Unfortunately the months to follow for the men's team were not as pretty. The next 6 games produced only 2 wins and included losses to Costa Rica and Belgium (teams ranked well below the USA in the world rankings). Soccer pundits on major television networks quickly began to question the hiring of Klinnsmann. He was after all supposed to be the man that took the USA to the top. Then came the new year...
The USA is 6-1-2 in 2012 with the only loss coming to a solid Brazil side, and though the draws came in quick succession to Canada and Guatemala (both road matches for those of you concerned) wins AT Italy and Mexico as well as a demolishing of Scottland in Tampa, the USA seems to have righted itself and become accustomed to the style of play Klinnsman wants. So now that I've caught you up a little bit, I want to highlight some of the things Klinnsman first year has told us about him
He's not afraid of... well anyone it seems: In his first year as coach the USA has played (road games in italics) France, Slovenia, Italy, Scottland, Brazil, and Mexico. Klinnsman is not just running his side out against the middle of the road CONCACAF teams... and when he does, he plays those on the road. For the annual January camp which consists of guys who normally don't appear for the MNT (usually younger guys playing in the MLS) he took them down to Panama so they would know how it feels to play a road qualifying game... to see which guys could handle a very hostile crowd... And his players rewarded him with a win.
Playing against the perenial big boys, teams from Europe and South America, and playing on the road will help prepare the USA in the long run. As it stands now, we don't know when the USA will host another World Cup with the next one not up for grabs in 2026. Playing tough on the road is all about how you succeed in major tournaments. Along the same lines only beating up on small nations you normally beat up on or you know you can beat up on gives a chance to build confidence, but can send a team into panic mode when the first go up against the big boys. Again not to knock Bradley, he lined up friendlies against Spain and Argentina in 2011, but Klinnsman seems to have no fear in that regard.
He expects to win
There was just a small sparkle in his eye prior to the game with Mexico just a few short weeks back. Touting a lineup missing some key figures (Dempsey, Bocanegra and Bradley) and a beat up "star" (Donovan), Klinnsman just seemed to know that the USA was going to get a result in one of the most intimidating and unforgiving soccer stadiums in the world. It wasn't so much a cockiness as a confidence in his players. We shall see how that changes with time, but he has confidence in his players and seems to use his substitutions well (seeing the list of goals scored and assisted by substitutes continues to grow) his confidence in his guys seems to be working well.
He doesn't focus on individual players
In the past, there were some names that appeared on the roster for every game unless health would not permit. That is far from the case with Klinnsmann. When Michael Bradley was without a club early in the Klinnsmann era, Bradley didn't get called up. Bradley is one of the best midfielders at Klinnsmann disposal but because he had not been playing regularly, Klinnsmann opted for another player in his stead. For the first few matches Klinnsmann was at the healm, there were no names on the backs of jerseys and he was the man assigning the numbers... not the players. Klinnsmann seems to be pushing the idea of growth not only as a group, but as a country as a whole, bringing in the U-20 team to practice with the top team regulars, and trying to design a "national" strategy in terms of formations and tactics.
He doesn't always know when to scrap an idea
This isn't necessarily a bad thing... but it isn't necessarily a great thing either. Klinnsmann really likes to start each game with a lone striker up top, and often the USA has trouble early in a games getting traction and good looks, particularly against better competition which results in the USA falling back into a very defensive and counter attacking mindset. This isn't a bad thing per se, but when he is preaching position and a more attacking style making an adjustment to starting 2 up top may be more conducive to that. Likewise, Klinnsmann has been really trying to get Jose Torres to play in a high winger style possession and Torres has not done well there. I really like the idea of the lone striker and Jose Torres as a distributor, but in the current set up with the other players on the field... this doesn't seem to be working. Torres needs constant touches to be effective, and for the loner striker to work, 1 we need to get the ball to him more often, and the lone striker needs to hold the ball better (Note: Gomez has shown he can do this fairly well, but other strikers have struggled more).
Like I said above, there are positives to this. Klinnsmann does not give up on a player after one bad outing. Guys who have not performed well in short appearances under Klinnsmann have been given multiple other opportunities, particularly defenders. For some guys, one more call up is all they need to burst onto the scene and maybe stick for a nice long while.
He's not afraid to challenge the status quo
For the last few years, one thing has been for sure... the USA would come out in a 4-4-2 formation. They would be very good at set pieces. They would defend well, and then counter. There is nothing wrong with that style, but when Klinnsman took over he asked for the players to change. While we may not see this every time out for the USA, we see flashes of this change, we see the USA adapting to this new style from Klinnsmann. Klinnsman has also taken perrenial midfielders Torres and Edu and given them opportunities to start in the back. Not only does this show a bit of ingenuity on his part, but it also fits with the style he is trying to promote. He wants guys in the back that do more than just punt the ball to the other end. He wants guys who can handle the ball and make a pass, who can make a run up the side and distribute the ball. This is not what US fans are accustomed to. This willingness to change things is dangerous, but if it works it could be key to the USA going from an above average team, to a team that can seriously scare some people come World Cup time
I could probably go on for longer on this topic (1. because I have a little extra time and 2 because I have enjoyed watching soccer lately) but i have rambled probably longer than I should. As most of you can tell from reading this I do like what Klinnsmann is doing for the USA, but slip ups by the olympic team (missing qualification) and a potentially troubling results in games against CONCACAF opponents, I don't necessarily believe he walks on water and is above questioning.
Hope you enjoyed your long weekend,
T.O. signing off
P.S. Next week on T.O.'s take, the topic will be readers choice, Check out the home page for instructions on how to vote!