photo by Kieran McManus/ISIphotos.com
By FRANCO PANIZO
SAO PAULO — With the group stage now over and done with and the knockout rounds drawing near, the subject of penalty kicks was bound to come up to U.S. Men’s National Team head coach Jurgen Klinsmann eventually.
It did not take very long at all.
Klinsmann was asked about his penalty-kicks approach on Friday, a day after the U.S. booked a Round of 16 meeting with Belgium. Klinsmann did not say who his preferred five spot kick takers would be if a penalty shootout situation were to arise in that July 1 match in Salvador or beyond, but admitted that he has had the Americans preparing for such a scenario for quite some time now.
“We were practicing already in Stanford, so it’s just part of normal preparation,” said Klinsmann, referring to the start of the U.S. pre-World Cup camp in May. “You have to prepare for things. You prepare set pieces, you prepare penalties, you tell the players how to approach a penalty. It’s a mental moment, so if you’re not prepared for that mental moment to walk from the halfway line in front of 60,000 to the penalty spot and get the job done, then I think it’s wrong.”
U.S. captain Clint Dempsey has taken the majority of the Americans’ penalty kicks in recent times, so he seems all but certain to be one of Klinsmann’s top choices. The other four spots are a bit more of an unknown, though there are some candidates like veteran midfielders Michael Bradley and Jermaine Jones who would seem like good options for the immense-pressure situation.
Another possibility is midfielder Brad Davis. Davis has experience in taking big penalty kicks, having converted the winner in the Americans’ shootout victory over Panama in the 2005 Gold Cup final.
“The key going into knockout stage is about understanding the dynamic of knockout games,” said Klinsmann. “That means do or die.”
Tim Howard has developed a reputation in the English Premier League of being a good penalty kick stopper, but Belgium’s Thibault Courtois wouldn’t exactly be easy for American kick takers to beat either.
That would leave the onus on the five players that Klinsmann would select. The process to help determine which five would face a potential pressure-cooker situation may have been started back in May, but the preparations are not complete.
“We coaches have to walk them through that process and now in every training we will practice penalties,” said Klinsmann. “It’s just a normal thing, and hopefully they are prepared, they are ready, they are calm enough and put it in their favorite corner or wherever that is.”