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Jurgen Klinsmann’s improvement bid: also on the line in tonight’s critical World Cup qualifier


Here is a little foreshadowing of what’s ahead if things go sideways tonight in Columbus:

It’s a piece at from veteran writer Leander Schaerlaekens, who looks at the highly imperfect, squeaky-bum place the United States finds itself in tonight and assigns much of the blame on Jurgen Klinsmann.

Credit and blame walk hand in hand and Klinsmann knows so – but that’s beside the point here.

Schaerlaeckens reckons the longer things go on, the more this team resembles Bob Bradley’s teams. Or Bruce Arena’s teams. Or even Steve Sampson’s U.S. teams, and that’s going back well over a decade now.

He’s talking style and formation, mostly, adjudging that Klinsmann’s bid for dynamic innovation is petering out.

The gist of Schaerlaeckens’ piece:

After all the fuss about reinvention, the team looks more or less the same in style and personnel, relying on or deeming unworthy exactly same players as Bradley did – a generation clearly set in its ways and for the most part ill-equipped to handle a technical helter-skelter philosophy. It isn’t in their footballing DNA. The US team, to use a terrible sporting cliché, is what it is, no matter who is in charge.

It’s hard to argue that point if you only examine game-day tactical arrangements; some nights things do look more assertive, with a greater forward lean and more emphasis on pressure in the soft spots. And then some nights they don’t.

But I believe that some fans and media members miss the mark slightly when they talk about the Klinsmann approach to U.S. national team enrichment.

I would argue that Klinsmann’s most important – “innovative,” if you like – initiative wasn’t so much about style between the white lines. That was an element of his plan, for sure, but probably a secondary one.

Most important was Klinsmann’s comprehensive effort to elevate the individual aspiration and professionalism of everyone associated with the national team.

That’s not to say that professionalism was lacking under Bradley. It wasn’t. In fact, a high degree of well-disciplined predictability around the program was a hallmark of Bradley’s tenure, and something the players appreciated about the former U.S. manager.

Klinsmann’s central aim is to take each individual piece and squeeze the dickens out of it, to extract every wee drop of talent, energy and productivity from it.

He wants to elevate things collectively by adjusting each individual mindset, insisting that anyone wearing the national team crest ask more of themselves, push themselves a little further in diet, fitness, technique, dedication to craft, attention to detail, study habits … everything.

None of that changes the situation one iota tonight, of course. Nor will it rebalance the harrowing headlines tomorrow if a United States side – one still not equipped with its best, with no Landon Donovan, no Michael Bradley and with the Clint Dempsey vehicle still chugging forward on three wheels – departs Columbus with anything less than all three points.

But one way or the other, we should zero in on the right points of light here. Klinsmann’s quest was always about style – but about a lot more, too. Whether his plan is bearing fruit or just soaking up more water with little effect … well, let’s talk about that tomorrow.