Through all of the arguments about fitness, Jurgen Klinsmann himself, his tactics, how the US “should” play soccer, all of it, the popular narrative has missed a critical point: It’s February of 2015. It’s the beginning of a cycle, the beginning of a new dawn. Why panic now?
The calendar is a friend to Jurgen Klinsmann and the USMNT. Even if you don’t agree with Jurgen Klinsmann’s experimentation, and many people clearly don’t, you have to admire him for trying to break the US out of what has become their hallmark over the years. He’s trying to do his best, in his own way, to get the US to think more progressively about itself and its soccer, which naturally is going to come with backlash.
Even if his experimentation has led him down roads with dead ends, he’s at least tried to go down them. Yes, the Brek Shea at fullback experiment is one that needs to end immediately, as does the Jermaine Jones at CB experiment, and the Miguel Ibarra trial, as well as Bobby Wood, the 3-5-2, etc., etc. There are many other experiments of his that have failed, but trying to break the US out of old tendencies was never going to be an easy project, or a quick one.
The team is passing quicker than ever before, is moving off the ball with more intelligence and guile, all the while maintaining some of their hallmark aspects such as set piece superiority and a lightning quick counterattack. Jurgen Klinsmann was never going to turn the US into Germany or Spain overnight. Even in 4 years it is difficult to produce a dramatic sea change such as that. The fruits of this endeavor may not be seen until 2022, which is a tough pill to swallow for a sports culture that needs immediate results.
The anger towards Klinsmann however is not misplaced. He does not take to criticism well, even when some of it may not be warranted. He is also certainly headstrong, as you’d figure a former goalscorer of his caliber would be. It takes a strong will to not bend to popular whim, even in a soccer playing country like the US, and Klinsmann deserves credit for still trying to go through with his ideas through a hurricane of criticism. Whether this team is fit or not in January/February isn’t important to the overall discussion. It’s about the evolution of a team and that doesn’t show itself in Camp Cupcake.
The Gold Cup begins in July. There are at least 5 friendlies before the tournament begins, and there will be plenty of time to analyze individual players, tactical systems, and answer any lingering questions about fitness, or whether it’s good for the national team to have so many stalwarts playing in MLS. Whatever the answers may be, we do know the team will be tested enough to find out the answer.
A win against Panama in such a comfortable manner should be enough to satiate the frayed nerves in US soccer circles, at least for now. Maybe the wait between now and the trip to Denmark at the end of March will teach Jurgen Klinsmann and US Soccer fans an important virtue:
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