World Cup: A comprehensive guide to the 2014 USMNT (The Klinsmann Era)

Jurgen Klinsmann

The always charismatic Jurgen Klinsmann

 

Jurgen Klinsmann is a character. He’s animated, he’s energetic and he’s the man in charge.

U.S. Soccer pursued the German head coach two previous times before the two sides reached a deal in July 2011. Problems in previous negotiations stemmed from the United States Soccer Federation being weary of giving Klinsmann more control over the entire system, instead of just the United States’ senior team.

Klinsmann is a very accomplished player. He’s won the UEFA Cup twice, Bundesliga and World Cup. He retired from soccer placed in second on Germany’s all-time leading goal-scorers list. (Check out his top 5 goals at the bottom of the article, the guy could ball.)

As a coach, his career has been more uneven. His high-point came when he led his home country to a third-place finish in the 2006 World Cup, although that tournament was held in Germany. His low-point came when he was fired from Bayern Munich in 2009, after his methods caused inner-turmoil amongst the club.

Opinions were mixed when Klinsmann was hired by U.S. Soccer. The coach is a well-known motivator, but many placed the tactical acumen displayed by Germany in the 2006 World Cup on the shoulders of Klinsmann’s assistant, Jogi Low. The type of control given to the coach was a leap of faith of sorts, as deep changes in the infrastructure could significantly set the program back if those changes didn’t reflect positive results.

Klinsmann wanted to bring a high-paced offensive game to the United States Men’s National Team, implementing a more possession-oriented attack. That sounds nice and all, but is a difficult tactic to instill. It’s something only the world-class teams can accomplish consistently.

Many fans started to lose confidence in Klinsmann after his first year with the team. The side lacked width, employing as many as four defensive midfielders on the field at a time. His early selections seemed to show that the coach didn’t understand his player pool, and that the team was nowhere close to the goals he had in mind.

Pressure was mounting after a 2-1 loss to Honduras in the first game of the “hexagonal” stages of CONCACAF‘s World Cup Qualifying, when a news article came out suggesting that there were rifts amongst the team. The article painted a picture of a coach losing his locker room. More specifically, the article stated that players thought the coaching staff lacked the tactical knowledge to successfully lead the team, too much time and resources were being put into things that didn’t translate onto the field and mismanagement of personnel was resulting in disrupted team chemistry.

Interestingly enough, the article seemed to catalyze the team. Many players came out to defend the coach, and the team proceeded to win seven of their nine remaining hexagonal matches (only losing one).

On the heels of a first-place finish in the hexagonal (which results in a World Cup berth), a record-setting 12-game win streak and wins in Italy and Mexico, U.S. Soccer granted Klinsmann a four-year contract extension in 2013; and added on the title of ‘Technical Director’, a move reflective of the deeper changes the coach is committed to making to the program.

U.S. Soccer President, Sunil Gulati, stated, “One of the reasons we hired Jurgen as our head coach was to advance the program forward and we’ve seen the initial stages of that happening on the field and also off the field in various areas. In the past two years he has built a strong foundation from the senior team down to the youth teams and we want to continue to build upon that success.”

Klinsmann’s current record with the team stands at 28-11-8.

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A comprehensive guide to the 2014 USMNT: Table of Contents

I. Introduction
II. The Klinsmann Era

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Glossary:

Bundesliga

– Germany’s top flight soccer league.

CONCACAF

– The Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association Football, is the continental governing body for soccer in North America, Central America and the Caribbean. Three South American entities, the independent nations of Guyana and Suriname and the French department of French Guiana, are also members.

Hexagonals

– The fourth round of CONCACAF World Cup Qualifying. Called the “hex” for short, gets its name because six teams participate in this round. The hex decides who goes to the World Cup from CONCACAF; the top-three placers earn automatic bids, while the fourth-place finisher faces the winner of Oceania’s qualifiers.

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Introduction

Twelve years ago I witnessed the most horrifying missed-call of my life. I was 9 years old and woke up at 4 a.m. to watch the game; I loved soccer and the United States was playing Germany in the quarterfinals of the World Cup.

The U.S. is down by one in the 50th minute when their center defender, Gregg Berhalter, connects on a header that appears to be going in. The German goalkeeper, Oliver Kahn, misplays the ball and allows it to bounce over his out-stretched arms. The ball now has a clear path to goal, except for Torsten Frings standing on the inside of the post; it bounces off the turf and strikes Frings right in the forearm, a clear handball. (play starts at 1:38)

The U.S. goes onto lose 1-0.

The United States Soccer Federation can still point to this game as “the American’s” pinnacle-showing in soccer’s most prestigious tournament. If you watch the highlights above, you’ll hear the announcer introduce the game saying, “America had defied belief”; you can really get a taste of that in the short clip. They were underdogs but played the role admirably, showcasing skill and putting in the effort that an American blue-collar worker would be proud of.

The mistake I made after this game is one I’d like to help keep you from making, and that is, I didn’t pay attention for another four years.

It’s an easy thing to do, the World Cup comes and goes in a month, and while the team will send you on a roller coaster ride, the emotional attachment doesn’t always extend beyond the reach of the quadrennial tournament.

Generally, Americans possess limited knowledge about international soccer and all of its nuances. Many fail to realize that a team’s showing at the World Cup is the culmination of four years of games and players, not just the result of one month’s work.

This guide is going to relive how the United States Men’s National Team made it into this year’s world cup, as well as explore different facets of international soccer. It will offer player commentary and analysis, especially as the World Cup draws nearer. The idea is to get you as well-informed as possible, in the hopes that the added context will make for a more enjoyable World Cup experience; as well as provide you with a base knowledge to continue following the team after the tournament is over.

If you stick with me, you’ll be running laps around the casual fan. And if you can already do that, then it’d be great to hear opinions in the comments section. Each posting will include previous articles and be accompanied by a table of contents, allowing you to easily navigate the different topics. There will also be a glossary for terms used that may not be familiar to the casual fan.

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