By John D Halloran
The United States men’s national team and head coach Jurgen Klinsmann will head into the new year with only five months left to prepare for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.
Klinsmann has been at the helm of the U.S. for almost two and a half years now, and thanks to a slew of victories this summer, expectations for the squad are sky high.
Here is why the squad should be well prepared next summer due to Klinsmann’s efforts.
Solid Results Away from Home
One of the challenges of the World Cup is that all matches (save those of the host nation) are away games for both teams.
During Klinsmann’s tenure, the U.S. is a very respectable 8-5-4 (win-loss-draw format) away from home and has boasted a number of high-profile wins.
Among the most notable away victories for the Yanks under Klinsmann have been over Mexico at the Estadio Azteca, a win over Italy in Genoa and a win this August over Bosnia-Herzegovina.
Less notable, but still important, away results include a win over Slovenia, a draw with Mexico at the Estadio Azteca during World Cup qualifying and a draw with Russia.
Klinsmann’s away results in World Cup qualifying were also respectable, if not wholly impressive. In the semifinal and the final round of World Cup qualifying, Klinsmann’s USMNT was 3-3-2 away from home with late wins over Antigua, Panama and Jamaica (final round), losses to Jamaica (semifinal round), Honduras and Costa Rica and ties to Guatemala and Mexico.
In CONCACAF, where away results can sometimes mean overcoming jungle conditions, torrential rain, terrible pitches, unbreathable air, countries in various states of revolution and batteries, beers and even bags of urine being fired at the players from the crowd, that is no small accomplishment.
The Golden Touch
One of the hallmarks of the USMNT since it reappeared on the world stage in 1990 has been an indomitable spirit. Sometimes classified as “run fast and try hard,” the U.S. team often makes up for its lack of technical skill and tactical acumen through its athleticism, work rate and overall competitiveness.
While Klinsmann has worked hard to make the U.S. team more dynamic, focusing more on possession and creating a more aesthetic style of play, the team has retained an edge over its opponents in its competitive zest—at times winning games through sheer force of will.
In many of the Americans’ wins over the past two years, the U.S. has been dominated early in the match, only to come back late and pull out a result. Often, this has come as a direct result of Klinsmann’s substitutions.
In 11 of the USMNT’s games under Klinsmann, it was one of his substitutes who provided the game-tying or game-winning goal or assist.
Bang for His Buck
One area that Klinsmann must be given a large amount of credit for is maximizing the Americans’ talent pool.
Klinsmann continued to show faith in Jozy Altidore this summer despite an 18-month goalless streak with the national team. That faith was rewarded as Altidore has scored seven goals for the USMNT since May.
Klinsmann gave Eddie Johnson a chance when few thought he deserved it, and EJ has rewarded Klinsmann’s faith with seven goals over the past 14 months.
Klinsmann has continued to keep Brek Shea in the mix, despite a horrid run of club form, and Shea has provided the U.S. with two huge goals in the Gold Cup and created two goals against Mexico in the Klinsmann era.
Despite criticism of Graham Zusi not being good enough for the international level, Klinsmann has continued to use him and not only get great service from the wing but three goals from the Sporting Kansas City winger (two in World Cup qualifying).
Klinsmann has also gotten three goals from Michael Orozco, despite criticism of Orozco’s continued inclusion in the national team and got a game-winning goal against Jamaica out of much-maligned right-back convert Brad Evans.
This pattern of belief in his players and getting the most out of them has also been evident with DaMarcus Beasley, Matt Besler, Alejandro Bedoya and Geoff Cameron.
In the years prior to Klinsmann, the U.S. also seemed to lose out on key dual internationals, the most prominent examples being Giuseppe Rossi and Neven Subotic, who chose to represent Italy and Serbia, respectively. Under Klinsmann, the dual internationals he has convinced to play for the U.S. figure to play prominent roles in the World Cup.
Among that group are Fabian Johnson, Omar Gonzalez, Aron Johannsson and Mix Diskerud and could also include John Anthony Brooks (not yet tied), Terrence Boyd, Timmy Chandler, Joe Corona and Danny Williams.
While there are still some areas of concern for the U.S. heading into Brazil next summer, Klinsmann’s effect on the USMNT has certainly been a positive one. And even though the U.S. was drawn into the proverbial “group of death,” Klinsmann’s positive influence will give the U.S. a fighting chance.