Copa America Centenario Preview
Jurgen Klinsmann: 'We Understand What's at Stake'
June 06, 2016
CHICAGO—If United States men’s national team fans are hoping for broad changes to the American lineup ahead of Tuesday’s crucial Copa America Centenario clash with Costa Rica, they’re likely to be disappointed.
Addressing the media on Monday, head coach Jurgen Klinsmann seemingly squashed any such notion, both praising center forward Clint Dempsey and tempering expectations regarding center midfielder Darlington Nagbe.
While some fans and pundits criticized Dempsey’s effort during the match against Colombia last Friday, Klinsmann was quick to point out that his preferred striker remains the American’s most dangerous threat in front of goal. The coach also emphasized that the three-man front of Bobby Wood, Dempsey, and Gyasi Zardes just needs more time to gel.
“They’re just building chemistry right now," Klinsmann said. "They’re building a feeling for each other, when they run off each other, when they play a 1-2, when one guy goes the other does an opposite move. This develops over time.
“We are satisfied with all three [forwards] playing their different roles. Clint is definitely the one that got closest to [scoring] goals in the opening game. He’s here since day one and he’s working his backside off. He’s trying everything he can and he’s hungry. Clint is always hungry for goals.”
Against Colombia, the American midfield triangle of Michael Bradley, Jermaine Jones, and Alejandro Bedoya also seemed to struggle. Some have argued that starting Nagbe, who has looked bright in limited minutes thus far for the Yanks, is the solution. However, Klinsmann indicated that the Portland Timbers’ maestro is still getting used to the speed of the international game.
Nagbe "is growing," Klinsmann said. "He’s becoming a fixture of this team. It takes some time. His tremendous upsides are his technique, how smooth he is on the ball, how he can create something out of nothing, and take people on. What he’s learning right now is the tempo of the international level and [playing] both ways, defensively and going forward.
“The other thing, the big learning curve for all players coming fresh into this program is there’s no space really. You saw Darlington coming in and how Colombia squeezes the field defensively and suddenly Darlington sees there’s no space to go in. ‘Where should I go? What should I do?’ He has to learn how to find solutions dealing with far tighter space than he’s used to in MLS, but that learning curve is happening now.
"So, give him some time and—I’m very positive about it—he will figure it out.”
Looking back at the Colombia match, Klinsmann also reiterated his stance that the U.S. played well, despite the loss.
“We believe we had a good start besides the result, obviously,” the coach said. “There was a lot of good stuff coming out of that game that makes us very positive going into the next game against a very tough Costa Rica team that we all know, that we all respect. Hopefully we find ways to break them down and get the first three points that we badly need.”
The coach also emphasized that he expects a very difficult game from Los Ticos, especially in finding ways to break down their defense and avoiding their dangerous counterattacks.
“They defend with nine guys and leave only one up front and then they try to catch you on the counter,” he added. ”The Costa Rican team is a very compact, very organized, very disciplined team that makes it, especially in that defensive shape, difficult to break through because they play a 5-4-1. We have to find ways and spaces to get through and create chances.
“They don’t need many chances,” he later added. “Costa Rica is a team that you give them two, three chances, they usually put one in.”
To break down the Costa Ricans, and get the U.S.’ offense into gear, the team is going to need to create more chances—and finish them. American forward Bobby Wood said he believes the U.S. three-front can be effective and that he is comfortable playing in a wide role off Dempsey. Wood also echoed his coach’s positive thoughts about the match against Colombia.
“We had some good runs [against Colombia], but we just couldn’t find that last pass," Wood said. "The last pass just didn’t click and we have to be a little bit more mean, more ruthless at the end [of the attack]."
“As a team, the strikers have to make deadlier runs, be a little bit more aggressive and push the outside and center backs further back to create more space for the midfield. As a team, there are just little things we need to do all together—it’s a team sport. If [the forwards] do better, the midfield will do better.”
Headed into Tuesday’s match (8pm ET; FS1, UniMas, UDN), the Americans need a victory. They are currently at the bottom of group A and will be eliminated with a loss—something Klinsmann said both he and his players are acutely aware of.
“We understand what’s at stake. It’s a must-win situation.”
John D. Halloran is an American Soccer Now columnist. Follow him on Twitter.