Photo by ISIPhotos.com
By IVES GALARCEP
WASHINGTON- Jurgen Klinsmann is feeling the heat. He is coaching a team in transition, with his moves and decisions drawing serious scrutiny after a humbling loss to a strong European opponent. He is facing a busy and important summer ahead and a USA-Germany friendly offers him an opportunity to ease some fears and help instill some confidence in a team that can definitely use it.
Then, Germany delivers a blowout win over the United States and Klinsmann suddenly feels much less pressure, and his team eventually comes together and goes on to an impressive showing at the 2006 World Cup.
If you thought that first paragraph was about the current state of the U.S. Men’s National Team, you understand just how many similarities there are between Klinsmann’s current U.S. team and the German national team Klinsmann managed heading into the last meeting between these countries, a 4-1 Germany win in Dortmund on March 22, 2006.
Back then, Klinsmann was on the hot seat as German manager. His team had just suffered a 4-1 loss to Italy and the calls for Klinsmann’s head as head coach were growing. The newspapers in Germany were picking apart his moves, and questioning his approach to rebuilding a German team clearly transitioning away from a disappointing era.
“When we had that game in Germany against the U.S. we were still in a full transition and it was only three months prior to the World Cup,” Klinsmann told SBI on Saturday. “The transition we had those days were maybe a little bit more dramatic than we right now in the U.S. because we had that deadline.
“The country expected to win the World Cup, simple as that. Even not looking at what team you had, or the quality of players you had, it was just simply the expectation that people had.”
The subsequent 4-1 victory against Bruce Arena’s U.S. team changed things for Klinsmann, and the headlines in Germany after that result were of a far different tone. His team didn’t lose another match until a dramatic extra time defeat against Italy in the 2006 World Cup semifinals.
The success Klinsmann enjoyed with Germany, enduring the ups-and-downs of rebuilding a program, has given him confidence in the process he is putting his current U.S. team through.
“You learn as you go and the experience you have now is you know that, okay, here’s maybe a negative stretch of games and results and you know how to handle them and move forward and build the whole puzzle, and also communicate that to your team,” Klinsmann said. “What we see over the last stretch, over the last year, is that the team really starts to grow together. It’s redefining itself.
“But if you don’t, you know, throw in Sacha Kljestan and let him play his game, or if you don’t see Matt Besler and let him play his game, you would never know. If you don’t let Omar get a rhythm of games and an inner confidence and say, ‘Hey, don’t worry. We all make mistakes. Don’t worry too much about it’, we will not know so we will not improve.
“The only way to improve is to see different elements and trying things out, and taking the risk to also have a negative result,” Klinsmann said. “Eventually we all know that bottom line is we have to qualify for the World Cup, and going to do well in the world Cup, and give that program stability.”
Now Klinsmann heads into the first USA-Germany meeting since that 2006 friendly on the other side of the contest. He faces a strong German program that he laid the foundation for, a program strong enough to field what will largely be a second team, but still is strong enough to beat the U.S. handily.
As much as Klinsmann would love to beat the Germans, he is fully aware that the result isn’t as important as finding out more about the U.S. team he is still trying to mold into a team not only strong enough to qualify for the World Cup, but do well when it gets to Brazil.
Despite the team’s continued struggles offensively, and the rebuilding phase the defense is undergoing, Klinsmann sees progress in the way the team is coming together as a group. One of the things he definitely learned during his run as Germany head coach is the importance of a team coming together at the right time, both on and off the field.
The chemistry is really crucial when you go into Brazil,” Klinsmann said. “The chemistry is the foundation for success, or not success. And this is all just in the middle of it right now (with the U.S.), that’s why it’s important to play these games and not complain about the timing, or some players are missing.
“We know we did a couple of mistakes against Belgium, but now it’s a wonderful opportunity to play Germany and get a really good result.”