(Image courtesy Chas Dorman/Penn Athletics)
PHILADELPHIA — Moments before Jurgen Klinsmann’s first full practice as US head coach wrapped up, Landon Donovan ripped a low, hard shot on net that was saved by a sprawling Tim Howard.
The lesson: Just because there’s a new man in charge doesn’t mean the old stars still can’t shine.
“I feel we were a very good team two months ago and that we’re a very good team now,” Howard said following the training session at the University of Pennsylvania’s Rhodes Field on Monday. “I know [Klinsmann] will continue to keep us in the direction that we’re going.”
Klinsmann’s stated goals for his first couple of practices leading up to Wednesday’s game against Mexico at Lincoln Financial Field (9 pm ET; ESPN2, Univisión) are not complicated. For starters, he hopes to simply have extended conversations with the 22 players he called up — some of whom are still trickling into camp because of club duties — to get a better feel for what he’s working with.
Only then will he begin to make his philosophical and tactical imprint on the national team.
“It will be one step at a time,” Klinsmann said. “You can’t speed up the process.”
For now at least, the new coach said there’s no need for any kind of major overhaul.
While he did select a few young players and others who seemed to be off former coach Bob Bradley’s radar, his roster for Wednesday’s game is still littered with World Cup veterans such as Howard, Donovan, Carlos Bocanegra, Steve Cherundolo, Michael Bradley, Ricardo Clark, DaMarcus Beasley, José Francisco Torres and Edson Buddle.
“I respect everything that has been done before me,” said Klinsmann, who was hired to replace Bradley on July 29. “I’m the next one that follows up on their work. There’s a very good base here, a foundation that’s been built. Now it’s up to me to put another level on that foundation.”
Wednesday’s game against Mexico is part of the process, as are the training sessions leading up to it. Klinsmann called Monday’s practice at Penn “a wonderful start” and noted that everyone was in good spirits.
But it’s just that — a start. Now begins the long, hard road to Brazil in 2014.
“The most important thing, as he’s mentioned to you guys and to us, is that our focus is on qualifying for the World Cup and going down to Brazil and putting on a heck of a performance,” Howard said. “It’s a long way away, I realize that, but it’s still in the front of our minds.
“I think his footprint will be stamped on this team if and when we go to the World Cup and we perform in all the right ways,” Howard added. “Ultimately that’s how you judge.”