USMNT vs. Costa Rica: Jurgen Klinsmann Should Not Be Doubted in World Cup Quest
Clint Dempsey struck the only goal of the game as USMNT defeated Costa Rica at a snowy Dick's Sporting Goods Park in Denver, but the weather would not have disguised the avalanche awaiting coach Jurgen Klinsmann if the team had not won.
USMNT opened with a defeat to Honduras and were in need of victory over the Costa Ricans to get their CONCACAF qualification campaign back on track.
But Klinsmann was not helped by talk of dressing-room unrest in the week building up to Friday's match.
The Sporting News website claimed a number of USMNT players had become disenchanted with some of the former Germany international striker's tactical decisions, notably the demotion of defender Carlos Bocanegra to the bench for the Honduras game last month.
The defeat in San Pedro Sula appeared to be brought on by a lack of experience at the back and a loss of cohesion within the team.
According to the report, players were not receiving tactical instructions from Klinsmann ahead of the Honduras match and were instead handed an invitation to simply play.
Aston Villa goalkeeper Brad Guzan played against Costa Rica on Friday behind a relatively inexperienced defence, with Bocanegra not selected for the squad, in place of injured Everton No. 1 Tim Howard.
But the Villa Park man has been playing with a relatively inexperienced back line ever since the current Premier League campaign began in August.
Paul Lambert's side have struggled throughout this season, but one of the few shining lights has been the American.
Transition and change are never welcome when a new coach appears on the scene as Klinsmann did in replacing Bob Bradley, who was sacked in a surprise move by U.S. Soccer in July 2011 after the team missed out on winning the Gold Cup by surrendering a two-goal lead to lose 4-2 to Tuesday's opponents, Mexico.
Bradley had his own critics, of course. USMNT might have qualified for the last 16 of the 2010 World Cup but needed a last-minute Landon Donovan strike to do so from a group which had been considered a comfortable one alongside England, Slovenia and Algeria.
The subsequent 2-1 extra-time defeat to Ghana in the last 16 was even more galling when the African team faced Uruguay, another winnable tie for USMNT, in the last eight.
Klinsmann made his own name in the 2006 World Cup Finals when he and assistant Joachim Low produced a free-flowing style of football, previously not the preserve of German national teams in competitive action, and missed out on the final when they were beaten in the last four by Italy.
But while the reports of locker-room unrest may have been distracting, this is nothing new to Klinsmann in his managerial career.
When the former Bayern Munich, Inter Milan and Tottenham striker took over the German national team from Rudi Voller in 2004, he had no coaching experience, but immediately turned to youth development after the ageing squad had failed to qualify from their group at the Euro 2004 Finals, which included a 0-0 draw against Latvia.
Ahead of the 2006 World Cup Finals, Klinsmann relegated German legend Oliver Kahn to the bench in favour of Arsenal goalkeeper Jens Lehmann.
The young squad may have been defeated, but the support behind Klinsmann and his team had real momentum and even Franz Beckenbauer, who had previously been critical of the coach's defence strategy (London Evening Standard), urged him to stay on after the 2006 finals.
Now Klinsmann is facing a similar situation with USMNT if reports of player unrest are correct.
Defeat on Tuesday will by no means end USMNT's World Cup hopes for 2014, but the German is the only man to lead the USA to victory over their archrivals on Mexican soil after the 1-0 triumph at the Azteca Stadium last year.
Doubting Klinsmann at this stage of qualification is a folly, and any dissenting voices in the USMNT camp should view recent history for proof.
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