Klinsmann goes into back-to-back friendlies against Honduras and Ecuador having managed one draw and two defeats in three matches, and the desire for a positive result is fast becoming the elephant in the room.
While the German import is being given plenty of latitude as he tries to usher in a new era and determine which players best suit his tactical system, to say that a victory would be welcome, even in a game with no competitive meaning, is a huge understatement.
International soccer waits for no man, and although Klinsmann has avoided criticism so far following defeats to Costa Rica and Belgium, that situation could change unless there is a tangible upturn over the next few days.
The scrutiny on the USA team is considerably less than in other parts of the world, a reflection of the fact that the game lacks widespread popularity in this country. So even two more defeats would not lead to a huge public outcry – not with NFL season in full swing and baseball in the middle of its playoffs.
Yet American soccer fans are not shy about making their feelings known, as former coach Bob Bradley knows. Bradley attracted widespread criticism before losing his job in the summer and taking over in Egypt.
Klinsmann, as a foreigner, gets an easier ride. Like it or not, coaches from overseas countries get more concessions in American soccer because they are perceived to be more knowledgeable and cultured in the game. Klinsmann was the man USA fans wanted for years, so he hasn’t been hounded yet, but such a scenario is possible unless things improve.
He has a long-term blueprint and his main focus is on preparing a squad that can compete at the 2014 World Cup and perform better than the round of 16 exit that Bradley managed. That process involves trying out a number of players to see if they fit the mold and Klinsmann has been imaginative in his selections so far.
Unfortunately, that has not manifested itself into particularly positive play, and the lack of attacking chances has been especially worrying. It was thought that Klinsmann would adopt a similar attacking style to the one he implemented with the German national team at the 2006 World Cup and quell critics of Bradley who derided his negative approach.
Instead though, there have been three toothless performances. Klinsmann has not yet had a full squad at his disposal, and he won’t again with Landon Donovan ruled out due an injury. Yet the squad has had enough time together under the new man to expect some level of cohesion.
“It’s a group that kind of develops its own character over the next two and a half years,” Klinsmann said. “It will be challenged in different ways, especially in the World Cup qualifiers. Every cycle of the national team, no matter what national team you’re talking about, is always going through this path of redefining its leaders, redefining its chemistry, and this is now the process we’re going through the next months.”
While Klinsmann’s logic of ongoing process being more important than short-term results can be understood, it is dangerous and counter-productive to downplay the importance of winning. It is one which has spread to the players – midfielder DaMarcus Beasley said this week how results right now are “not the most important thing.” Although the squad may be getting comfortable with each other, a culture of success and momentum is not being created.
Victories on Saturday against Honduras and on Tuesday against Ecuador would fix that issue and give the new USA camp the best of both worlds. Klinsmann has only until then before patience starts to wear thin.