Just when I was about to heap praise upon Jurgen Klinsmann he has to go and utter the most repulsive words I've ever heard from a U.S. national team coach.
"Maybe we're still a little bit too naive, maybe we don't want to hurt people, but that's what you've got to do,” Klinsmann said after his team fell, 4-1, to Brazil.
And not for the first time, Klinsmann said his players must get “nastier.” When I heard him use that term last year, I figured that the German, although his command of languages is truly remarkable, must have been unaware of its definition, i.e. “filthy; indecent and obscene; highly unpleasant; vicious and spiteful.”
But now he talks about “hurting people”?
“We've got to step on their toes more and get them more frustrated," Klinsmann went on after the Brazil loss.
Well, Klinsmann has one player who knows all about stepping on toes -- the German-born and -raised Jermaine Jones, who tried to maim Neymar in the second half with a two-footed flying tackle while the Brazilian was near the sideline at midfield and not even in need of being tackled.
Jones, you may recall, was made captain by Klinsmann in January while serving an eight-week suspension from his German club Schalke 04 – for stomping on the toe of Marco Reus. Everybody knew Reus entered the game with a broken toe, and Jones went after it. (VIDEO)
Jones, after he returned from suspension, received eight yellow cards in 10 Bundesliga games. He got one on Wednesday, perhaps pleasing Klinsmann, with a foul that could have easily injured one of the world’s greatest young stars.
It’s unnecessary to explain why the U.S. national team coach should not be advocating “nasty” play and “hurting” people. Many great teams have succeeded without that attitude and it’s simply not the way we want the USA to play the game.
And besides Jones, it’s not the way the USA is playing -- while showing nice progress under Klinsmann, whose team beat Italy in Genoa last February without Jones.
Klinsmann’s USA entered the Brazil game on a five-game win streak. Within the last five days, it played two very entertaining games, Saturday’s wonderful 5-1 rout over Scotland and the loss against Brazil that, despite the scoreline, offered so much to be pleased about. Never has the USA created so many chances against Brazil. For sure, the defense can be criticized, but the Brazilian finishing was superb. And the USA stormed into the attack for most of the game trying to come back -- so of course the defense will be vulnerable.
I’d rather have a U.S. team fight for the comeback with such spirit and risk a rout than be satisfied with a narrow loss. It was why I was to praise Klinsmann. In a friendly game to prepare for World Cup qualifiers, his team played attack-minded soccer against a team that most others would set up a bunker. The performance -- if not the score -- bodes well going into Concacaf World Cup qualifying.
On Wednesday, Klinsmann's men went down a goal in the 12th minute on what surely wasn’t an intentional handball. They hit the post, were thwarted by great saves, and fell victim to some Brazilian brilliance.
They did not lose because they weren’t nasty enough. And it's not how they should try to win.