The only questionable call Jurgen Klinsmann made Friday night was the one that involved his wardrobe. On every other score and in every other way, the patriotic-T-shirt-sporting, national-legend-ignoring, mad German scientist of a national team coach was spot on, right down to his substitutions.
And because of it, the United States national team is now in the driver's seat for World Cup qualification.
The U.S. defeated Jamaica 2-1 on Friday night in Kingston, Jamaica, in a game that featured some of the best decisions of Klinsmann's two-year tenure with the national team.
For the first time in more than two dozen games in charge, Klinsmann selected a starting XI he'd picked at least once before. As if on cue, the players responded with a win that sent the Yanks to the top of their CONCACAF qualifying group.
Not that it was easy, not even one bit. After taking a first-half lead through Jozy Altidore, the U.S. appeared set for a narrow win before conceding a characteristically sloppy goal late in the second half. But the visitors won it, with unheralded and unfancied Brad Evans playing the role of unlikely hero.
(GIF via BeIN Sport, h/t Business Insider)
In an even more unlikely twist, at least for his critics, Klinsmann was the key.
First there was Altidore, the misfiring striker who as recently as last weekend hadn't bagged a goal with the national team in 18 months. Klinsmann kept the faith, and Altidore has repaid him in spades—first against Germany in the no-stakes centennial friendly, and now in the all-in world of qualifying.
Altidore's goal was his second in as many games, and with the newfound accuracy has returned his long-lost confidence. If this is the real Altidore, the one who excelled all season with AZ Alkmaar, then the U.S. has a major weapon available for the remainder of qualifying and beyond.
Then there's Graham Zusi, the midfielder who supplied the pass and the man who's dealt with the unenviable task of playing in Landon Donovan's old position. At long last, and after an inexplicable self-enforced exile, Donovan has finally expressed a desire to return to the national team. Klinsmann, though, stuck with his man and now has been proven correct.
Donovan, at 31, is not quite done, and few would suggest that is so. But in Zusi, the U.S. has an able replacement, one who can almost make us forget about the greatest Yank of them all.
Graham Zusi leads the #USMNT with eight chances created so far in 2013.— Paul Carr (@PCarrESPN) June 8, 2013
Finally, there's Evans, the midfielder-turned-defender who has slotted in at right-back, gladly playing out of position as Klinsmann searches far and wide for a back four capable of performing basic motor functions. After Jamaica's late goal, which came about because of another avoidable meltdown, the U.S. seemed destined to throw away yet more qualifying points from a winning position.
But then Evans—who wouldn't even have been on the pitch if he'd stuck to his preferred position—grabbed the winner, a gloriously improbable goal that admittedly won't clinch anything, but still won't be soon forgotten among American soccer fans.
And if we're being fair, it happened because of Klinsmann.
Sticking with Altidore? Finally paid off.
Zusi instead of Donovan? Gutsy but correct.
Evans at right-back? Unbelievably, improbably and amazingly the right call.
It's been a bumpy ride, but after all that, it might be time to admit Klinsmann knows what he's doing.
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