfamiliar position of not being selected to play, but pouting is a large sign of his negative characteristics.

      There’s definitely plenty of blame to go around.

    • joeyt360 - Mar 20, 2013 at 6:32 PM

      US players are hardly unique. I’ve seen enough of these tell-alls, often written by players themselves, to know that most locker rooms are full of fragile egos.

  3. geojock - Mar 20, 2013 at 9:00 AM

    A big win in Mexico doesn’t mean all is well either. We have seen the team do good things under JK, but we haven’t seen the consistency. He has done well to promote change and adversity to grow the team, now its time to bring some comfort and consistency to the team so they can perform and apply the lessons he has taught them the last 20 months.

    BTW. After reading the SN article, I can see why Donavan needed a break.

  4. leightoncopley - Mar 20, 2013 at 1:19 PM

    Two points about the article which “rocked US Soccer to its core” that I just cannot get out of my mind:

    First, I question the timing of Brian S article. I understand that he has deadlines set by leadership and possibly self-imposed deadlines to get an article to print but why now? Why right before two crucial WCQs?

    Second, this line: “Over the past several weeks, Sporting News has spoken to 22 individuals with ties to the U.S. national team or its members—including 11 current players based in MLS or abroad.” Are those 11 players all in the current USMNT pool or on the group just called in? Could it be a few fringe players airing their issues with JK? I know leaders like Timmy and MB and Boca will tow the party line and back the coach but I cannot help but feel these “sources” are not key members of THIS team.

    One final point about the quote above. Brian states that he has 22 sources but the quotes he uses throughout the article clearly come from a very select few of the supposed 22 sources. Interesting to me.

  5. scottp11 - Mar 20, 2013 at 1:36 PM

    I really don’t know what the answer is. I can see bringing the ambition that Jurgen wants to bring as well as keeping the overachieving, scrappy American style. The former can pay dividends in a few years while the latter might make us better now, eeking out draws and hoping for bigger teams’ off-days.

    But we all agree that we needed change. We needed to develop and progress. With a record number of US players in Europe and many playing key parts on their clubs, it only makes sense to go to a more European model. Whatever that may be!

    I trust in Jurgen for now and until WC 2014. I don’t think he’s wrong or an egomaniac or ruining things. But it’s a fine line that he (and any coach, Bradley, Arena, etc.) has to tread b/w growth and competing now. I wouldn’t want that job.

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