New England Soccer Today


Photo credit: Kari Heistad/

Photo credit: Kari Heistad/

If there’s one thing the U.S. Men’s National Team has consitently done during Jurgen Klinsmann’s tenure, it’s silence the critics and go about its business by earning results when it truly matters.

Despite all that the U.S. has accomplished with their coach over the last four years — often times against the odds — the Stars and Stripes find themselves in the familiar crosshairs of critics, clairvoyants, and commentators once again ahead of Sunday’s friendly versus Panama at the StubHub Center.

Not that these should be happy, celebratory times for the U.S., mind you. The harsh reality is that they’re on a five-game losing streak, with only one win in their last nine. They’ve conceded a lead six times during that spell, and haven’t won on American soil since beating Nigeria in a pre-World Cup friendly on Jun. 7.

Since the World Cup, the U.S. has played six friendlies — matches that hardly count for anything and serve mostly as a recruiting and preparation ground — and have come out short all but once.

During this poor run of form, veterans like Kyle Beckerman and Jermaine Jones have been on the field mostly to inspire and lead the newcomers that represent the next generation of the national team. A slew of promising, but inexperienced MLS players — many of which have fewer than five caps — have been called into training camp and seen playing time. And in spite of this and other chaos, the U.S. is exploring a switch to the 3-5-2 formation. Based on the way some are framing it, the U.S. will be lucky just to make it out of the Hexagonal, nevermind reach Russia ’18.

Klinsmann is aware that the recent results are bumps along the road. But friendly matches are the only time a coach can try new players and tactics inside a competitive game environment. In other words, don’t take the results too seriously.

Sunday night’s tilt versus Panama, a rising regional rival for one of CONCACAF’s World Cup qualifying spots, will likely feature more of what we’ve seen recently from the U.S.: Inconsistent play, experimentation, and new ideas. It most certainly won’t show the U.S. at its peak – which is fine, because Russia ’18 is still nearly three-and-a-half years away. No one gets extra points for looking great at the start of new cycle. Just ask Mexico.

The understanding that new ideas need to be tested and the willingness to follow through aren’t anything new for Klinsmann. The German-born coach has irked many — including his players — with his obsession on fitness, dieting, nutrition, meditation, and mental toughness. Bruce Arena he most certainly is not.

Klinsmann’s philosophy, however unorthodox and unapologetic, have nevertheless yielded strong performances in the last World Cup qualifying cycle, despite of losing friendlies and the faith of some players. He’s to it. He’s used to getting blasted repeatedly by the critics. The gaffer who led the U.S. through the group of death in Brazil and Die Mannschaft to a third place finish at the 2006 World Cup won’t be fired — let alone be bothered — because his squad is losing friendlies. Not a tournament. Friendlies. We talking about friendlies, man.

The U.S. will eventually improve their performances with time. And once they re-establish themselves as the main, dominant force in the region, as well as a force to be reckoned with in Russia, the failures in recent friendlies — including the ones that may appear in Sunday’s game against Panama — will all be forgotten, just like stumbles seen in 2012 and early-2013.

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