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“Maybe two years ago they wondered, `What is this all about? All this extra work, all this extra here, extra there.’ Now it’s just normal,” he said. “The players come in, they know there are double sessions waiting for them. The players know what we expect tactically. The players know that there’s another guy behind them in every position, that if he doesn’t give everything he has, the next one steps in and steals him his spot.”

Players buy in, knowing the 49-year-old was a winner during 17 years with top-level clubs. After the U.S. opened the final round of qualifying with a loss at Honduras, Sporting News ran a story headlined “Klinsmann’s methods, leadership, acumen in question.” Eleven players and 11 others with ties to players or the national team _ all unidentified _ portrayed a team hampered by sniping and critical of Klinsmann’s tactics.

Then the U.S. followed with a 4-0-1 streak in qualifying and a team-record 12-game winning streak this summer.

“He’s a super positive guy. He never lets it show when the chips are down,” Howard said. “And I think we’ve answered the bell a bunch of times: Guatemala in Kansas City, the snow game (against Costa Rica in Colorado), when there was all this internal strife and we hated each other.”

America spent 40 years in soccer’s wilderness, failing to reach the World Cup between 1950 and 1990. Now the nation is much more attuned to the world game, boosted by changes in technology that allow most top European matches to be available live on U.S. television and even mobile telephones.

There would be an outcry if the U.S. failed to qualify for a World Cup.

“I think now it’s expected of us,” Howard said, “but it’s never a guarantee.”