Azteca win another boost for American psyche

If there's been a common theme to responses supplied by American players regarding the last year under the tutelage of Jurgen Klinsmann, aside from universal admiration of his playing career, the younger contingent all come back with variations on the same theme: "He's giving guys like me a chance."

In this context, "chance" is not the odd invitation to training camp and maybe playing a few minutes, if that, before being shuffled back down the depth chart. Rightly or wrongly, those who were on the outside looking in believed that predecessor Bob Bradley was "locked into his guys," as one player put it, and reluctant if not adverse to giving extended runs to others.

This topic would have to be examined on a case-by-case basis, and those Bradley critics may forget that Charlie Davies, then just 20, debuted for the USA in a pre-Gold Cup 2007 friendly against China before he had scored a professional goal, and Jozy Altidore debuted for the senior team aged 18 years, 11 days. The stigma applied to Bradley, of course, is that he handed undeserved starts to his son, Michael, at the expense of other players and didn't always adhere to his decree that a player needed to be playing regularly to get starts.

This is the sentiment of some fans and reporters, and hasn't been expressed by any national team players, per se. Yet regardless of whether or not Klinsmann can transform the national team into something more pleasing and stylish, he's been able to inspire younger players who may have been discouraged by the previous regime as well as retain a spirit of resilience.

The Bradley Era included an upset of Spain in the 2009 Confederations Cup semifinal, winning the Concacaf Hexagonal for the first time, and also topping a World Cup group for the first time. Since Klinsmann has coached the team in just two competitive matches, there can't be any reasonable comparison in this regard, but as friendlies go, beating Italy in Genoa and Mexico in Azteca Stadium are difficult to downplay regardless of the circumstances.

Of the two games, beating Italy might have been a better performance from a soccer standpoint, though in both matches, the home team didn't seem terribly motivated until it fell behind. More importantly, the Americans melded poise with intensity, and managed to absorb the pressure they couldn't always alleviate by keeping the ball. They didn't allow an unfamiliar environment or talented opponents to faze them, and in the case of Mexico, when its fans started to get antsy and the players started to sputter, the USA took advantage. A couple of excellent saves from Tim Howard, some vital defensive plays by Geoff Cameron and Graham Zusi, and a scything run by Brek Shea to set up the only goal did the trick.

Regardless of tactics or systems, or even personnel, teams that make plays at critical times win a lot of soccer games, but one can never be sure when that moment will arrive, or who will be called upon. For Mexico, Javier Hernandez had numerous chances to score the goal that might have won the game, but failed to do so. The Americans got their winner when three subs -- Shea, Terrence Boyd and Michael Orozco Fiscal -- seized the moment.

Maybe Klinsmann had contributed to a sense of Mexican smugness by acknowledging the "gap" that had opened up between the rivals at the youth levels as well as the senior team. Maybe all of Mexico had been distracted by the gold-medal-winning Olympic team, which was presented and honored at halftime. Playing at night instead of under a broiling midday sun helped the Americans, too.  In any case, Mexico showed little if any of the fire and passion with which it had roared past the USA, 4-2, in the 2011 Gold Cup final after falling behind, 2-0. If the gap didn't close by the USA beating Mexico on its home soil for the first time it certainly narrowed.

There were defensive heroics, of course, and a lot of lung-busting work as well. All such elements will be needed in the 14 qualifiers -- four in the current semifinal phase, 10 in the Hexagonal -- that lead up to the 2014 World Cup.

After a year in charge, debate rages over whether Klinsmann has, or ever will, transform the national team into something more pleasing and stylish. Glimpses of that have been seen, yet to date, his greatest accomplishment is convincing another class of players they cannot only do the job but conjure up methods to master the moment of truth.

14 comments about "Azteca win another boost for American psyche".
  1. Amos Annan, August 17, 2012 at 10:17 a.m.

    nonsense - if the US had lost 0-1 we would't be saying anything positive about Klinsmann.

    Winning is the only thing that counts.

  2. beautiful game, August 17, 2012 at 10:45 a.m.

    I wouldn't hold my breath about the historic win at Azteca...what Klinsmann brings is positive immersion and he knows exactly what the limitations are with any squad he fields.

  3. Luis Arreola, August 17, 2012 at 11:23 a.m.

    Yes and it showed with the bunkering on defense for this one. Look forward to seeing more of it.

  4. Barry Ulrich, August 17, 2012 at 12:04 p.m.

    And when will US teams ever figure out that possessing the ball (translation: good passing!) is the best defense? The MNT nearly always appears to be in panic mode, booting the ball upfield to no one but the other team, time after time!

  5. Brent Crossland, August 17, 2012 at 12:24 p.m.

    I agree, Barry, but I'm afraid that this 'flaw' goes much deeper. Starting with the U-littles, all you ever hear when a defender touches the ball is "boot it!" and most of the competitive & high school teams I see aren't much different. I see so few coaches that encourage defenders to learn to play the ball out of the back. This has to change if the US game is going to advance.

  6. David Sirias, August 17, 2012 at 1:46 p.m.

    Ridge is terrible at rating the performances of players after a game is completed, but he is good at conjuring up general themes to look for and for articles of general ubiquity regarding the state of the team.

    This is one. The coach has made a big difference already but the jury is still out. Klinsmann's greatest test will not be finding a back four or guys who can pass the ball (we have them) it will be his ability to mold our proven talent to his system.... and learn from his mistakes or not.

    1. Donovan. Runs hot and cold because he is over worked. At this juncture in his career his is a counter attacker only, and probably not too much longer. He has looked slow for a year except for a few games when he turned it on. There is probably no place for Donovan as a starter in JK's 4312 system that he prefers against top teams. There might be chemistry issues as well with Donovan. JK is better off leaving Donovan off the roster except for the most importasnt qualifiers. His days of being called in for friendlies should be over.

    2. Torres and Williams are JK's biggest mistakes thus far. Torres is a good passer of the ball and circulator. Fans cry out that we can never keep possession with purpose. Well in that case Torres has only one place to play--to the left and a bit higher than the dedicated destroyer( or #6 if you wish) This deeper lying position is his natural and only effective position. Torres would be very very valuable there except against high pressing speed teams. If JK wont't use him there, then it's JK's fault and JK should get the blame.
    On the other hand, Williams is not an attacker AT ALL but seems not to have Beckerman's brain, hence why he is not played as a 6. So don't play him at all unless he has proven that he has the brains to play #6. He certainly has a better body than Beckerman. .... I know we don't have Stu Holden, but can you imagine how much better we would have been with Holden in William's spot. JK needs to find the Holden replacement in case Stu can't return to form and health. That guy is NOT Jones. Corona or Diskarud should have been playing the third d/mid/right sided attacker rather than Wiliams. JK is blind if he cannot see this now. If JK can make these tweaks, and keep motivating, he can take the USA to heights never seen.

  7. David Huff, August 17, 2012 at 2:05 p.m.

    To the naysayers on Klinsmann, do you think we would even be having this discussion about the pros/cons associated with the historic victory by the US over the Mexicans in the Estadio Azteca if banal Bradley were still in charge?? We owe the deepest debt of gratitude to Mexico for their come from behind 4-2 Gold Cup victory over the US in the Rose Bowl in July 2011. But for this disasterous loss, Bradley would have remained in place through 2014 and Klinsmann would never have been hired. Ein Volk, Ein USA, Ein Klinsmann!

  8. beautiful game, August 17, 2012 at 5:04 p.m.

    Barry U knows what the USMNT lacks when it comes to possession. It's as if the mentality is, 'we made six passes sideways and back, now its time to boot it up field, that's the kind of mentality that has to be purged...look at the MLS, so many turnovers that TV announcers call them interceptions or drown out the game with small talk..

  9. Kyr-Roger St.-Denis, August 17, 2012 at 11:10 p.m.

    I disagree with Barry. From what I see, one of Klinnsman's greatest accomplishments in his still-short tenure is getting the back line to play well under pressure. Under Bradley, as under Arena before that, when the opponents pressed on the US goal, our defense panicked, and the best we could hope for was a throw-in for the opponents. Now, more often than not, the defenders play with composure, and move the ball safely out to the sides and then up the field. Still not perfect, but a great improvement.

  10. Kyr-Roger St.-Denis, August 17, 2012 at 11:11 p.m.

    And by the way, Michael Bradley fully deserved his position in the US midfield.

  11. Bill Anderson, August 18, 2012 at 10:30 a.m.

    Kyr-Rogers, I see it, the team is trying to negotiate the ball up the park, not just lump it. Part of it is the holding role of Beckerman (who is not athletic enough for the spot, but the best we've got) which is why Klinsmann keeps calling him up. When we get one of our more athletic players to accept that role, we will be far more advanced than at this point. Cameron was a revelation and Edu acceptable. With Gooch finished and Bocanegra near the end, we still need to find another center back (Ream, Omar, George John)...

  12. Giovanni Alfaro, August 18, 2012 at 11:45 a.m.

    Although the mexican national team was playing at their home of homes stadium, they didn't play with desire or spirit. The US took advantage of a few scoring chances in the game. But the win, historic in proportions, does not prove that Mexico is not the best team in Concacaf.

  13. Karl Ortmertl, August 18, 2012 at 8:41 p.m.

    I agree with David Sirias' comments on Torres, Williams and Donovan altho' it's a bit harsh on Donovan. He definitely looks burnt at times, but his talent level is so much greater than the others, he must play in the big matches (while cutting back his workload on the friendlies). I don't see JK's love for Williams at all. I like Torres and would hope that JK follows the advice here - he's needed.
    I also agree with Kyr-Roger St.-Denis's comment about the back line. Whoever is out there always seems to be much more organized and ready for what's coming at them than under Bradley. Big difference.
    I feel much more confident in the US squad moving forward. JK knows what he's doing. The defense with Howard in goal and the much improved play of the back line is much better and we have some real offensive talent in Donovan, Dempsey, Bradley (wouldn't have said that a couple of years ago) and Torres. Plus we've got some other guys I really like such as Altidore who is making it happen in the Dutch league, Gomez who has a great motor and Holden who can play if he can ever stay healthy.
    Even tho' it wasn't a pretty win in Mexico, at least these guys were trying to pass to the right place. I saw probably a dozen passes during the match that a team like Barca makes with ease that the US players over-footed. Still, I liked the idea that they were trying them - that was an improvement in itself

  14. William Waitt, September 5, 2012 at 10:19 p.m.

    Did anyone watch the game. The usa fluttered to an undeserving win. It was the most one sided loss for mexico in soccer history. The usa did not connect on mre than 2 passes at a time. The defense was non existent except for howard. Do people really feel we are getting better it is a mere fluke. The usa has pulled off some decent wins in the last 7 years but lets get real. We still do not play at a consistent level. Soccer America get real stop the hype from looks of not making the olympics and tying guatamala I think the usa is going the other direction. It all starts with our youth training system our players still do not grasp the fundamentals of the game. If this country ever plans to compete on the world stage practice needs to be more important than games. When I trained in spain training held more importance then games here we cram more games than pratice in seasons. Kids do not train on there own and do not get better and quit. I practiced every day in my youth. I am 35 now I coach kids and I still have better touch than they do and I do not touch a ball every day. In my prime at a camp I juggled the ball 200 touches before the coaches told me stop. The usa has great potential a unified state training regime needs to be put in place. Elite players need to advance faster for more challenges. Parents need to stop coaching sons youth teams unless qualified. A national scout committee needs to be made. Scouts need to search every potential avenue to find talent. Stop playing favorites and start picking players to fit puzzle. High soccer needs real coaches not teachers union workers. Elite soccer is not fair it is earned by great players. There is recreational soccer for fun and fair equal playing elite soccer is fieldin

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