Apparently, Jurgen Klinsmann does know what he’s doing.
All those critics who questioned his techniques and decisions a few months ago, those know-it-alls who criticized his 26 different lineups in 26 matches who suggested perhaps U.S. Soccer made a mistake hiring the new-age, optimistic former German World Cup star have gone silent this summer.
Klinsmann has not only led the U.S. national team to 11 victories in a row – something no U.S. team has ever done – he has the boys in red, white and blue playing the creative, attacking, entertaining brand of soccer that for so long seemed reserved for other parts of the world.
The scrappy, hard-working Americans who used to rely on the long ball, opponent mistakes and counterattacking are now pressuring higher up the field, being proactive, passing quicker and defending by possessing the ball for longer stretches.
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Dare we say they are finally playing The Beautiful Game.
The United States outscored opponents 20-4 en route to the Gold Cup championship, which it won 1-0 over Panama on Sunday before a crowd of 57,920 at Soldier Field. Throughout the tournament, the U.S. team played with confidence, strung passes together like a well-oiled pinball machine, and created scoring chances at will.
They are actually fun to watch, something that could not be said of U.S. teams of the past – gritty and likeable as they were. They are so much fun that America is tuning in and paying attention a year before the World Cup. In fact, more people tuned into soccer than baseball last weekend.
Sunday’s 4 p.m. Gold Cup final on Fox outdrew Fox’s and ESPN’s weekend baseball broadcasts with overnight TV ratings of 1.7, compared to 1.6 for the baseball games. The only sporting event that got a higher rating was golf’s Canadian Open final round, which edged the soccer with a 1.8.
The Gold Cup final tied Fox’s highest rated soccer match ever, the 2011 Barcelona vs. Manchester United Champions League final.
Univision’s Spanish broadcast of the match got an impressive 4.9 rating, and in Houston (3.9), Miami (2.4) and Los Angeles (1.5), it was the highest-rated show during that time slot.
American sports fans are gearing up for NFL and college football, as they always do this time of year. Unlike decades past, though, many of those same fans now have an eye on their futbol team as well. It is no longer cool to suggest soccer is boring. In fact, ESPN and Fox are making it cool to love soccer. U.S. fans today have opinions of their national coach, and equally strong views on whom he should include on his roster for the Sept. 6 World Cup qualifier at Costa Rica.
Everyone agrees three-time World Cup veteran Landon Donovan proved he belongs with his Gold Cup resurrection following a self-imposed hiatus from the national team. Donovan was named Gold Cup MVP with five goals and seven assists. His vision, flair and presence elevated the entire team.
“Landon is our best player in history, so when he’s in there, it calms you down, and you know if you give him the ball, he can do things with it that other players can’t,’’ said midfielder Alejandro Bedoya, a 26-year-old Weston resident and St. Thomas Aquinas High graduate who made a case for inclusion on the “A’’ team roster with his Gold Cup play.
The Gold Cup roster was made up largely of players on the fringe of the national team, players Klinsmann wanted to see in a tournament setting. Bedoya, Chris Wondolowski, Mix Diskerud, Eddie Johnson, Brek Shea, Nick Rimando were all auditioning.
“My goal is to make it as hard as possible for the coach when it’s time for him to pick his team,’’ Bedoya said by phone Monday before heading back to Sweden, where he played pro last season. Bedoya was one of the last players cut from the 2010 World Cup team. He vowed to make it this time around. Klinsmann started him in the Gold Cup semifinal and final, and Bedoya responded with three assists, many timely runs and smart passes in the box.
His family was unable to attend because they were at his grandfather’s 88th birthday party in Colombia. But his youth coach Steve Ziegler, his brother Santiago, and four high school friends from St. Thomas and Cypress Bay were at Soldier Field on Sunday.
“I think I showed flashes of what I can bring this team,’’ Bedoya said. “We are playing a different style under Jurgen. High pressure. More creativity. He wants us to try new things and not be afraid. It took some time to get used to, but everything’s clicking now.’’
Assuming the U.S. reaches the World Cup, Klinsmann’s true test will come next summer. With all due respect to the teams that played in the Gold Cup, the competition in Brazil will be far better. Nobody knows that better than Klinsmann, the sixth-leading scorer in World Cup history with three goals for the champion Germans in 1990, five in ’94 and three in ’98. Klinsmann also coached Germany to third place in the ’06 World Cup.
Yes, Klinsmann apparently knows what he’s doing.