By Mike Woitalla
We're now 13 months and 18 games into the Jurgen Klinsmann era. And the hopeful notion that a charismatic World Cup-winning striker could get more out of the U.S. national team than his predecessors managed is fading fast.
His start after he took the helm in July 2011 was dismal. In his first six games, the USA won one game and scored just two goals. The optimistic take was that results suffered as he was introducing his grand long-term plan to take the USA to a higher level.
There have been a couple of very impressive results in friendlies – winning at Italy and at Mexico. But otherwise it’s been a roller-coaster ride no more impressive than U.S. coaches of the last two decades, all of whom celebrated big upsets. And we have not seen a more impressive playing style from Klinsmann’s team.
The lowlight of the Klinsmann era came in May when after a 4-1 loss to Brazil he complained that his players were too reluctant to “hurt people” and should get “nastier.” A statement hard not to recall after the USA lost for the first time ever to Jamaica because, in the words of his own goalkeeper, it “gave away too many fouls in really dangerous areas.”
Among the highlights -- besides the wins over Mexico and Italy -- was the first half against Jamaica four days later when the USA played superb, fluid, possession soccer. Klinsmann, I’ve never doubted, is someone capable of learning from his mistakes. Indeed, what his celebrity disguises is that he’s learning on the job.
His coaching credentials before landing the $2.5 million contract -- plus bonuses -- to coach the USA consisted of guiding Germany to third place in a World Cup on home soil in 2006 and lasting less than a season at Bayern Munich. What he did with Germany -- a World Cup runner-up in 2002 -- barely relates to the challenge of coaching the USA. The reality is that the USA hired a man not with a long track record of coaching success – but one who appeared to have the potential for great success. Nothing wrong with that. Especially when considering his illustrious playing career and that while living in the USA for a decade, he had gotten a good grasp on the American soccer landscape and its challenges.
But the great expectations that Klinsmann would deliver something new, improved and exciting have fizzled.
Perhaps there just hasn’t been a rise in American talent. The current player pool does look weaker than when Bruce Arena’s team reached the quarterfinals of the 2002 World Cup.
Four games into World Cup qualifying and after a year in charge, the most remarkable impact Klinsmann has had on the national team is relying on German products of American heritage. One hopes that by Brazil 2014 there will be more than that to say about Klinsmann’s influence.