Nearly five years ago, Jurgen Klinsmann took charge of his first game as the US Men’s National Team head coach against Mexico at Lincoln Financial Field. Now he returns for the first time since then to that stadium with the prospect of advancing to the Copa America Centenario knockout stages. His tenure has been marked by many highs and many lows, with plenty of grey area in between. While it is not unusual to see massive change in four years and 10 months, this game offers a great chance of seeing just how much has changed since Jurgen Klinsmann first managed the US Men’s National team on August 10, 2011 at Lincoln Financial Field.
Klinsmann’s favorites from that game still hold: Jermaine Jones, Kyle Beckerman and Michael Bradley, with Tim Howard in goal, but so much of the rest of that time has fallen by the wayside almost completely. Robbie Rogers, who scored the US goal, has been out of the national team fold ever since. Beyond that, names such as Michael Orozco and Edgar Castillo are still in the fold, though some of the major names of the past such as Bocanegra, Donovan and Cherundolo have moved on. On that evidence, not quite as much has changed from then to now, but that isn’t the entire story.
The squad that Klinsmann brought into Philadelphia those five years ago was distinctly not his. He didn’t have much time to scout and bring in new names to the fold beyond those who immediately hadn’t been given many chances under the previous manager. The game itself was odd because of the timing back when August friendlies were a regular on the FIFA calendar and the Mexican team he faced didn’t call in many if any of their major international stars. The three men that combined for the US goal: Juan Agudelo, Brek Shea and Robbie Rogers all showed promise but never quite lived up to it wearing the Stars and Stripes.
Experimentation has been one of the tenets of Jurgen Klinsmann’s tenure as US boss from the very beginning, and even in a major tournament now he’s still experimenting. The 4-3-3 now in vogue is relatively new, and playing Michael Bradley as the deepest midfielder is too. But he has outlasted most of the many changes in personnel from then to now, as have some of those who Klinsmann began to show faith in from the very beginning.
Maybe it is fitting then that a game that can propel the US to the knockout stages of this Copa is at the Linc, not only where the US is unbeaten (3-0-1), but where the Klinsmann era began. His tenure has been marked by increased awareness, popularity and scrutiny for the US Men’s National Team, and he has both embraced and skirted the new demands he has been faced with. From the very start, it became apparent how he wanted his team to look and that it would cause a stir trying to build the way to that future. Klinsmann and his team were supposed to take to this pitch on a July Sunday last year but were upended by Jamaica on the way there in the Gold Cup, but now he returns to a place that will certainly hold significance to him.
Maybe too it’s surprising that while much has changed from that game to now, six of the players on that team are on the Copa America team that will take the pitch on Saturday, and the three midfielders, still form the backbone of most of Klinsmann’s squads and XI’s. The pieces around the consistent six are dramatically different and most will say that there has been improvement in the quality of the squads since August of 2011, even if the results haven’t always matched. Most managers may not remember where their first game took place as boss, but Klinsmann certainly has, and the significance of returning to Lincoln Financial Field and Philadelphia for a game that could be defining in so many ways is certainly not lost on him.
Beating Paraguay would be symbolic in so many ways, and coming in the stadium where Klinsmann started his tenure would only add to the symbolism. Whatever the prevailing thought is of Klinsmann and how he manages this team, advancing is still an accomplishment and beating a team that poses multiple challenges while doing so in the city where it all started would be even more important still.
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