There comes a time in a team’s history when they can look back and say, “that was the turning point for us”.
The USMNT’s compelling 1-0 victory over Italy in Genoa doesn’t guarantee the American squad anything, but it does symbolize a growing point for American soccer.
The Ledger takes a look at a few symbolic moments that took place on the pitch today for Jurgen Klinsmann and his Kinder Krew.
The Defense: For the first time in the Jurgen Klinsmann era, the back line played organized defense for the full 90. 77th minute sub Jonathan Spector’s exceptional shot blocking and constant stonewalling of Italy’s mad-flanking attacks during the game’s final moments, was a brave yet successful move on Klinsmann’s behalf.
The Ex-Coach’s Son: Michael Bradley proved yet again he is America’s best option at controlling both sides of the midfield. Bradley played calm under immense pressure and seemed to defensively position himself correctly throughout the pitch, and it was his initial service to the middle that set up the winning goal.
Jozy Altidore: U.S. Soccer fans were beginning to tire of hearing how ‘strong and physical’ Altidore’s play was…until now. He was a menace for the wing defenders and overpowering for Italy’s center-backs. His soft trap from a Bradley cross, followed by a sweet touch-and-pass to Clint Dempsey set up the game’s only goal.
The Deuce: If Bradley is Klinsmann’s ‘cool cucumber’, Clint Dempsey is his ‘fearless scrapper’. His knack for finding the back of the net and prolific goal scoring in the EPL this year has produced a confident midfield attacker in Dempsey. Something the USMNT has lacked throughout the years.
Brek Shea: Another quiet (and disappointing) game from the FC Dallas protegé. JK has given Shea every opportunity to showcase his lethal attacking style MLS fans are accustomed to seeing. Blame it on a lack of experience, but Shea’s refusal to push the ball upfield with his blazing speed is becoming a concern. It is difficult to watch him be content on the wings and quickly pass the ball away, instead of making runs off the ball to create space.
Jurgen’s American Plan: JK has tried to implement the ‘German attacking style’ everyone has been craving for since his arrival. But what he did today for American soccer was simply coach & manage.
In the past, U.S. defenders would helplessly ‘circle the wagons’ the entire game until they conceeded a late goal and then call it a ‘gritty effort’. Wednesday, Klinsmann played to the Italian’s strengths, allowing them to penetrate the attacking third with ease, only to close down the lanes with a smothering defense.
Offensively, the USMNT customarily plays a wild and disorganized style, but Klinsmann chose to possess more than usual. Dempsey, Bradley, et al, wisely moved forward with smaller passes in the stead of lower percentage risky long balls. The slower play eventually set up of the well scripted game winning goal; a rare scene for American soccer.
There’s More Than Donovan: Lastly, Klinsmann’s experimental lineups has revealed one thing: U.S. Soccer has more to lean on than just Landon Donovan now. A combination of a possessive style of soccer coupled with molding his kinders into understanding the game, has proven that the USMNT is deeper than anyone could have imagined.
For the starting XI in Genoa…be aware.
In a particular Seinfeld episode, the always anxious and usually angry George Costanza was in the midst of yet another personal crisis, when his loosey-goosey no responsibilities friend, Kosmo Kramer, simply states, “Now what does the ‘Little Man’ inside of you say?”
George’s response: “My ‘Little Man’ is an idiot!”
Jurgen Klinsmann finally decided to listen to his ‘Little Man’, as Die Kinder Amerikans defeated Slovenia, 3-2.
And why not? What was there to lose? His team has scored a paltry two goals and won just once in six matches since he took over the reigns. To make matters worse, the USMNT had fallen to 34th in FIFA’s world rankings. Although the United States Soccer Federation has vowed to give JK as much time and resources needed to right the ship, he surely was starting to feel some American heat.
God bless the ‘Little Man’!
JK restructured his lineup first and foremost by temporarily trashing his European-style 4-1-4-1 formation, an NFL-like spread offense with a concentration on defense. He opted for the simpler 4-4-2, which deploys a second striker and focuses more on attacking the goal and compact play.
On top of the formation changes, JK made the boldest of moves by starting the feisty midfielder Michael Bradley, late bloomer Edson Buddle, and the young German-American ball handler Fabian Johnson. His thought process was clear; throw an all-out attack against the formidable Slovenians. And it worked to near-perfection as Johnson nearly put the Yanks up 1-0 in the opening minute.
A volley off the post by Edson Buddle in the eighth minute, followed by a Clint Dempsey header and a Jozy Altidore penalty kick, gave the Americans a 3-1 halftime lead. All three goals were a benefactor of Klinsmann’s new tactical strategy to utilize his athletes and forcibly push the attack forward.
However, when you rob Peter to pay Paul, something negative is bound to happen.
Once again the back line looked shaky, as the Slovenians mounted their own fifteen minute version of an “all-or-nothing attack”. American defenders continuously found themselves out of place while constantly loosing their mark in the second half. The confusion ultimately led to a hard earned Green Dragon score, making it a one goal game. JK’s ‘Little Man’ prompted him to pull back an attacker an insert an extra defender to assist with the pending onslaught, at which time the United States proceeded to do what they do best; defend. The U.S. secured a much needed European win on European soil to close out the year.
It wasn’t pretty by any stretch of the imagination. There’s a ton of work that still needs to be done before next June when world cup qualifiers begin. But with the holidays right around the corner, now would be a good time for JK to pen his Christmas list to Santa.
But in the mean time, The Ledger says “thank you” to Jurgen Klinsmann and his efforts this year.
Or should I say:
“Thank youuuu ‘Little Man’!”