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US World Cup review: The Klinsmann Report

  • A look back at the World Cup campaign of the US under Jurgen Kilnsmann. Is all the criticism he received post-World Cup deserved? We have a look.
SENIOR ANALYST
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Modified 16 Jul 2014, 20:15 IST
USA
Jurgen Klisnmann led the US through to the 2nd round of the FIFA World Cup, upsetting Portugal in the process

The pre-World Cup criticism

Jumping on and off the bandwagon is arguably more of a national pastime than the more familiar baseball in the US. It comes as no surprise that the same critics who were singing Klinsmann’s praises after the group stage, particularly after the showing against Portugal and Germany, were quick to pounce upon him like a pack of rabid dogs after the US exited from the World Cup. All the pre-tournament predictions that we would be little more than cannon fodder, with the other three teams greedily totting up their goal difference, was conveniently lost in the mists of a scant two weeks.

Much of the criticism has centred around the theme that the US were hanging on for dear life through most of the Belgium game and, therefore, Klinsmann had really done very little in improving US prospects on the world stage. Most of these critics were seduced by the US performance in the last 20 minutes of the game after Klinsmann introduced Wondolowski to help Dempsey. True, the US did create a few chances and attacked a bit more with that formation. Indeed, Wondo blew a perfect chance to pull off the upset in the last few minutes of regulation. However, let us not forget that the more attacking formation led to the US conceding two goals in the first half of overtime. Therein lies the rub.

There is an expression in boxing, “never try to hook with a hooker” – and they are not referring to a street walker. Let us take an example that should be fresh in the mind of anyone with a pulse in the last few days. No less a soccer power than Brazil went toe to toe with a mightier Germany and were massacred on their home turf. Lest you think I am just jumping on the bandwagon as well, let me risk a bit of masochistic pain by digging into my own memory bank.

Last season, who else but my very own Gunners foolishly decided to go toe to toe with better teams on their turf and what were the results: 6-3 to Man City, 5-1 to Liverpool and 6-0 to Chelsea. Need I remind you that the US only dropped a 1-0 decision to Germany. To adopt a famous Dirty Harry quote, “A team’s got to know its limitations”.

The Klinsmann Effect

Having dealt with the negatives, let us look at the positives Klinsmann has brought. He has brought true belief in the players that they will always have a chance to get a result if they stick to the plan. That is why something like the early goal conceded against powerhouse Portugal didn’t result in capitulation; instead, the US slowly came back into the game and, eventually, fell 30 seconds short of pulling off a total upset. This wasn’t the only time. There was the late equalizer by Ghana. Going back further, being down very late against Panama, only to score two and throw arch-rivals Mexico a lifeline. That belief persisted through the game against Germany and against Belgium, where they nearly got the improbable equalizer on the trick free kick.

Klinsmann definitely has 2018 in mind. That is why he took a chance on talented youngsters like Yedlin, Brooks and even the much maligned Green and they not only vindicated him, but gave us hope for the future. The biggest heat Klinsmann took was for dropping Donovan, plenty of it from Donovan himself. Guess what? Green was introduced in exactly the kind of situation that was envisioned for Donovan this time around and he out-Donovaned Donovan with his very first touch. Will Green make it into a big club? The talent is definitely there. What we do know is that if he fulfils that talent, he will be strutting his stuff for the red, white and blue. One crucial message he sent across was that no one is too big to fail to make it to the team – a great lesson for a young team.

It is not just picking players. Klinsmann has shown wonderful game management skills. Faced with the loss of Altidore, he was able to rebuild the formation with Dempsey up top, with the right kind of support that could feed a smaller front man. Replacing Cameron with Gonzales against the huge Germans, introducing the pacy Yedlin in the later stages of games, risking young Brooks to take over from the injured Besler – all indications of a good chess master.

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What next for Team USA?

Will the US win it all in 2018? Honestly, the chances are one in a million, if even that. What he has done is to put the pieces in place for us to win it all someday. One of the critical demands Klinsmann made when he signed on was to have a hand in the development of the US youth squads. This was one of the sticking points that led to his refusal the first time around; the other, of course, was a free hand in player selection. He has started by building game plans around the talent he has available and building their confidence by putting them in positions to succeed.

Regardless of the criticism being leveled at him, Americans are no fools. We understand the enormity of the challenge he faced at this World Cup and, above all, we love a guy who can get results. If you want to see what putting a plan in place is all about, look at Sunday’s game. This could be the culmination of what Klinsmann started when he was manager of the German squad. Don’t forget – he transformed the German style; he brought in Loew and Loew has persisted with that style, bringing it to the verge of fruition.

Published 12 Jul 2014, 03:33 IST
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