AMSTERDAM – It has been a little more than a year since Jurgen Klinsmann took the US national team reins, with the promise of a style makeover that would start our climb to the next level of the world game.
While the boss routinely diverges from the Ajax-inspired 4-3-3 formation which features prominently in US Soccer Federation youth technical director Claudio Reyna's tactical manifesto (released just prior to Klinsmann’s hiring), many of the field directives found in “Total Football” remain firmly in his game plans.
Casting results aside, we will revisit five playing points from a forecasting Postcard written last summer to offer first-trimester grades, measuring progress made and work left to do. For explanation of all five categories of play, you can refer to the original article here.
Better use of space
This aspect of the tactical facelift has had both exciting and frustrating days under Klinsmann. One need look no further than the past week to spot the differences.
On Tuesday night, the USMNT widened the field and hogged the ball by use of passing triangles to lean on Jamaica from all angles until they cracked. The preceding away game saw an impatient, narrow side mount far too few real threats.
Grade: C+. The trick here falls apart when the coach mans a position (or positions) improperly, with prime evidence of this seen last Friday in Jamaica. Klinsi has had some repeated issues asking players to go out of character, but hopefully Tuesday's win signals better staffing ahead.
Technique, technique, technique
There is still a lot of work to be done, and much of this tutelage responsibility falls to the clubs. The US could definitely improve their overall team crossing, for instance.
Particular skills aside, Klinsmann has done an excellent job in several key technical areas. By itself, playing out of the back has transformed the national team. Only slightly less impressive has been the team's new investment in one-touch passing.
Grade: B+. It hasn't all been successful, but one can definitely see that the team has sharply raised its technical profile over the past year.
The fatigue swing
The truth is, this grade won’t truly be decided until the dog days of the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, when expected advancements in the possession game should lead to a bonus reserve of gas for the end of games.
Over the past year and change, the US have worn out the opposition a handful of times, but still end up chasing the ball a lot more than they'd prefer.
Grade: B-. Always a very fit squad, the Yanks have gained a bit extra on most occasions under Klinsmann. The grade would be higher if not for some notable substitution curiosities.
Managing a game
Once again, we've boarded a subject with plenty of roller-coaster ups and downs since Klinsmann took over.
On one hand, he engineered one-goal wins at Italy and Mexico. On the other hand, the team still regresses into shell mode too instinctively after taking the lead over lesser foes.
Grade: C+. With the four World Cup qualifiers given greater weight than the 11 friendlies, there is definitely room for more strategic consistency in attempting to boss matches more frequently.
A new attitude
Talking about and training new ways will only go so far if the players don't believe in the mission and themselves. Of course, we all know what they say about old dogs.
From a growing technical confidence to the simple splendor of playing calmly out of defense (can't mention that enough), Klinsi clearly has the boys cozy with the idea of new tricks.
Grade: A+. While our overall rundown shows some red ink, most of the marks against are not for a lack of effort. This is not only perhaps the biggest adjustment, it's the one that had to come first. Kudos on that, coach.