KINGSTON, Jamaica – Jurgen Klinsmann was magnanimous in defeat on Friday night, praising the Jamaica squad which had just stunned his US national team with a 2-1 comeback victory in their CONCACAF World Cup qualifying Group A showdown.
The ever-optimistic coach even sought a silver lining from the US’ first-ever loss to the island nation of 2.8 million inhabitants, noting that “in the moment of a defeat, we learn a lot.”
Perhaps for the first time in his 13-month tenure on the job, the German-American showed a flintier edge to his buoyant personality in his postgame press conference, though. Laying down an implicit challenge to his team after a game in which their own errors were their undoing, Klinsmann raised the stakes for Tuesday’s rematch with Jamaica at Columbus Crew Stadium in central Ohio.
“We have to fix it now,” he said. “We have to fix it back in Columbus and I think it’s clear to the players that at certain moments you just need to be a little bit smarter.
“Pressure is always there in World Cup qualifiers, which is a wonderful thing, because it’s always important. We have no problem with that. We know we have to bounce back, we have to prove everybody wrong going back [to] Columbus, and we are looking forward to it.”
At another moment in the small, jam-packed conference room under the Jamaica National Stadium’s western stands, Klinsmann responded sharply when asked whether he would take responsibility for his team’s failure on the evening.
“You can blame me, no problem. It wouldn't be the first time in I-don’t-know-how-many years,” he said. “You don’t even need to talk about tactics. It has nothing to do with [whether] you play a 4-4-2 or a 4-3-3, whatever you played tonight. We lost the game because of two free kicks, and that’s what we have to accept. And we’ve got to turn it around in a couple of days.”
The most veteran members of his squad were perhaps even more blunt about the loss, its effect on the USA’s plans to advance to the final, Hexagonal round and the potentially disastrous consequences if they are unable to earn three points of their own in Columbus. The US now sits in third place in Group A, behind Jamaica and Guatemala. Only the top two teams will advance to “the Hex” phase.
“We need the points,” said goalscorer Clint Dempsey, who readily defined Tuesday as a “must-win” game. “We’ve got to put ourselves in a position that we advance out of the group. If you start giving away points and find yourself stating to sink down, you could find yourself not qualifying for the next round. We’re definitely frustrated with that, we’d have liked to at least gotten a point out of tonight, but it’s important that we get three points the next game.”
Goalkeeper Tim Howard took a similar tack, acknowledging then refuting a range of potential excuses for the loss, including the home crowd, the bumpy field conditions, the Reggae Boyz’ rally and the absence of injured US mainstays Michael Bradley and Landon Donovan.
“I think if we don’t win Tuesday, we’ll have a must-win sooner rather than later. You hate to say that you need some results [in other Group A games] to go for you,” he said. “But at this point, we’re too good to be worrying about other teams. We get three points on Tuesday, we’ll be OK.”