[USA MEN]The road to the World Cup sure seemed easier in previous Hexagonals. The USA not only finds itself behind the eight-ball following its first-ever opening game defeat and a schedule that takes it on the road for three of its first four games, but injuries leave the U.S. backline devastated heading into the next two qualifiers. To top it off, a report published on Tuesday suggested there is "near unanimity regarding the players’ flagging faith" in CoachJurgen Klinsmann.
(Click here for "Friendly fire: U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann’s methods, leadership, acumen in question.)
The reporting of Brian Straus of the Sporting News is based on interviews of anonymous sources, but they include 22 individuals with ties to the U.S. national team -- including 11 current players. The consensus was that players were “overtrained and undercoached.” Specific criticisms these sources addressed included:
-- Klinsmann's lack of game-day tactics and leadership and lack of faith in assistant Martin Vasquez, who was described "as a decent guy who’s in over his head."
-- Not only Klinsmann's overemphasis on fitness and nutrition and a myriad of off-the-field activities such as yoga, motivational talks and aptitude testing but the “manic” fashion of his training camps.
-- The lack of understanding and confidence in Klinsmann by not just players who might be disgruntled about their roles in the team but by national team regulars.
-- Klinsmann's increasing reliance on German-born and -bred players that has harmed the team's chemistry.
The concerns reached a head after the 2-1 loss to Honduras in the Hexagonal opener. There was criticism about the lack of pregame instruction ("he just threw guys out there and played") and direction at halftime (when he "didn’t really say that much") after Honduras had scored a late equalizer.
The focal point of the story concerned Klinsmann's sudden decision to drop captain Carlos Bocanegra from the starting lineup -- a move that, according to one player, left the team without any leadership on the field. “Everyone was doing their own thing," he said. "And it showed.”
Klinsmann talked at length in response to these criticisms. He said his players always had the instructions they needed and always received it "very, very accurately" from the coaching staff.
“These comments are just normal to me,” he told Straus. “This team is in a transition. Between two World Cup cycles, faces change. We’re doing that, and you also kind of mix up the chemistry. There will be a new group of leaders coming through that process, and that will be responsible for molding everything together.”
Bocanegra has not played since before the Honduras game, so he was not recalled for the matches Friday against Costa Rica and Tuesday at Mexico. Tim Howard, who served as captain for the Honduras game, is injured and not in camp. Nor are Steve Cherundolo and Landon Donovan, the lone players in their fourth World Cup qualifying cycle.
Klinsmann has not said publicly who will captain the USA on Friday, though most believe it will be either Michael Bradley, son of Klinsmann's predecessor, Bob Bradley, or Jermaine Jones, the senior member of the German-American contingent decimated by injuries to Timmy Chandler and Fabian Johnson and illness to Danny Williams.
It will be hard to put Humpty Dumpty back together again after the depth of the attacks in the Sporting News report, but a win over Costa Rica and a result against Mexico at Azteca Stadium will certainly mute many of the critics. What are the USA's chances?
During Klinsmann's tenure, it has been maddeningly inconsistent -- which goes to some of the core issues in the team.
The USA's 2012 record of 9-2-3 matched the best in its history and it did win against Italy and Mexico -- at Azteca -- on the road for the first time. But it played very poorly in road losses to Jamaica -- its first ever -- and Honduras, taking early leads in both games, falling behind in the second half but then never looking like it would snatch a late equalizer, a hallmark of the teams in the pre-Klinsmann era.
The stakes could not be higher.
“Things are boiling over,” a source told Straus. “The feeling now is that this is [Klinsmann’s] last chance against Costa Rica.”