They say you never get a second chance to make a first impression. But with Jurgen Klinsmann, that doesn’t seem to matter. Everyone gets a second chance. And sometimes even more.
Lost in all of the postgame chatter of the US’ heroic win over Mexico on Wednesday – the historical implications, the tactical talk, the dissection of what this means for Klinsmann’s legacy going forward – is a simple fact: Your past shortcomings mean nothing.
The German coach has given new life to a handful of players whose international careers once seemed stalled out, on life support or finished entirely. And for a coach who is as much about personal growth and existing in the moment as much as he is about the actual soccer, it’s another window into what Klinsmann is doing inside the US program.
Exhibits A, B and C all figured into the winning goal on Wednesday night. Brek Shea, Michael Orozco Fiscal and Kyle Beckerman may have shared only a single, highlight-reel moment, but it was enough to stamp their names forever in the most stunning result of Klinsmann’s 12 months on the job so far.
Three weeks ago, some were consigning Shea to the “all-hype” recycling bin that has claimed one too many young US prospects. His own club coach wasn’t getting through to him and the whispers continued that the 22-year-old had too many bad influences in his ear.
Yet Klinsmann recognized he played a role in letting Shea’s own hype get to him, and took responsibility in wanting to help build him back up again.
And within two minutes of entering the game, the old Shea showed up with a blast of speed down the left wing, juking a defender and setting up the winning goal – almost an encore of his assist against Mexico last August in Philadelphia.
Like Robbie Rogers in that game, Orozco Fiscal only needed to be in the right place at the right time to finish. The San Luis defender’s 13 minutes Wednesday night weren’t memorable for much else he did particularly well, but his winning goal was a special moment.
Four summers ago, Orozco Fiscal nearly killed his international career before it started. His ill-timed red card against Nigeria was a key component in the US Olympic team’s collapse in Beijing. He failed to impress Bob Bradley in his first senior cap three months later and seemingly fell off the map.
But Klinsmann gave the former Philadelphia Union man his first chance to prove it again. Sure, Orozco Fiscal been poor at times in four caps under the new boss. But scoring a winning goal against Mexico isn’t just a single memory to add to your career highlights. It’s the kind of thing that restores confidence, makes you believe you keep getting the call from your coach for a reason and makes you work harder to repay that confidence.
“I can’t stop here,” he said after the match. “I’ve got to keep improving and accomplishing my goals.”
Then there’s the guy who started the whole play: Beckerman, whose lead pass to Shea was the capper on a terrific performance. The Real Salt Lake captain has found a new lease on life under Klinsmann, appearing in 10 of the US’ 16 games since the German took charge, six as a starter.
Against Mexico, he was excellent, shielding a strong backline and clogging the middle as El Tri swarmed. Beckerman is a key part of Klinsmann’s plans, a far cry from the disappointment of being a final cut for Bradley’s holding midfielder-heavy World Cup team two summers ago.
It doesn’t end with this trio. Once-discarded Edgar Castillo had perhaps his best performance in a US jersey on Wednesday night. Oft-overlooked Michael Parkhurst has found a niche as a finesse center back in Klinsmann’s set-up. And Ricardo Clark – whose infamous giveaway against Ghana in South Africa is still a lingering image for many – could well be a figure moving forward after his winner over Venezuela back in January.
There’s a flip side, too, of course. For every reclamation project, there’s a Jose Torres and an Oguchi Onyewu to suggest that perhaps Klinsmann is throwing out one lifeline too many.
But once again, it seems to be all about that “c” word with the US boss.
“We know we still have to improve in many elements,” Klinsmann said in the press conference after Wednesday’s victory. “We have to keep the ball longer, we have to create more chances and we have to do a lot of work still, but I think this gives us a lot of confidence.”
And that starts by making the players know he believes in them. It’s a powerful message from Klinsmann: “I know you have more to give and I stand by you. Now go do incredible things.”
Jonah Freedman is the managing editor of MLSsoccer.com.