Jurgen Klinsmann has now been in charge of the United States Men’s National Team for 13 months. In that time he has accumulated a 9-6-3 record.
In his tenure, Klinsmann has made his fair share of mistakes, at times deploying poorly conceived tactics, questionable lineups and counter-intuitive formations. There has also been plenty of opportunity to criticize some of his roster decisions and wonder why he has been slow to recognize his mistakes or make adjustments to fix them.
However, there have also been some encouraging signs that the U.S. is headed in the right direction.
Here are six reasons that Jurgen Klinsmann may yet prove to be the man to lead the U.S. to success.
He has shown tactical flexibility
One of the big criticisms of Klinsmann’s predecessor, Bob Bradley, was Bradley’s relative tactical inflexibility. Bradley was often more comfortable trying to pigeon-hole players into his preferred 4-2-2-2 rather than switch his tactics to allow his players to play their natural positions. And when the U.S. didn’t have its best players available for selection, it often resulted in sub-par performances for the USMNT.
Klinsmann, on the other hand, in just over a year in charge has been radically different, employing a 4-1-2-3, 4-2-3-1, 4-1-2-1-2, 4-1-3-2, 4-3-1-2, 4-2-1-3 and a 4-4-2. There have certainly been times when these tactical changes have failed, such as the USMNT’s recent loss to Jamaica when Klinsmann attempted to field three defensive midfielders at the same time. But if Klinsmann can get the U.S. players comfortable in a number of systems, it will give the U.S. greater flexibility in approaching future opponents and make the U.S. tougher to game plan against.
He has shown a pragmatic side
In Klinsmann’s first few games in charge, he went with a European style 4-3-3 to open up the U.S. attack. And while the U.S. initially looked better, the change resulted in few goals scored and opened up the U.S. backline to counterattacks they were ill-equipped to handle.
However, Klinsmann eventually began moving the U.S. side to a variety of systems that implemented two holding midfielders and two strikers, a system the U.S. has usually played well in.
In Klinsmann’s version, one striker (usually Dempsey) is withdrawn and one holding midfielder (usually Jones or Bradley) pushes further up the pitch. In several matches where Klinsmann knew the U.S. was outgunned, he was able to setup a system in which the U.S. could absorb pressure and find its chances on the counter.
He has encouraged a new style of play
While Klinsmann has left himself open to plenty of criticism during his time in charge, the one thing he can’t really be criticized for is his insistence that the U.S. begin to move beyond the “try hard, run fast” mantra that has been at the heart of U.S. Soccer since it re-emerged on the world scene in 1990.
Klinsmann has constantly preached a doctrine of possession and brought in to camp (with a few exceptions) players who are confident on the ball, in traffic and in a possession style of play, not just those with raw athletic ability.
He has shown a willingness to experiment
Klinsmann, perhaps because of his playing pedigree, has not shown any hint that he is afraid of taking risks, using unorthodox training methods or making controversial decisions.
He has put out attacking lineups when many argued he should defend more, put out defensive lineups when it appeared he needed to attack, run his players through grueling two a day training sessions when international duty is usually reserved for lighter practices, put his players through yoga sessions and repeatedly called up players that have not been popular among the fans.
There have certainly been some downsides of this approach. Results haven’t always gone the “right” way, the team sheets and formations sometimes appear to be the work of a schizophrenic and his players have appeared to wear down over longer camps like this summer’s “Five-Game Tournament.”
However, the positives of such a free-spirited approach is that Klinsmann is not afraid of making mistakes, sometimes valuable ones that show himself and the fan base the folly of their thinking. He has been willing to look at a lot of new players, some of whom he has integrated quite nicely into the squad and he has, hopefully, begun to formulate an overarching plan to take the U.S. successfully through the rest of World Cup qualifying.
He has an infectious personality and has widened the USMNT’s appeal
There’s no doubt that Klinsmann has brought a different attitude to the USMNT since he has taken the reigns. And that positivity has proved popular with the players and the fans.
With the player pool, the U.S. has no doubt reaped the benefits of Klinsmann’s reputation, as it has attracted multi-nationals Fabian Johnson, Danny Williams, Terrence Boyd, Joe Corona and Alfredo Morales. In the past, USMNT fans have been left heartbroken when quality internationals such as Giuseppe Rossi and Neven Subotic chose not to play for the U.S.
In one year, he has picked up two of the U.S.’ biggest wins ever
In February, Klinsmann engineered a 1-0 win in Genoa over the powerful Italians. Six months later, in Mexico City, Klinsmann helped the U.S. bring home its first ever win over arch-rivals Mexico at Estadio Azteca.
While Klinsmann has had his fair share of sup-par results, it’s tough to argue that he can’t get it done on the big stages.
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