The United States men's national soccer team surprised many by advancing out of the so-called Group of Death at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, but head coach Jurgen Klinsmann is left with a feeling of missed opportunity.
According to Brian Sciaretta of AmericanSoccerNow.com, Klinsmann is of the belief that his team could have done better than a round of 16 loss to Belgium:
You kind of leave the place with, 'It was a good performance, it was thrilling games, but (expletive)—we should have gone even further.' There is still that learning curve. We want to become this more proactive team and go eye-to-eye and take it to the opponents no matter what their big name is. I had the feeling that we could have done that.
Klinsmann's main complaint was his squad's penchant for falling into a defensive shell. Team USA played perhaps its best game when it was on the attack in a draw against Portugal. The United States was more conservative in the other three matches, which is something Klinsmann would like to change moving forward:
This is a mental, psychological transition we have to go through to get that confidence and that attitude to say, 'We start that way from the first minute and not when we're a goal down.' ... I think in general the Belgium game we dropped too deep. The forward line through midfield was not good enough to help the whole defense—giving (Belgium) far too many chances. Your defense always starts with your front line. So we were not able to do that.
With Landon Donovan set to play his final game for the USMNT against Ecuador on Oct. 10, Klinsmann also addressed his decision to leave the greatest player in American soccer history off the World Cup roster.
Per Jeff Carlisle of ESPNFC.com, Klinsmann stands by his controversial choice:
(Donovan), he built his case leading up to the World Cup, and I decided that the players that were in his position, whether it's forward or midfield, are just ahead of him. For me in my evaluation as a coach, it was a simple decision. Obviously it was a big deal, I knew that too, but at the end of the day, I needed to take those players that I believe would make a difference. That was my decision.
Klinsmann has been quite outspoken during his tenure as the United States' head coach, and that has rubbed some people the wrong way. Jay Bell of The Hot Springs Sentinel-Record is among those who don't agree with some of Klinsmann's assertions:
All signs point toward a youth movement in USA soccer over the next few years with many of the team's top players exiting their primes. That means Julian Green, DeAndre Yedlin, Mix Diskerud and a host of others will be expected to take on expanded roles.
Goalkeeper Tim Howard acted as a crutch of sorts for Team USA in Brazil as he often bailed out his teammates' conservative play. According to USA soccer's official Twitter account, Howard is taking a one-year hiatus from the national team:
That will give other goalkeepers such as Brad Guzan a chance to step up, but it may force a change in philosophy as well.
According to Sciaretta, Klinsmann is also hoping to instill more aggressiveness in his up-and-coming players so a repeat of the timidness that plagued Team USA in Brazil isn't repeated:
This is, I think, a process. The earlier we start that process and the younger many of the players are and that that into their system, and into their heads, maybe there is a little bit of a chance to do that. It's not going to happen overnight, we always said that. I think we did some big strides over the last couple of years with certain results in games we played. We see their step forward. But I just had the approach after the Belgium I was disappointed in the way that you get out of the Group of Death, and if you get out of the group, you can actually make it far.
While Team USA proved that it belongs in the conversation with the best soccer-playing nations in the world by advancing to the round of 16 in consecutive World Cups, changes clearly have to be made in order to reach that next level.
Klinsmann has often talked about cultivating a more dynamic, attacking side, but it hasn't come to fruition yet. He needs to prove that his latest comments are more than just lip service, and he may have the talent to make it a reality in the near future.
USA soccer is in a state of transition, but the end product may be a new golden age if Klinsmann is able to make good on his desires.
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