USA’s Date With Copa America Big Boys Will Reveal How Far They’ve Come Under Jurgen Klinsmann
By Graham Ruthven (@grahamruthven)
Upon the sounding of the full-time whistle at Philadelphia’s Lincoln Financial Field Jurgen Klinsmann must have worked pretty hard to ensure a smug grin didn’t spread across his face. The USA head coach could have been forgiven had he failed to do so, given all that has been directed his way over the past few weeks and months.
Indeed, Klinsmann has been the subject of much ire and frustration ever since the 2014 World Cup, with the US deemed to have underperformed, both in the Gold Cup and qualification for the 2018 tournament. Yet at this year’s Copa America on home soil he has led his side to the quarter-finals.
Even over the course of the tournament – little over a week old – the narrative surrounding Klinsmann has shifted dramatically. The German fielded some difficult questions following his side’s 2-0 defeat to Colombia in their group stage opener, with many even calling for his dismissal as head coach. The end was seemingly nearing for Klinsmann as USA boss.
The tone of the US’s tournament turned with the emphatic 4-0 victory over Costa Rica, with the 1-0 win over Paraguay at the weekend sending them into the last 16. Questions of Klinsmann’s stewardship still persist, but for the moment the USA are now plotting their route to the Copa America final on Sunday 27 June.
“The old story is the underdog story, and I cannot hear that story anymore,” Klinsmann said after the win over Paraguay. “I want to see them risk things. Let’s go for it! Because if you’re not going for it, sooner or later they’re going to break you down because they have class players that will give you one or two [goals]. That’s the learning curve.
“Knockout stage is very mental-driven. It’s [an] absolute mental game. It’s when you step on the field and you see certain jerseys. It’s kind of sniffing at each other and saying ‘I’m ready for you.’ This all about the moment then, and this is what they need to believe in. Whoever is on the other side, I’m ready for you. This is what you would love to see. It’s kind of easy to say, but it’s now it’s becoming a mental learning curve, these upcoming games.”
From the moment of his appointment five years ago Klinsmann has always sought a change in the mentality of American soccer. This could be the manifestation of what he has preached for quite some time, as the USA come up against some of the international game’s biggest and best teams towards the climax of a truly top tier tournament. This is the time to finally demonstrate just how much has changed under the German’s charge.
The group stage clash against Paraguay was billed in some quarters as the most significant of Klinsmann’s tenure as head coach of the US national team. Along that line of thought, the 1-0 win their secured in that game must subsequently go down as one of the most important of his career, with the Americans showing that their defence can hold out on the big occasion.
And that might be key for the USA if they are to go any further in this competition. The likes of Clint Dempsey and Gyasi Zardes aren’t good enough to outgun teams such as Argentina or Chile, and so Klinsmann must place his faith in his backline, as he did for the match against Paraguay. This is where the US can find their platform to build a real Copa America challenge upon.
What success this summer would mean for Klinsmann in the long-term is debatable, but his best defence right now comes in the form of his team’s defence.