CARSON, Calif. — One of the familiar refrains from new US manager Jurgen Klinsmann has been the desire to see his side play an attacking style and take chances. Ahead of Friday’s friendly with Costa Rica (11 pm ET, ESPN2), he stuck to the script.
“We try to play an attacking style and put them under pressure and high energy,” Klinsmann said prior to the team’s practice on Thursday evening. “And hopefully [the players] are feeling comfortable in doing that — and confident.”
If mainstay Landon Donovan is any proof, the players are feeling more than comfortable in doing “that.” Self-expression has become a kind of mantra for the USMNT players, particularly the most creative ones.
“[Klinsmann] encourages you to express yourself,” Donovan said. “For a lot of us, that’s what we’re good at. That’s what we’ve done well our whole life, taking chances and expressing ourselves.”
But what does that mean in practice? Klinsmann has only had about five or six proper training sessions with the squad since he took the reins on July 29, not enough to really instill any kind of new mentality or tactical initiatives. Still, Donovan says, Klinsmann — a World Cup-winning striker in his playing days — is constantly encouraging the players to “try things,” particularly in an attacking sense.
“Literally in training, if the ball gets to someone he’s yelling, ‘Go, take him on,’” Donovan said. “If guys try something in the right part of the field and it doesn’t come off, he says, ‘It’s okay, do it again.’”
Although he didn’t say it explicitly, Donovan seemed to indicate that this was not typical under Klinsmann’s predecesser, Bob Bradley.
“I don’t want to compare,” Donovan said. “Jurgen has his style and the way he does things, and that’s trickled down to us already.”
But Klinsmann has often balanced his free-for-all rhetoric with certain warnings of defensive responsibilities. He has constantly talked about making sure that when the ball is lost, 11 men are behind the ball. And all the artistry and self-expression in the world, Donovan said, must come only at the right moments.
“If guys are trying to nutmeg someone in their own 18, [Klinsmann] has also stopped it and said something to guys already this week,” Donovan said. “So it has to be in the right context. But when the moment is right, he wants us to express ourselves."