In his first days after taking the reins of the US national team in July 2011, Jurgen Klinsmann was often asked about the style and identity of the program, and his own plans for the squad in that regard.
“Soccer is about identifying with your favorite team, with your favorite style,” he said in one question-and-answer session with the media. “Hopefully we can build something that the people really like.
“Obviously, it’s also based on the player material that you have at the end of the day.”
For many months it appeared that his favorite team, and that of US soccer as a whole, was FC Barcelona, the all-conquering Spanish club which has elevated “tiki-taka” to an art form. Last year retired US star Claudio Reyna even based the federation’s new youth curriculum on Barça’s Dutch-inspired 4-3-3 formation, urging coaches at all age levels to familiarize their players with its core philosophies.
In the wake of Monday’s US roster announcement for the upcoming qualifiers against Antigua & Barbuda and Guatemala, fans may want to prepare themselves for something closer to Stoke City, the home of US national teamers Geoff Cameron and Maurice Edu – and the quintessential standard-bearers for English-style footy.
“We need here and there to force things with crosses from the wings and get really strong in the air,” said Klinsmann, explaining that this month’s opponents “don’t leave that much space, probably, on the wings or behind their backlines, so that was the reason we brought in Eddie [Johnson] and Alan [Gordon], two guys that are really good in the air, that can lay balls off.”
The national team boss has been hinting at his openness to a burlier, more direct style in order to negotiate the final stages of the CONCACAF semifinal round of World Cup qualifying, and on Monday he released a roster designed to offer exactly that.
Though he admitted that his staff have not yet seen the state of the playing surface at the cricket ground where Antigua will host the US on Friday, Klinsmann seems to be expecting the worst.
“We haven’t seen the field yet, but anything can happen there in Antigua in terms of the field and the conditions,” he said. “We need to be aware of that and we need to find ways to break them down, we need to find ways to score goals. So we need to adjust to whatever it is and to find ways to play through and to come through, even if it’s with sending in long balls or high balls or whatever it is.
“We’ve got to get these three points, no matter what.”
Gordon’s call-up for the August friendly against Mexico looked like a quirky one-off at the time, perhaps a salutary nod to those who distinguish themselves in MLS yet have little international pedigree.
Now it appears that his bruising, battling qualities – as well as his hold-up and distribution play, which prompted Klinsmann to call him a “giver” – have been prioritized even more highly than the fox-in-the-box skills of his San Jose Earthquakes teammate Chris Wondolowski.
So if the US honcho’s words are taken at face value, buckle up for 90, perhaps even 180 minutes of direct play and service into the proverbial mixer.
“If it’s not possible to play that style, if it’s not possible to play in that flowing mode because of the field, because of circumstance, whatever it is, we have to find ways to battle through it and get the points,” declared Klinsmann. “We’d love to play really well and please people, please the fans and excite everybody ... but first, we’ve got to make sure that we score the goals.
“It might be not the prettiest way to do it.”