SEATTLE – For a guy who is normally all roses and positivity during his addresses to the media, Jurgen Klinsmann was strangely business-like at Tuesday night's press conference following the US national team's 2-0 win over Panama, perhaps their best individual performance since he took the job two years ago.
And perhaps that intensity tells you all you need to know as to how how his squad put a together a full 90-minute shift that was comprehensive in almost every way in dispatching the Panamanians.
“We’re very pleased with our performance,” Klinsmann said. “I think throughout the entire game, we were in control of it. Every area on the field, the guys did a good job. We prepared them for doing certain things, they executed it 100 percent.”
That the US held 58 percent of the possession wasn’t surprising against the always defensive-minded Panama. That they outshot them 12-5 wasn’t a revelation, either, nor was it that they completed 170 passes.
It was, however, most striking that they found their best offensive performance of this final round of World Cup qualifying with players stepping into roles that weren’t their first position, or in some cases, even their second.
Geoff Cameron filled Jermaine Jones’ central midfield spot with aplomb and gave the US a defensive stopper with a high work rate they so sorely needed in this match. Not only that, the Stoke City man was involved in both US goals, with the outlet pass that eventually ended with Jozy Altidore putting the ball in the net, then launching a 25-yard chip from midfield to a streaking Eddie Johnson for the capper.
“We asked him to, obviously, win a lot of balls back, cover the two center backs and have a strong, strong presence in there,” Klinsmann said. “I don’t how may balls he recovered – he was constantly there.
“And then we asked him to play it simple, and he did that. Once you hit that ball, keep it simple and find Michael Bradley, find the players around him and cover up the center backs. He was huge. It was a huge performance by Cameron.”
Klinsmann then went on to single out the performances of both local representatives – Brad Evans at right back and Johnson at right midfield, positions neither man occupies for the Seattle Sounders.
“For us, it’s really important to see players step in when somebody’s injured, somebody’s yellow-carded like happened now," Klinsmann said, referencing Johnson's role in replacing suspended Graham Zusi. "And it just gives us even more confidence now going into the next game knowing that whoever steps in now will get the job done.”
And as a result of Tuesday night’s win, the US top the Hexagonal with 10 points midway through the final round of World Cup qualifying, and can essentially put one foot in Brazil by bagging another three points next week in Salt Lake City when they face Honduras.
The team has a not-so-quiet confidence about it now and the timing of this resurgence – four straight qualifiers unbeaten, including back-to-back wins for only the third time under Klinsmann – gives lots of reason for optimism. They’re two-thirds of the way toward their stated goal of all nine points through this quick turnaround of three qualifiers in 12 days.
“We’re very pleased but we still have another one to go,” Klinsmann said. “So we want to get those three points against a strong Honduras side in Salt Lake City. Overall, a complete performance by the team and we’re very happy with it.”
Jonah Freedman is the managing editor of MLSsoccer.com.