Growing concern in Camp Klinsmann; why some results matter

Results don’t matter – well, until they do. Let me explain.

We keep hearing that results don’t matter when it comes to friendlies. U.S. manager Jurgen Klinsmann keeps saying it. He doesn’t give a German lick about results, he told us again last week.

Heck, I’ve written the same thing time and again. You simply can’t replicate the weight of World Cup qualifiers and such; pressure can change player and amend the way coaches approach matches. So applying too many lessons and assessments from friendlies is dicey business. And yet, putting too much stock in what happens in these friendlies is practically a constitutional right among soccer fans.

Klinsmann’s men lost yesterday, as you know. Yet another 1-0 loss, in fact, this time to Les Bleus in the Parisian suburb Saint-Denis.

Did anybody in a U.S. shirt deserve a passable grade yesterday at Stade de France? I thought both center backs had a good match, that one late hiccup notwithstanding. Jozy Altidore had his best day in some time in a U.S. shirt. The rest of the U.S. grades are here at SI.com. Discus!

A 1-0 loss on the road to a quality European team is no sin. Far from it.

But in the bigger context of what’s going on with Klinsmann’s national team, there’s some growing alarm. When you link Friday’s setback to Klinsmann’s other U.S. results, it’s hard not to see the evening differently.

Which is why results in friendlies do, indeed, sometimes matter. Not usually one result, per se, but strings of results. They matter en masse because they alter the way we see things, coloring context and perspective. They matter because pressure builds and may shift the way managers and programs pursue their targets in the bigger picture.

(For much more, keep reading ...)

The national team now has one lone win in Klinsmann’s first six matches. If that number makes you wince, this will cause you to double over in pain: just two goals scored in those matches. Thank heavens, I suppose, that Robbie Rogers and Brek Shea hooked up for a nifty little goal back in August against Mexico, and that Clint Dempsey danced around inside the Honduran penalty area until he could unleash the only other U.S. strike under Klinsmann.

Because that’s it. That’s the sum production of Klinsmann’s dynamic new way. A grand total of two goals.

So it wasn’t Friday’s small flop at Stade de France that matters. Not really. What matters more now is the 1-0 loss to Costa Rica in early September outside Los Angeles. What matters is the 1-0 loss to Belgium four days later. A tie that night in rainy Brussels would have been a better result.

What matters is a stinging 1-0 loss last month to Ecuador at Red Bull Arena. Ecuador isn’t a bad South American team.  But haven’t we reached the point where the United States, playing at home with most of its full squad, needs to dig up a draw, at the very least, against a South American side that’s not named Argentina or Brazil?

Again, one result doesn’t matter. That loss to Ecuador, plucked from the herd and examined individually, doesn’t amount to much – even if the Americans were alarmingly impotent on the attack, in dire need of bothering the Ecuadorian goalkeeper with a few more quality chances. With better results bracketing that one night, we could dismiss it as the anomaly.  But dumped into the big pot with a bunch of other inferior ingredients, what was supposed to be a pretty good soup is quickly devolving into something inedible.

Fans, players and supporters would feel so much better about things if they had just one really good result to hug on and love on. (No, a 1-0 squeaker at home over humble Honduras, Klinsmann’s only victory so far, isn’t enough to hang your hat on. Sorry.)

Then, yet another loss, this one to France, wouldn’t seem like such a damn downer. Then, the ongoing reliance of a central midfield with zero offensive punch (Kyle Beckerman and Maurice Edu) might be easier to stomach. The lack of anyone who can link in more efficient ways with Clint Dempsey would be easier to digest. It might be easier to see the long term benefit of playing Danny Williams out of position on the midfield flank. It would be easier to watch Michael Bradley languish, somewhat inexplicably, on the bench. (Where are all the ninnies now who always cried “nepotism” when it came to Bradley’s starting assignments handed out by his father, former coach Bob Bradley?)

It would be easier to beat back theories that this team, with the current personnel, is better suited for Bob Bradley’s reasonably effective, pragmatic doctrines that emphasized organized defending and scoring on set pieces and counters.

Even though they weren’t part of the problem last night, it would be easier to overlook Klinsmann’s continued interest in Michael Orozco Fiscal and Robbie Rogers – two players who have done zilch to justify the manager’s curious, ongoing attraction.

The United States needs a result Tuesday against Slovenia. A win would be nice, but a tie would suffice. At the very, very least, progress must be shown.

In some ways, this looks and sounds like Klinsmann’s early days in charge at Germany, where he overturned convention with gleeful abandon, pissing off the establishment along the way. In the end his ways and choices forDie Mannschaft were vindicated. Perhaps his methodology here will similarly pass muster, eventually.  

But if Klinsmann isn’t careful the pressure will build to the point where be begins losing public and player trust – and then everything he’s trying to accomplish could become more difficult, more problematic.

Every so often, results do matter. Even in friendlies.

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