Direct from Mexico City
Klinsmann, the Master Motivator, Has U.S. Ready
Humiliated by anonymous players within his own squad, U.S. head coach Jurgen Klinsmann has masterfully engineered a complete turnabout. His team appears eager and confident to face Mexico on Tuesday.
BY John Godfrey PostedMEXICO CITY—Has Jurgen Klinsmann managed to turn the whole sordid Sporting News affair into a motivational tool? Don’t put it past him. A week ago, the U.S. head coach was still wrestling with an undermanned roster when Brian Straus’ article made the rounds. The piece cited multiple anonymous sources accusing Klinsmann of lacking both leadership skills and tactical abilities. At the time, the U.S. was in dead last in its World Cup qualifying group and—fairly or not—pessimism enveloped the team like a shroud. And today? A stern, mostly unsmiling Klinsmann dispensed with his usual press conference pleasantries and found the perfect level of gravitas as he addressed a throng of media types in a Mexico City hotel. The team now finds itself in second place in its group after Friday’s gutsy 1-0 victory over Costa Rica. And, most importantly, the players appear ready to run through a foot of Mayan masonry for their coach. The United States faces El Tri Tuesday in Estadio Azteca (10:30 p.m. Eastern, ESPN). The players do not appear to be the least bit daunted. In fact, they seem downright giddy about taking the field. “We got through the situation as a team,” Herculez Gomez said, referencing the Sporting News article. “I know Brian [Straus] quite well from interviews and from different articles, and he was just trying to do his job.” “I think it upset us that those questions [about Klinsmann’s tactics and leadership] weren’t raised within the group before they went out externally,” Gomez continued. “But we grow, and we’ll be better for it.” “I honestly think this has been one of our better camps,” he added. “The level of play at training has been excellent. Guys have taken more responsibility. You can notice the mental shift.” Michael Bradley echoed these remarks. “When there’s external factors that start to disrupt things, it’s important that the team comes together even more,” Bradley said. “We are able to keep a strong mentality, we’re able to stick together, and we’re able to close things off that are on the outside.” And yes, the dramatic, messy, absolutely essential win against Costa Rica on Friday only helped bring the team together. “Any time you win it helps the confidence, it helps the mood, it helps the spirit,” Bradley said. “And I think the way we won went a long way. To a man we’re excited to step on the field tomorrow night.” Even players who are relatively new to the team have noticed the change of mood and spirit. “I think we’ve definitely gotten a lot closer,” Omar Gonzalez said. “Things were always great, and now I think they’re even better. We fight for each other and we want the same thing. I think there’s a great camaraderie right now.” Camaraderie? Really? This team? Is this the Klinsmann we’ve heard about—the master motivator who, despite alleged tactical limitations, led Germany to a third-place finish in the 2006 World Cup? It’s entirely possible. Consider the quote below, uttered at Monday’s press conference in reference to the Sporting News piece. “I’m here, hopefully, to make these guys better,” the coach said. “To help them reach the next level. I’m not here to pamper anybody. If you want to break into one of the best 10-12 nations in the world, I have to challenge them and maybe some players are not always happy with that." In one deft pivot, the coach turned on his attackers and went for the kill. It was ruthless and on target—just like Klinsmann was during his playing days. It remains to be seen how long Klinsmann can leverage this reversal of fortune and maintain the goodwill. If the team plays with a sense of unity and common purpose, that will certainly help. And there's no doubt that a win against Mexico would go a long way toward silencing the critics—both internal and external. The strategist in Klinsmann is fully aware of that. “It’s an awesome opportunity for these guys,” Klinsmann said of Tuesday’s match, at once challenging and motivating his players to push for more. “I want them to be able to embrace that moment, to go out on the field, and be confident that we can give them a game.” “We are here not only to get a result,” he continued, stoking the flames a bit more. “We want a win here. That is our goal.” Or, as Michael Bradley put it: “What more can you ask for? To play against our rivals in one of the world’s great stadiums in front of 110,000—it’s all there for us.” John Godfrey is the founder and editor in chief of American Soccer Now. Follow him on Twitter.
March 25, 2013
March 25, 2013