When Jurgen Klinsmann took over as the U.S. men’s national team coach in July 2011, he promised to shape the U.S. into a proactive style offense. The pledge represented a major change in philosophy for a team that previously built its foundation on defense and counterattacks.
But a proactive style, Klinsmann explained, would produce not only more goals but also more scenic ones.
So ... has it worked?
Fifteen months later, as the U.S. prepares for its CONCACAF qualifying match with Guatemala on Tuesday at Livestrong Sporting Park, the verdict could still be argued either way.
“It’s a work in progress for sure,” midfielder Michael Bradley said after Sunday’s open practice at Livestrong Sporting Park. “It always is for any team. ... I think there have been a lot of games along the way where it’s been really good. Of course, like in anything, there’s been times along the way where it’s maybe not as good as we had hoped. That’s part of (the progress).”
Klinsmann’s team is 8-2-2 this year following a 2-1 victory Friday against Antigua and Barbuda — with one of the losses coming against traditional power Brazil and one of the victories against Italy — so the record suggests the U.S. national team is on the right track.
On the other hand, even several of the wins have lacked the attractiveness promised more than a year ago. Add to that, the U.S. has scored only nine goals in its past seven games.
That’s to be expected, said midfielder Clint Dempsey, before noting that the U.S. is implementing significant changes while rarely having the opportunity to practice as a full squad.
“We’re still trying to figure out what’s going to work best for us,” Dempsey said. “The most important thing is you put yourself in position to get out of the group and to qualify for the World Cup. That’s when you’re really going to be able to gauge what kind of style we play.”
While the wait continues for Klinsmann’s change in philosophy to show itself on the field, it certainly has impacted his lineup selections.
In a bold move Friday, Klinsmann elected to sit popular forward Jozy Altidore in favor of Seattle Sounders forward Eddie Johnson. Klinsmann also gave aggressive San Jose Earthquakes forward Alan Gordon his first career cap.
Needless to say, both moves worked. Johnson scored both goals, including a game-winning header in the 90th minute.
Gordon, whose high-tempo nature fits the mold of a proactive offense, assisted the game-winning goal.
“I was glad to prove Jurgen right,” Gordon said. “It was a risk for him to bring me on. For me to contribute in any way — that’s what I was brought in to do. I was happy it worked out.”
All things considering, it appears the lineup changes will stick for Tuesday’s match against Guatemala.
That could spell good news for Johnson, a former Kansas City Wizards player who fell out of favor with previous U.S. coach Bob Bradley.
“It’s been a long road for me — I’ve gone through ups and downs in my career,” Johnson said. “(My) coach having confidence to put me into that game, it felt really special.”