By Paul Gardner
Jurgen Klinsmann will show us later today exactly how his appointment has brought new energy and excitement -- and, hopefully, new soccer -- to the U.S. men’s team.
Possibly, but much more likely is that nothing much will be revealed to tell us in what way things are going to be different under Klinsmann from the way they were under Bob Bradley.
Changes in the players? A few, yes -- but not enough to suggest that a different style is imminent. For sure, there will be a change in attitude, but that can be expected anyway, it invariably follows any coaching change -- indeed the expectation of it is frequently the major reason for making the coaching change.
Bradley had evidently run his course. His team looked stale, and showed no sign of re-gathering its strength. A new coach -- whether it is Klinsmann or Donald Duck -- would be expected to revivify things, merely by being ... a new coach.
The fact that Klinsmann’s first game is against Mexico is something of a distraction. Should the USA win, then Klinsmann will look like an instant genius, having triumphed against an opponent that, just over a month ago, humiliated Bradley’s team. Should the USA lose, well, that was to be expected, we all know the USA has some catching up to do, and that can’t be done overnight.
In short, a meaningless/meaningful exhibition game that will tell us nothing, but that will leave things open for a hundred different interpretations. For sure, most of those interpretations will shine an optimistic light on Klinsmann’s decisions, that’s the way it goes for as long as the honeymoon period lasts -- the new coach gets the benefit of the doubt.
One very solid advantage for Klinsmann, though -- at least in this game -- is that his team can hardly do worse than Bradley’s team did in that disastrous Gold Cup final.
As for tactics, they are the least interesting part of the Klinsmann debut. Maybe we get a supposed 4-5-1 formation, which might seem deeply defensive. But if it quickly -- and frequently -- becomes a 3-4-3, if it turns out that most of the midfielders are attack-minded players, then the somber defensive shadow cast by the formation numbers is hopelessly misleading.
And it will come down to the players who Klinsmann selects, who will reflect whether he is looking for a more attacking, creative team. Midfield creativity has been a problem area for U.S. national teams for as long as I can recall -- I saw my first USA game over 40 years ago -- and it is absurd to expect it to burst into luxurious bloom overnight.
Klinsmann has acknowledged the long-term perspective by stating that young Americans need to be playing more games, with the implication that until they live and breathe the game, they are not really serious about it and therefore will never be able to compete at the top level with the likes of Brazil, Germany, Italy and Spain.
Maybe Klinsmann’s notion of improving each individual player can work more rapid wonders, but I wouldn’t want to bet on it. Time is needed, and really Klinsmann is a lucky man in that respect, because he does have time -- something like a year, for a start, before serious games begin. And those games will be World Cup qualifying games within Concacaf, games that should not prove too taxing.
For the moment, the aim, both long- and short-term, should be to plant the idea that the playing style of the USA is about to alter, that it will be guided away from its traditional northern European roots to something that can embrace the much more varied soccer talent to be found in the USA.
And what might that style look like? Frankly, it is not that difficult to envisage. So, let me send a brief memo:
To: Jurgen Klinsmann
Subject: US Style
Message: With reference to two recent games -- Spain 5 Ireland 0 (UEFA under-19 championship), and Spain 5 Australia 1 (FIFA Under-20 World Cup). The USA currently looks like Ireland, it looks like Australia, or like a mix of the two. A change in style towards that of Spain is required. The future USA should look and play like Spain.