Jurgen Klinsmann: 6 Great Changes He's Made to the USMNT so Far
Since Jurgen Klinsmann took over the U.S. national team last summer, fans have been watching for a transformation. They want a team that can play attacking football against the best teams in the world. After all, that's what Klinsmann has repeatedly said he wants.
It might be a sign of the game's progress in America that (prior to the recent win in Italy) frustration directed at the slow pace of that transformation had been readily evident.
But, there is progress in the national side. It is slow, incremental and occasionally slips backward, but it is there. Now, as Klinsmann prepares to begin the quest to qualify for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, the magnifying glass will be on the team like never before.
In almost eight months on the job, these are the six great changes that Klinsmann has made to the United States Men's National Team.
In one of his earliest interviews, Klinsmann said he would like to develop a more attacking style of play.
That was a significant change from the way the United States had played over the years.
Against good opponents, Bob Bradley's (and Bruce Arena's) U.S. bunkered in and waited on their chance to counter.
The safety-first approach has proved effective at times.
Bradley's team came within a half of winning the Confederations Cup over a field that included Spain and Brazil. They also managed to win their group at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa before bowing out to Ghana in the knockout stages.
But, no one would have ever accused Bradley's U.S. of being fun to watch. They were pragmatic, hard-working and never-say-die, but they weren't an attractive side.
Implementing an attacking style is proving a slow process for Klinsmann. But if the early results didn't bear it out, the new focus did begin to show in bits and pieces.
As time has passed, the bits and pieces have grown into whole sections of play where the United States looks to dominate the ball.
While they finished the night against Italy by parking the bus across the penalty area, they began the night looking to outplay the Italians. That is a positive change and one that supporters can look to become evermore conspicuous in American performances.
Every coach has their favorites, but Klinsmann's fascination with Brek Shea is a considerable step up from Bob Bradley's loyalty to Jonathan Bornstein and Ricardo Clark.
Shea made his debut under Bradley, but Klinsmann has included Shea on the roster for every match of his short tenure.
He also personally arranged for Shea to spend the MLS offseason training with Arsenal.
It's obvious he's taken an interest in the player.
If your coach is going to have a soft spot for a player, you'd like it to be a tricky winger with size and speed to burn.
While Shea has yet to consistently repay Klinsmann's faith, he has flashed ability that shows the national team coach is likely making a very good early investment.
Winning the Contested Players
The United States is a melting pot of mixed backgrounds and national heritages.
As such, there are many players eligible for the Nats who can also suit up for another national team if they choose.
In the past, we've lost many of the best of these contested players (Giuseppe Rossi, Neven Subotic, etc.). But under Jurgen Klinsmann, the tide is turning.
Bob Bradley made an effort to reach out to players who held dual eligibility, but he never integrated so many so quickly, as Klinsmann has done.
The German coach has put on a full-court press to actively bring along players like Jermaine Jones, Fabian Johnson, Danny Williams, Alfredo Morales and Terrence Boyd.
There has been criticism of the exploration of the hyphenated Americans in the national side.
But, it has been muted by the promising play of Jones, Johnson and Timmy Chandler. Fans are starting to realize that, under Klinsmann, the United States is less likely to lose a major talent to another national team than it has ever been before.
The Push to Europe
Everyone knows about Landon Donovan's loan stints with Everton.
What you may not know is that 15 players from the national team spent time training with European clubs during the MLS offseason.
Jurgen Klinsmann is a major reason why so many of Major League Soccer's best and brightest crossed the ocean.
In October, Klinsmann made his feelings clear to players seeking placement in the national team:
If you have a seven, eight-month season, that's not competitive with the rest of the world. If there's a national team player, he has to do extra work...he can't go on vacation.
Even if he says, 'Well, but I'm supposed now to have six weeks off.' If he comes and says that, then I give him a hug and say, 'Have fun the six weeks, but don't come back here.'
Klinsmann took it one step further, personally arranging the offseason-training stints for five American players. The extra time in top-level, competitive environments can do nothing but help the emerging players coming through the U.S. program.
In time, it will bear fruit on the field.
The Legitimization of Michael Bradley
In the past, Michael Bradley was too often written off as a "daddy's boy" who was only in the national team because his father was in charge.
It was always an absurd allegation. But it was persistent.
When Klinsmann took over, Bradley initially found himself on the outside looking in because of the coach's policy that you must be playing with your club to appear for the national team.
But a subsequent move to Italian side Chievo Verona saw Bradley take a leading role at club level.
Consequently, Klinsmann has reintegrated him into the national team. And what a return it has been.
At this point, Bradley is the best central-midfield general the United States can put on the pitch. Witness his highlight reel against Italy.
Still not convinced? Check him out against Juventus just a few days later.
In case you didn't realize, those clips show Michael Bradley outdueling Italian legend Andrea Pirlo. Not once, but twice.
Over the past 20 years, the United States hasn't exactly been blessed with a string of internationally renowned coaches.
That's not to say they've been bad coaches, but there's been no one who has a name that resonates strongly with players and the world-footballing community.
As a player, he won a World Cup and a European Championship.
Those accomplishments dwarf the resumes of every player in the U.S. pool. Respect.
As a coach, he took Germany to a third-place finish at the World Cup. That accomplishment surpasses anything his predecessors in the U.S. job can boast. Respect.
Bob Bradley, Bruce Arena and even Bora Milutinovic didn't have the ability to walk into a room filled with the good and great and hold their own. Jurgen Klinsmann can.
For the first time, the Nats have a coach who cannot relate to the United States' historic footballing inferiority complex.
Klinsmann's name at the top of the organizational chart immediately gives the United States national team a higher profile. He was endorsed for the job by Pele way back in 2006.
When Bob Bradley took the U.S. job in 2006, do you think Pele knew who he was?