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When it Really Counted, Klinsmann Failed the US National Team


Let’s get the platitudes out-of-the-way first. The U.S. showed lots of heart and guts and determination. All true.

Tim Howard played like a world-class keeper we all know he is even if Alex Ferguson did not.

There. That’s done.

Let’s get to the important issue and that is how Juergen Klinsmann’s lineup and substitutions (and to a lesser extent the roster he selected) cost the US a chance to truly compete tonight with Belgium. He sent a team out there tonight to play like possums, scared just of the Belgians but also, it seemed, of their own shadows. For all that insipid talk of how the US needs to build a playing style befitting its national character, tonight’s performance was exactly the opposite. It wasn’t a rising power on the world stage stretching its legs amongst the traditional powers of the sport, instead his team played like minnows desperate to maintain a “respectable result” amongst an opponent “miles and miles” better than the US. Well, that’s just nonsense. The US isn’t that bad and Belgium isn’t that good. The decision to not start Beckerman made it immediately clear that the US wasn’t going to try to possess the ball or try to take the game in any way to Belgium. Instead, Klinsmann took the time-honored path since the 90s of allowing the opponent to lay siege to the American net and pray that Friedel, Keller, Howard, etc. bails out the rest of the team.

That no longer is good enough – not with the kind of talent that this team has.

Moving on though, the single worst thing was seeing Klinsmann utterly freeze up late in normal time as he waited and waited to put on some kind of attacking spark. Sitting on that sideline, surrounded by yes-men and has-beens (this means you, Berti Fogts), looking utterly perplexed, probably scared (because now his reputation is really on the line) and simply frozen to his bench while creative options like Julian Green and Mix Diskerud waited for Klinsmann act. When, finally, Klinsmann did act, it paid off because Julian Green is a really promising player and one that no defender “has a book” on. But by then it really was too late to ask for the US to suddenly attack like crazy after spending well over 100 minutes exhausting themselves by surrendering all initiative to the Belgians. A truly talented, confident coach would’ve acted sooner instead of sitting there, probably worrying about how this substitute could affect the next over-the-top fawning profile of him in the media.

Klinsmann’s scaredy-cat tactics may have made Tim Howard a hero tonight but it also made him a victim. No one, not Yashin, Zoff, Buffon, Kahn or whoever is going to save 27 on-target shots. That’s insanity and that’s as a result of Klinsmann terrible tactical setup going into the game. Simply put, Klinsmann failed Howard tonight.

In truth, Klinsmann failed an entire roster full of eager and talented players by his sending them out to play something that only faintly resembled soccer for 90 minutes. It wasn’t even “proper” anti-soccer. If he sent them out to hack and foul and dive like the Mourinho Chelsea teams of yore, I’d be fine that with that. That would have been more proactive than the absolute nonsense tactics he used during most of tonight’s match. Instead, he sent the US team out to try to hide for 90 minutes. That’s not smart. That’s not even American. That’s just a narcissist getting nervous about his own reputation and choosing to victimize 23 players and disappoint millions of fans in order to maintain his own alleged credibility. Somehow, US Soccer paid this guy millions to, when it mattered most, out-Sampson Steve Sampson in terms of tactical cowardice.

And what’s worse, he did all that despite saying he was going to do exactly the opposite. Where was that proactive play? Really, where was it? It was there for a few minutes against Portugal. It was there ever so briefly late against Germany. But, when it really counted against a Belgian team that you could see wilting before your eyes, Klinsmann started scared and ended frozen to his bench. That’s not good enough.

Additionally, I’m sick of being told that trying hard is enough and that “guts and resilience” are the only things that US teams can do at a high level. When this team doesn’t play like a team scared of its opponents, it can actually put together a few passes. We saw that against Portugal and we saw that in the last few minutes against Belgium. Klinsmann, for all his talk of allowing attacking play to flourish, may have instead impeded it for much of this tournament.

When you think about it, this team succeeded, if you are prepared to call this World Cup a success, in spite of Klinsmann’s actions.

It won in spite Klinsmann leaving America’s best attacking player at home. Yes, Donovan would’ve been very helpful off the bench at times during this tournament.

It won in spite of Klinsmann butchering his forward selections by not taking anyone who could replicate Altidore’s athleticism if Jozy got hurt or suspended.

It won in spite of Klinsmann never building anything resembling a tactical “plan B” if Altidore couldn’t perform his role.

It won in spite of Klinsmann playing the Michael Bradley, still the team’s best overall field player, out of position for the entire tournament even as his play declined.

It won in spite of a coach who had so little confidence in his players that he told them through his tactics and his actions that they stood little chance of beating Belgium even when this tournament’s unpredictability and Belgium’s prior matches told us exactly the opposite.

It won in spite of Klinsmann almost certainly overtraining them in preparation for the tournament, possibly leading to Altidore’s injury and almost certainly leading to the preponderance of muscle strains this team suffered throughout.

All that being said, Klinsmann has done one thing well. Looking beyond the disaster he made of the forward position, Klinsmann’s decision to rely on younger players on this roster paid off. Players like Brooks, Yedlin, Green, and Johnson paid off for this team and those are players I’m not sure previous regimes would’ve put on the big stage as Klinsmann did. Other than at forward, I think his roster made sense and worked out. In the end, I’m not sure Goodson or Parkhurst would’ve really been better than any of the other younger defenders. At that position, I think Klinsmann probably made the right calls.

But, Klinsmann undid a lot of that good work with his utterly terrible tactical choices before and during the Belgium match. I will remember these players fondly but not this team and that’s because of Klinsmann. This group of players deserved better than this narcissist, hypocrite, and tactical dunce. We all did.

14 Responses to “When it Really Counted, Klinsmann Failed the US National Team”

  1. elliscarver

    You lost me once you called a man with 2 goals in MLS America’s best attacking talent. It’s not 2010 anymore, Aaron. Landon is washed up. He’s even admitted that he’s not fit right now.

    • soccerlad14

      A “washed up” Landon is better than Zusi, Bedoya, Davis and Diskerud. Leave Davis and Diskerud at home and bring Donovan and Feilhaber and you’ll see our “lack of class” problems at middie disappear.

  2. Neal

    Kinsmann may not have been perfect but you seem to be making up reasons to jump on him. Belgium IS certainly that much more talented than we are right now. That they can bring Mirallas, Lukaku et al off the bench and you’re suggesting that Landon Donovan might make the difference off the bench – there’s just a talent gap there. You don’t go skill for skill against a better team – you try to counter what they do and approach the game differently. Despite your ripping of his approach, we had a great chance to beat a team that went undefeated through European qualifying and the group stage. Not sure what more you want as we try to increase our talent base.

  3. Velvet

    Thanks for this. The author of the article proves the prejudiced Europeans right who say that Americans have no clue about soccer. Reading the comments in the American press in general has been an eye opener. American commentators’ understanding of the sport is the equivalent of a three year old’s crayon-generated art. Just stick to commenting on what you understand, like baseball, basketball or American football, and leave soccer alone. You’re embarrassing yourselves.

  4. Benevolent Spectator

    The best reporting is done by people who don’t have an ax to grind…

  5. Justin N

    I disagree with most of your criticism of Klinsmann, and feel your frustration with the lack of USMNT ability to compete on a higher level should be less directed at the coach, but rather, more critical of the level support and interest in the sport from our country.
    Our best athletes play American football, basketball and baseball. That’s where the interest is, therefore, that’s where the money is. Ability to develop players is directly tied to fan interest and money.
    It follows that our country’s ability to develop international superstars is far inferior to most of Europe and South America whose teams and players are funded at the apprentice level from a very early age.
    The coach selects from the pool available to him, and it is not at the same caliber in the US as it is with the world’s best soccer countries.
    Now, with that in mind, did Klinsmann pick the best roster and line-up, and make the best game time substitutions? I don’t know, and neither do you. To suggest so, is like a member of the media passing verdict on a trial without having been in the courtroom. They do it, but the wise man doesn’t pass such judgement without the sufficient knowledge. Klinnsman has the highest level of qualification as a former player and arguable “master” of the game, having been apart of a world cup winning team. Dare I ask, what qualifications you have to second guess a coach with far more “real” experience?
    You wrote that Kinsmann “sent a team out there tonight to play like possums, scared …of the Belgians but also, it seemed, of their own shadows”. A bit melodramatic, don’t you think? You continue the unsubstantiated criticism calling the tactics “scaredy-cat tactics”. With all your ad hominem attacks on Klinsmann calling him a “narcissist, hypocrite, and tactical dunce”, having not conveyed an iota of tactical understanding of the game anywhere in your article, it became crystal clear that you dislike of the coach far exceeded your level patriotism with your pregame tweet prediction of a US loss of 0-2 to Belgium.
    “It wasn’t even “proper” anti-soccer. If he sent them out to hack and foul and dive like the Mourinho Chelsea teams of yore, I’d be fine that with that. That would have been more proactive than the absolute nonsense tactics he used during most of tonight’s match”, you wrote. Of course you’d be fine with that. You might have simply put forth the standard American argument that you wanted to see more goals and less diving.
    Lets’ be honest with ourselves, unlike baseball where the coach walks on the field at will, or football where the coach radios in to the quarterback, or basketball where they wave a player over between baskets for a comment, soccer tactics are in large part are determined in your training sessions ahead of time, with players afforded the ability to deploy them as best they can during a game. Your entire argument against Klinsmann about tactics is supported by nothing. Klinsmann’s tactics are right on, we need to keep the ball. You do that with 1 and two touch passing. The players tried their best against Belgium, but couldn’t deliver. We missed critical opportunities, and our defense couldn’t handle the technical superiority of the Belgium players.
    If you’re interested in seeing a higher level of soccer in the US, stop your Ann Coulter like diatribes, and do something positive!
    At any rate, when Belgium wins the world cup, you may have a better appreciation for how good that team is. And, when Klinssman remains the USMNT coach, it will reaffirm how lucky the US is to have a world class coach like him.

  6. PGHIrish

    Do I think JK could have done better with our line-up against Belgium, yes. I would’ve had Fabian, Omar, Besler and Cameron as my back 4. Beckerman and Bradley in front of them. Mix, Jones, Yedlin and Dempsey as my striker. Beasley was gassed and not strong enough against the attack. Beckerman and Bradley could’ve defended as well as possessed the ball. Mix, Jones and Yedlin would’ve been more creative while not sacrificing the defense. Would I change coaches going into the next cycle, No Way. JK has started the process of improving our USMNT and must be given the chance to continue. I think he is the right person for the job and I’m glad to have him as our coach. Also, for those wishing for LD and Benny, dream on. Both of them weren’t fit enough for this WC and wouldn’t have helped us. My only change woul’ve been Boyd instead of Wondo.


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