Jurgen Klinsmann wants the U.S. national team to get nasty, starting with Sunday’s exhibition match against Canada. He’s tired of his players being nice guys.
The former German star, who took over the U.S. team last summer, said after Wednesday’s 4-1 loss to Brazil that the team was too reverential toward the Brazilians and needs to play with more moxie and aggression.
“We need to get an edge, be more nastier,” Klinsmann said. “Maybe we’re a little bit still too naive. Maybe we don’t want to hurt people. But that’s what we’ve got to do. You’ve got to do that at the end of the day. So we’ve got to step on their toes more and get them more frustrated and make a case with the referee maybe as well.”
His comments were the topic of conversation among U.S. soccer fans over the next few days, some criticizing him for wanting the team to behave in an un-American way. Diving, foot stomping and arguing with officials has never been part of the U.S. soccer culture. That, Klinsmann suggests, might be one reason this country is still not a world power. American teams need to act like a world power if they expect to be one.
“In the first 20 minutes, there was too much respect,” Klinsmann said. “Then we got into the flow of the game and played well against one of the best teams in the world. We proved to them we can play with them. We have to get closer to people. We still aren’t scoring enough goals. We have to be more aggressive.”
Santos forward Neymar scored on a penalty and assisted on two other goals for Brazil, which is heading to the London Olympics (the United States didn’t qualify) and hosting the 2014 World Cup.
The United States visits Canada for a final tuneup match before the first World Cup qualifier against Antigua and Barbuda at Tampa on June 8.
Klinsmann said the Nice Guy mentality of the U.S. players is “the nature of our game. It’s something that comes out of their personalities. It has got to do with belief in their capabilities. It needs to be developed. How? I don’t know yet.”
He suggested U.S. players should argue more with referees, the way top players do in Europe and Latin America.
“You have to make your case better to the referees,” Klinsmann said. “Barcelona, they come 10 guys to the referee. He doesn’t know which one to give the yellow card.”
The United States created many scoring chances in the second half and did get outstanding efforts from high-energy forward Herculez Gomez — who scored the lone American goal — and left back Fabian Johnson, the German-American, who made a difference all night.
“We’ve found a striker who is very mobile in Herculez, one who is nasty,” Klinsmann said.
But one nasty boy isn’t enough, says Klinsy. He wants more.
MLS wakeup call
The thrill of a knockout all-comers tournament like the NCAA basketball tournament, the FA Cup and U.S. Open Cup is that little guys can beat big guys. But Major League Soccer surely never expected eight of its 16 teams would lose in the U.S. Open Cup third round to second-, third-, and even fourth-division teams.
Of all the upsets last week, the most stunning was the Portland Timbers losing at home to an amateur team called Cal FC, organized and coached by former U.S. star Eric Wynalda, now a TV commentator. Cal FC beat a nearly-complete Timbers starting lineup 1-0 in overtime.
Cal FC advanced to a fourth-round match Tuesday against the Seattle Sounders, which will be televised on Fox.
“I think what happened is great for lower division professional soccer in this country,” Fort Lauderdale Strikers coach Daryl Shore said. “Some MLS teams played reserve guys, and this proved the level between those guys and the top players in NASL and USL is very minuscule.”
Shore pointed out that MLS players earning the league minimum make $40,000 per year, which is similar — and even less in some cases — to what top lower-division players make.
“Those results opened a lot of eyes,” he said.
In fairness to MLS, league spokesman Dan Courtemanche pointed out that many of the teams did not field their starters.
The Los Angeles Galaxy used only one regular starter and lost 2-1 to the Carolina Railhawks. New England also used one starter and lost in penalty kicks to the Harrisburg City (Pa.) Islanders. The Chicago Fire, with two starters, lost 3-2 to the Michigan Bucks.
“MLS clubs that field their regular starting lineups are generally successful in Open Cup matches,” he said. “However, many MLS clubs elected to field reserve teams, and those clubs have not been as successful. In addition, soccer is a unique game where the Portland Timbers can outshoot Cal FC 37-8 and lose 1-0.
“Also, as any soccer fan knows, upsets happen throughout the world in these knockout tournaments. It occurs regularly here with the Open Cup and also with tournaments such as the FA Cup in England. Earlier this year we saw Championship team Brighton defeat Newcastle in the fourth round of this year’s FA Cup. Newcastle finished fifth in the Premier League this season. Brighton finished 10th in the Championship.”