Jurgen Klinsmann has had plenty of critics. Many of them are fans. Plenty are media. Some have been his own players.
Those second-guessers lost much of their ammunition last year, when the U.S. national team established regional supremacy by breezing through World Cup qualifying and winning the Gold Cup. Klinsmann’s personnel choices and tactics remained polarizing, but those questions became quibbles.
Then the concerns re-emerged last month, when U.S. Soccer released the 23-man World Cup roster. With several veterans cast aside — including all-time leading scorer Landon Donovan — in favor of unproven commodities, it had to be asked: Does Klinsmann really know what he’s doing?
Yes. Yes he does.
That’s not to say every choice is the right one. (Leaving behind Donovan still perplexes.) Yet after the Americans survived the ballyhooed “Group of Death,” one must give credit where it’s due.
Klinsmann has a vision. He’s committed to it. And it’s working.
Although Thursday’s 1-0 loss to Germany wasn’t pretty, the narrow defeat to the world’s second-ranked team was enough. This U.S. squad, after all, had already done the legwork with a dramatic win over African power Ghana and a back-and-forth draw against No. 4 Portugal.
“All of the teams qualifying for the World Cup are strong,” Klinsmann told reporters Thursday. “But this was the strongest group.”
For all of the attention heaped on that brutally late goal conceded by the U.S. against the Portuguese on Sunday, it ultimately was inconsequential. The Americans made it to the round of 16 all the same.
While many a coach has failed because of misguided loyalty and stale strategy, Klinsmann has banked on an ever-evolving approach since taking over the U.S. in July 2011.
After winning it all four years ago, Spain boss Vicente del Bosque included 16 holdovers on his roster for Brazil. Klinsmann, on the other hand, has just six players from the U.S. team that won its group in South Africa.
The Spaniards flew home earlier this week. The Americans endure.
Two of the most controversial selections by Klinsmann were youthful defenders John Brooks and DeAndre Yedlin, who had combined to play in five friendlies and zero competitive matches for the U.S. when named to the final roster.
Brooks, of course, came off the bench to head home the late winner against Ghana. Then Yedlin’s speed created Clint Dempsey’s go-ahead goal versus Portugal. It’s hard to disagree with those decisions now.