Manager criticised for results and attitude
June 20 ~ While Euro 2012 gathers momentum on the other side of Atlantic, the US national team have already started qualifying matches for the 2014 World Cup. Jurgen Klinsmann was always a contentious figure as a player. Now, 11 months into his project to revolutionise the American game through youth development, the US coach is again creating controversy. Klinsmann had a slow start, with his side scoring only twice in the first six games. Then came five consecutive victories, including a first win over Italy. But, after his first competitive matches this month, there is debate about his tactics, playing style and combative attitude.
Following that famous 1-0 victory in Genoa in February, the US had five games in quick succession between May 26 and June 12. A 5-1 thrashing of a dreadful Scotland team inflated hopes further, before they were punctured by a 4-1 loss to Brazil. It was after this game that a clearly frustrated Klinsmann gave a tense press conference, claiming: "I think we need to get an edge – more nastier. Maybe we're a little bit too naive. Maybe we don't want to hurt people. But that's what you've got to do."
American commentators were annoyed by the accusations of naivety, pointing out a relatively experienced US squad. But many more were upset by the clear suggestions of violence and gamesmanship. Klinsmann had been replying to a question about a foul on Neymar by his favourite midfield enforcer, Schalke's Jermaine Jones. Jones was banned for six Bundesliga games in January after a gruesome stamp on an opponent known to have a broken toe.
The series of three friendlies was rounded off by a dour 0-0 draw in Canada. Then the qualifiers were also disappointing. The US managed a shaky 3-1 win over Antigua and Barbuda on June 8, a country of 81,000 beaten in the 75,000-seat Raymond James Stadium in Tampa. Antigua coach Tom Curtis, who played over 250 games for Chesterfield and once managed the English Universities team, was left "feeling a little disappointed with the result".
Four days later the team travelled to Central America and played a subdued 1-1 draw with Guatemala. Klinsmann was more contrite after this game, praising Guatamalan hospitality before adding: "We came for three points but I think at the end of the day, the tie, based on all the chances on both sides, is OK." This didn't convince many fans, who criticised his defensive midfield set-up.
US supporters were already annoyed by a set of broadcast rights issues that meant the game was only available to watch on a pay-per-view basis. Fans were understandably angry at being asked to fork out $30 (£19), for an unreliable stream, broadcast at 10pm on a Tuesday night. USsoccer.com suggested that the alternative was to go to the pub, and posted a list of recommended soccer bars.
Klinsmann's plan is more focused on revamping the national youth programme than short-term results, of course. The US is also likely to qualify for a seventh consecutive World Cup in Brazil barring a major upset. But he is not making his job any easier with his spiky media appearances and negative tactics.
The qualifiers resume in September with a game against Jamaica that will be broadcast live on national television. On Friday, the ex-Spurs player became the first manager to rule himself out of the vacant position at White Hart Lane, committing himself to his job in the US. But how Klinsmann's American project turns out is still very much in the balance. Ed Upright