By J Hutcherson – WASHINGTON, DC (Nov 14, 2011) US Soccer Players — Perhaps the biggest takeaway from Friday's France – USA friendly was the inability of France to really push more than one point of attack. Without the ability to really complicate matters for the United States, France seldom showed why they belong among the elite teams of Europe.
It's very unlikely that the United States expected the kind of game France showed them over 90 minutes. Whatever game plan US coach Jurgen Klinsmann had in mind to stifle France while showing the US can push the attack needed France to be a little more like their old selves. Instead, the US had to manage against a team that at least tactically looked a lot closer to what we've seen CONCACAF teams try in recent friendlies against the United States.
That might seem like an easy point that flatters the US effort, but building France up in retrospect accomplishes the same thing. This was simply not a team that should be causing Klinsmann to reconsider the details – much less the fundamentals – of what he has in mind for his team.
Without a doubt, a US win would've made this a stronger point. Klinsmann spoke in the days before the France game about how friendly results don't matter, it's what happens on the field. Unfortunately for that variant of 'coach speak,' results do matter – period. Don't worry, I'm not going to revive my 'if they charge admission it counts' reasoning. Instead, a win is by far the simplest way to stress to an audience that what the coach has in mind will eventually work on a regular basis.
Klinsmann knows that, and at some point he's going to need consistent friendly results to show progress. Trying to rewrite the rules of what fans should expect is its own project, and one that rarely ends up working. So does trying to rewrite the memories of those fans that have seen versions of this US team beat better teams than this version of France.
"If you sit back and react to a team like that, you might once every ten games beat them with a counter-break," Klinsmann said in his post-game comments. "I come from a different point of view. If you want to compete with these types of teams, whether it’s a France, Holland, Germany , or other teams of that level ,you have to go at them. You have to really try and push them back and push up your defense. You could see in the first half they were getting more confident and pushing higher up, and suddenly they were making some mistakes. Over time, for us the learning process is to adapt to that speed of play. You can only play that speed of play if you are extremely fit, if you are tactically very aware and sharp, and the team finds a rhythm really where everybody works for each other."
Unless the United States just happened to be exceptionally lucky over games we all remember friendly and competitive against some of the best teams in the World, that first point doesn't apply. With respect to the Klinsmann era, the US already had a similar mentality as the one he outlines. Yes, the US would resort to a defensive absorption game when needed, but that's hardly an indictment when it works. There's also the recurring question over the last few months about that expectation for fitness. As many people have asked me, since when is the US anything but fit?
Maybe Klinsmann has a different ideal along with an idea in mind. In his later comments on Tim Howard, he said: "I have really come to the conclusion that I’d love him to challenge himself to go to another level, which I think he is actually doing. He’s definitely one of the best five or six in the world, and can really achieve big things in the next couple of years."
Again, we risk falling into the trap of 'coach speak' that has a tendency not to carry much meaning when we talk about getting the best from players as individuals and as a group, but maybe that's what the Klinsmann vision really is. Perhaps there really is no good enough here, no justification that works win or lose in these friendlies. It's simply a continual push for better.
With that in mind, Clint Dempsey became the latest US player to repeat what should be a familiar point in the post-game comments.
“He instills confidence in his players and pushes us to go out and express ourselves and have that self-belief that we can compete in big games," Dempsey said. "We enjoy having him as a coach and we want to do better for him."
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