Jurgen Klinsmann has been derided by critics on both sides of the Atlantic as being incapable of taking a tactical approach to the way he sets up and manages his teams. In 2011, Phillip Lahm who played for Klinsmann — both with Germany and Bayern Munich — said the following about the one-time German national team great:
“We practically only practiced fitness under Klinsmann. There was very little technical instruction and the players had to get together independently before the game to discuss how we wanted to play. All the players knew after about eight weeks that it was not going to work out with Klinsmann. The remainder of that campaign was nothing but limiting the damage.”
No question exists that Klinsmann has put a tremendous emphasis on fitness throughout his management career. A feeling before the tournament was that the United States would have an advantage in terms of coping with the heat and travel because of Klinsmann’s approach. But many question the approach on the pitch that would be taken by the manager. How organized would the United States be? How would the unorthodox squad selection that included the selection of several players with minimal big game international experience play out? Would the side regret Landon Donovan being left at home?
All of these questions were answered decisively in Klinsmann’s favor. As the above screen grab demonstrates, the United States was very well organized against Germany when playing without the ball. In fact, they were this well structured throughout the tournament. The team marked in packs and players covered space well when others pushed into other positions. The fluidity of the United States defense has not gotten enough credit and was a marked difference from what we saw in qualifying from largely the same group of players.
Klinsmann’s squad selection has been justified as well. With the exception of youngster Julian Green, every single controversial selection of the manager has played a key role in getting the United States out of the “Group of Death.” John Brooks, a selection that was panned by many, scored the winning goal against Ghana. DeAndre Yedlin, perhaps the most surprising selection of all, was directly responsible for the goal that gave the United States a 2-1 lead over Portugal late on. Brad Davis held play up well today and did very well defending. Omar Gonzalez, who was written off weeks ago as surplus to requirements by many critics, was inserted into the team against Germany and had a brilliant match.
Many felt Jermaine Jones should not be an automatic starter on this side and he was maligned as an overly reckless player. Jones has responded by turning in the best overall Group Stage by an American player arguably since the stellar play of John O’Brien in 2002.
Finally, on the issue of Landon Donovan, despite the injury to Jozy Altidore, the fine high-energy play of those selected renders Donovan useless. It is nearly impossible to see where Donovan would play in this team and how his skill set would enhance the squad.
In the end, Klinsmann got every decision right. In a group this tight, he had zero margin for error, and thankfully for the USA he’s already surpassed the expectations of most pundits. Tuesday’s game against Belgium will be the next chapter in Klinsmann’s story.