By Kevin Koczwara
Jurgen Klinsmann isn’t getting the best of press in his home country of Germany right now thanks to Philipp Lahm’s autobiography “The Subtle Difference.” The Germany captain called his former national team and Bayern Munich manager tactically inept and calls out Klinsmann’s approach to training, which according to Lahm, consisted of only fitness training and no tactical scheming whatsoever. Klinsmann shrugged off the diggers from Lahm and continued on his merry way, which looks likes like a good idea because Lahm apparently doesn’t have anything positive to say about just about any of his past coaches.
Klinsmann continues moving on. He’s out of Germany and in charge of the U.S. Men’s National Team, there’s no time to worry now. He hopes to bring energy and passion to a team in need of a change after the Gold Cup loss to Mexico in the Finals this summer.
Bob Bradley’s reserved approach, defense first and outnumbered counter-attacking the primary gameplan, wearing out its time with the team. There is little doubt that Klinsmann has been brought in to make the U.S. more open in attack and more entertaining to watch, as well as helping sort out the progress of the youth system.
Bradley did his best what he had while in charge of the USMNT, but there were plenty of question marks around his approach. While in charge, the Yanks routinely fell behind in games early, allowing an opponent to take the game to the USMNT in the opening minutes of a game. Bradley struggled to find a coherent and balanced starting XI, often making himself out to be a genius by removing a player at half-time and bringing on a more effective player for the final 45 minutes. The early goal could have been avoided on many of those occasions, though.
The most telling game of Bradley’s tenure in charge of the USMNT is the loss to Ghana in the 2010 World Cup. With the U.S. playing on a high after the late game dramatics against Algeria that took them through the group stage, Bradley decided to go back a starter he trusted, but that struggled to keep from fouling up things for the U.S. while playing in the holding midfield role: Ricardo Clark.
The move to play Clark was typical Bradley. He trusted Clark, for some odd reason. He continually went back to a player who turned the ball over in possession and got carded far too often, because he worked hard, nothing more. Clark’s poor performance in previous games, and inability to stay on the field without pushing his studs through an opponent’s shin, should have been a clear enough signal. It wasn’t.
Maurice Edu looked like he was pairing perfectly with Michael Bradley in the midfield during the Slovenia game and yet, the pairing rarely got a full 90 minutes under Bradley because he didn’t trust the pairing of two box-to-box style midfielders in his system. When in fact it seemed to work because the two players understood the others tendencies. Against Slovenia, Edu and Bradley were the catalysts behind the comeback, pivoting with one another and checking run into the box if the other had already ghosted into the box.
Instead Clark started, and gave up the early goal to Ghana by giving away possession in his own half. Clark didn’t even make it through the first 45 minutes; he was subbed off. And the U.S. made a valiant effort, but the team’s legs drew dry after fighting back uphill in the second half. Having to endure extra-time was too much. So the USMNT dropped out of the World Cup thanks to Asamoah Gyan’s extra-time goal just after the restart, fittingly enough.
The comeback effort was typical of the USMNT under Bradley, a coach who favored playing two holding midfielders, sometimes three, and pushing his most creative players, Clint Dempsey, Benny Feilhaber and Sacha Kljestan, out to the wings where they were arguably less effective than in the hole behind the striker or in the midfield where they have more freedom to try and open defenses and create chances.
Klinsmann looks poised to try and change that mentality of fighting back into a mentality of constant attack.He wants his team to attack from the get go and challenge defenses, something Bradley’s teams rarely did until the second half when he made a change to his midfield or forward pairings. Klinsmann is looking to make the team use its ability to fight back and draw from the “American Spirit” when things don’t work out, but he also wants the team to take charge of games early and never let go. He wants the American spirit to work for the entirety of 90 minutes, not anything less.
Klinsmann played with almost unmatched energy for Germany during his playing days. He was relentless in the attack, always pressing defenders. His long blonder hair looked more like a mane than a haircut once he got on the attack. Now, he hopes to bring that same energy to the U.S. team during his time in charge.
It will be a welcomed revival if the next crop of players coming through the USMNT ranks can adapt to world soccer and express themselves the way they do for their clubs, something that has stagnated the likes of Jose Torres, who is still just 23, Sacha Kljestan, Freddy Adu, and at times Jozy Altidore. Klinsmann’s energy should rub-off. His approach, rarely negative and often supportive and positive, should be welcomed after Bob Bradley’s stone-faced approach to the game.
The best teams in the world express themselves and play as a unit with an energy and vigor, and that the style of play trickles down from the manager in charge. Because, let us not forget, this collection of players representing a country don’t get to play with one another the way club players do. They train a week in advance to a game and meet up for friendlies and important games along the way. So, building an understanding with the other players on the team is tougher, and more complex than building from scratch with a club where players train everyday of the week with one another. This isn’t a day-in and day-out job. This is extra.
It’s important to make it an extra practice and injury risk worth taking. An extra game worth the time and effort. If it’s not, than the effort on the field won’t be there, or worse, players won’t show up. If that happens, fans stop moving towards the sport in America with all the other outlets available. Klinsmann’s reign in charge of the U.S. is hyped up, but it could be a big bust if his passion isn’t emulated on the field by his team, or if the results aren’t there, because there is no doubting Bradley did get plenty of positive results, even if they came unconventionally and with plenty of disappointments along the way.
Kevin Koczwara can be reached at Kevin.Koczwara@thesoccerguysonline.com.