Jurgen Klinsmann is in a tough spot.
Some thought he would work miracles when he took over as U.S. Men’s National Team head coach 13 months ago, but he has been exposed as a man, made of flesh and blood. A mere mortal.
Jamaica’s 2-1 victory over the U.S. on Friday has caused much head-scratching and soul searching among those interested in the fortunes of Klinsmann’s team. But it was one of the easier games to figure out.
Players, coaches fans and analysts agree that Jamaica won because its players had a greater desire to win than their American counterparts. Jamaicans everywhere are beaming with pride, as the country is celebrating 50 years of independence. Usain Bolt and the Olympic track team had an excellent summer, and the Reggae Boyz wanted to share in the fun at their home field — the intimidating stadium at Independence Park, better known as “The Office.”
Jamaica defender Shavar Thomas noted Jamaica’s singular focus (ending America’s 21-game unbeaten run against the Reggae Boyz) as a key to victory, according to Soccer America.
“There was no second thought — from top to bottom, from the coaches to the last man on the bench — as to what we were about,” he said. “It was an all-out good performance from everyone,” he said. “If the U.S. gave a 100 percent, our players gave 110. We were first to challenges and we were first to all second balls and that helped.”
Fans took to the field after the final whistle to celebrate the famous win, and parties on the island-nation reportedly extended well into Saturday. It was no ordinary game for Jamaica, but for the U.S. it was just another tricky away game against a CONCACAF foe.
Here lies the crux of Kilnsmann’s problem. He has gone to great lengths to change the mentality of the elite American player, telling them how the best players in the world approach each day of their professional lives. His methods include drafting motivational speaker Donnie Moore to give his team a pep talk ahead of the Jamaica game.
But improving players’ confidence and self-belief isn’t the goal in itself. Klinsmann focuses on that aspect so that his team will consistently deliver its best performances — regardless of the opponent and venue. In a recent interview with FOX Sports, he called this the “biggest obstacle” he’s faced since becoming the head coach of the national team.
“What we’ve experienced so far in our first year of work is that the players struggle to keep the same performance level from game to game,” Klinsmann said. “They give you a very good performance like in Italy in February or now with Mexico.
“They can prove to you that they can play with the best teams in the world, and then suddenly it’s followed by a mediocre performance, or a less good performance like the game in Canada when we tied nil-nil or a kind of flat game against Antigua.
“So we experience that it’s difficult for the players to go from game to game and have the same level, the same focus, the same hunger and desire. This is something that we need to improve, we need to work on and let them know that they are accountable for everything they do day in and day out.”
There’s no guarantee that the current crop of American players will respond to the German-born Klinsmann’s exhortations. Many have firmly ingraned approaches, habits and beliefs that could take some time to change (if they change at all).
Some players, like Tim Howard, Landon Donovan, Clint Dempsey, Carlos Bocanegra, Michael Bradley and Steve Cherundolo have found that consistency during their careers, either at European clubs or on the national team. Of that group, Only Howard and Dempsey featured in the Jamaica loss. While the weakened U.S. team fell flat in the face of an inspired opponent, it’s safe to assume the result would have been different had Klinsmann played his top players.
But the reality is that the U.S. does not have enough of these top players to win every game it plays. Only a few countries — Spain and Germany come to mind — have programs that produce enough quality for them to storm through qualifying and make deep runs at major international tournaments. Most other soccer nations experience highs and lows during these lengthy qualifying campaigns, and the U.S. is no different.
Klinsmann has merely painted a baseline for the U.S. soccer team. It will be years before his effect is felt by every player that dons the national team jersey, and that’s ok. For now, he can only be who he is — a coach who labors to transmit his ideas into a group which he inherited — and work with what he has: a group of men that have their good days and bad days.
See below for our instant reaction to Friday’s game.