PHILADELPHIA — As the players on the US national team walked out onto the Lincoln Financial Field turf, many people noticed they didn’t have names on the back of their jerseys.
Was this a message from new coach Jurgen Klinsmann that team comes before individual? A showing of solidarity as a new era of American soccer began on a warm summer night in Philly?
“Oh, there was not enough time [to put the names on],” Klinsmann said with a laugh in the postgame press conference. “Our equipment manager was a bit stressed out.”
It was one of the few things that didn’t go Klinsmann’s way in his first game in charge of the US national team.
The rest of Wednesday night’s 1-1 draw with rival Mexico was all the USMNT coach had hoped for and more, especially as he watched his new pupils attack the Mexicans with extra fervor over the game’s final 30 minutes.
“We challenged the Mexican side, which is a very good team that we have a lot of respect for,” Klinsmann said. “I think we can be very satisfied with our performance.”
While Klinsmann should be credited for his bold lineup choices, formation shift and renewed energy, he noted that the Americans’ second-half revival was more about Mexico tiring and the US getting more aggressive than any kind of wonder-coaching.
In other words, there wasn’t exactly an inspirational pep talk between halves that led to Robbie Rogers's game-tying goal and many other excellent scoring opportunities.
“At halftime, the message was very simple,” Klinsmann said. “It was a compliment how they did their job defensively, and in the last 10 minutes of the first half they more and more moved out and pushed toward the Mexicans. I just said to them to build on this — to circle the ball around and get them tired. I told them to forget about the goal; the goal is not important anymore. It happens. One-nil, two-nil — it doesn’t matter, we’ve got to keep going and push it.”
Of course, Klinsmann admitted there are still certain areas in which the US need to improve, and he reiterated his weeklong stance that the development of American soccer will be an ever-evolving process.
But just being on the sidelines for the first time as US coach was an experience, he said, that won’t be forgotten.
“I was emotional, too,” Klinsmann said. “It is something special. I’ve lived in this country for 13 years. It was a special moment before the game, listening to the anthem and feeling the energy in the stadium and feeling the energy from the players.
“Unfortunately, I’m too old to play, so the next best thing is coaching.”