PHILADELPHIA — Jurgen Klinsmann loves to smile.
And he smiled a lot before, during and especially after his debut as the US national team head coach on Wednesday night, thanks in no small part to a second-half spark that left the Americans with a wholly satisfying 1-1 draw against Mexico at Lincoln Financial Field.
In fact, the match nearly played out according to plan for the new boss, aside from the first-half goal from Mexican striker Oribe Peralta that put the US in an early hole.
But the way the US youth turned off the yawns in the last half hour left Klinsmann nearly giddy. The inspiring play of MLS rising stars Brek Shea, Juan Agudelo and goalscorer Robbie Rogers was exactly what Klinsmann wanted, and he revealed a surprisingly simple secret that helped the Americans turn the tide.
“It’s really enjoyable to see how they express themselves, how they go for it,” Klinsmann said in the postgame press conference. “This is what we wanted to see. We wanted them to express themselves and have fun. I think that’s what we saw.”
In fact, “fun” was one of the words tossed around much of the night on Wednesday, and there’s no doubt that has a ton to do with Klinsmann. There was a decidedly different vibe to this US camp than in previous ones, not just because of tactics or new faces, but more so due to a change of scenery at the top from Bob Bradley to the man in charge now.
The verdict, of course, is still out on the results. But this much is clear: The glare is gone, and the grin is in.
“When he told us [to have fun], you don’t really hear that that much, especially in a guy’s debut,” said Shea, who did the dirty work to set up the all-important Rogers goal in the 73rd minute. “To have the freedom to do what you like … it just gives a player that much more confidence.
“He’s happy, everyone’s happy to play for him,” Shea added. “Jurgen definitely brings positive energy. He’s all about, ‘If you mess up, it’s no big deal.’ I really like that about him.’”
That doesn’t mean Klinsmann was entirely satisfied — he’s got a bone to pick with his makeshift back four, and he admitted there’s still a ton of work to do — but his relatively easy going attitude for his debut left a number of players impressed with a new aura with the US team.
“Too often as players we get frustrated and get down on things, but [Klinsmann] has made sure this week that everything was positive,” midfielder Landon Donovan said. “I think that showed on the field. Even though we went down a goal, even though we were under pressure a little bit in the first half, we kept going.
“In the end we were the better team,” he added, “and it showed.”
The positive vibes certainly weren’t lost on Real Salt Lake midfielder Kyle Beckerman, who drew rave reviews from Klinsmann after a solid 90-minute shift spent putting out fires in front of the Americans’ back line. Beckerman — who was back in the mix Wednesday night for the first time since 2009 — was one of those who benefitted from a camp spent with a new coach and a new attitude.
“He definitely has this positive energy about him," RSL's captain told MLSsoccer.com. "He’s constantly telling us positive things. It gets everyone to really believe. He takes some of the pressure off the guys and puts it on himself. It’s been a pleasure to play for him.”