CARSON, Calif. — Willkommen in der CONCACAF, Herr Klinsmann.
Jurgen Klinsmann speaks often about the lessons his players are learning every day. But after the US had lost to Costa Rica 1-0, the German legend seemed somewhat bemused by his own education. He'd just attended his first class at the University of CONCACAF, and was grappling with the material.
“In all, the one-on-one battles, [Costa Rica] were nasty,” Klinsmann said. “A lot of fouls. They tried to interrupt our rhythm with the physical part of it.”
Better get used to it, Klinsi, because soccer in this part of the world is rarely the clean, cerebral, technically sound game that European sophisticates practice on a regular basis. Here, they “dirty the game,” to use the local vernacular in translation. That’s not to say that the players are dirty, but teams in this hemisphere — particularly those from the smaller nations — tend to use tactics that some pundits call “gamesmanship” and others call “crap.”
We all have seen it before. Klinsmann hasn’t.
“[Klinsmann] was frustrated with a little of the stuff that was going on on the field — wasting time and all that stuff,” Robbie Rogers told me after Friday’s match. “I’ve played in the Champions League and I’ve played enough CONCACAF games to know that that stuff happens.”
Sure, negative tactics are used in Europe, but the fact is, the rules of engagement are a little different over here. Diving, professional fouls, time-wasting, intimidating the ref — it’s all fair game on this continent. And it’s something Klinsmann will have to accept and figure out as he draws up his syllabus for World Cup qualification 101.
Hopefully, he learns from his first experience.
Heading into the match with Costa Rica, Klinsmann downplayed Costa Rica a decent amount, claiming the US would be able to do things against los Ticos that they were unable to do last month against the more skillful, more powerful Mexican side. In retrospect, his comments revealed a bit of naïveté — the first we've seen since he took over from Bob Bradley.
For all the talk these past six weeks about rhythm, self-expression, and attractive soccer, there will come a time when Klinsmann and his players will have to go to Saprissa Stadium in San José or the Office in Kingston or Cuscatlán in San Salvador and need to get a result. How will they express themselves then?
“We know what to expect once we go into the qualifiers and go down to Central America and play in those countries,” Klinsmann said. “We know it’s a very hot-tempered environment and it will be very physical and it will be a very emotional situation there. That is just part of the game, and we will be prepared for that. We will be prepared in a way that we will stay calm and cool in those environments and just continue to play our rhythm and our game.”
That all sounds good in theory, but it’s harder to pull off in practice. Luckily, it seems Klinsmann recognizes this. When he was asked what more he would’ve liked to see from his players against Costa Rica, one of his responses showed that he’s a quick study.
“More nastiness,” he said.