When Jurgen Klinsmann took over the United States team he promised to change the way the team played. Any defensive style that depended on athleticism or the counterattack was going to get the heave-ho in favor of a possession-oriented attack that emphasized more skill than strength. It was a major change for the U.S., which had found the bulk of its success in being among the most fit, strongest and fastest teams in the world and hardly the most skilled.
On Saturday, Klinsmann's squad flashed the skill and attacking verve that he promised. The U.S. destroyed Scotland, 5-1, and scored a handful of fantastic, creative, eye-opening goals. More so than the scoreline, the way in which the U.S. won was what was so impressive. The entire evening was an affirmation of what Klinsmann has spent the last nine months trying to instill in the team, but that was Scotland. And no offense to Scotland (which is code for I'm about to be offense), but Scotland is a subpar team that in its current form shouldn't even bother with the thought of qualifying for its first major tournament in more than a decade.
To beat Scotland and play attacking soccer is one thing. To do it against Brazil is something completely different. But the question is as much "will Klinsmann allow the U.S. to attack?" as it is "is the U.S. good enough to play attacking soccer against a team as good as Brazil?"
While Klinsmann may want to call the U.S. a possession-oriented and attacking team, his team hasn't always ben that. In fact, the only time since the German took the reigns that the U.S. came up against top flight competition, they hardly looked to attack.
The U.S. played Italy on February 29 and the Italians bossed the match.Italy had 61% of the possession, eight corners to the Americans' two, 19 goal attempts to just four for the U.S. The possession-oriented, attacking style that Klinsmann promised was nowhere to be found and it wasn't an accident. The U.S. came out looking to play defensive. Their defensive play was exactly what was intended.
Here is the kicked from the match against Italy, though -- the U.S. won. Clint Dempsey notched the only goal of the match and while Italy had all of the possession and goal attempts, they hardly threatened the Americans' goal. The U.S. was excellent at the back and well-organized. It was a beautiful match for the U.S., only it wasn't what Klinsmann promised to turn the team into.
There is nothing wrong with being defensive. Being stout in defense and deadly on the counterattack is not just effective, but it can be absolutely gorgeous. Contrary to what many Barcelona fanboys will tell you, there is not one "right way" to play soccer.
The question for the U.S. under Klinsmann is how committed are they to becoming the attacking team that he promised. Against Scotland they proved the are capable of being that team, but that is against weaker competition. Doing it against a team like Brazil is a whole other matter.
The strength of the U.S. team is still in its athleticism. Few teams can match the range, work rate or fitness of the Michael Bradley, Jermaine Jones and Maurice Edu midfield triumvirate. The American strikers are still more athlete than anything else and even while aging, Landon Donovan, Steve Cherundolo and Oguchi Onyewu will be described as speedy, strong, quick or athletic long before they are called skillful. When going up against a team like Brazil, as they did against Italy, defending and counterattacking is not an insult to the sport and the way it supposedly should be played because that idea is ridiculous. Defending and counterattacking is just smart and if done right, beautiful.
Will Klinsmann dare try and control possession and take the match to Brazil or will he take the same approach that he did against Italy? It is not the wrong approach, just different than he promised, but it could also be deathly effective and odds are few Americans would feel cheated by a broken promise in exchange for success.
For more on the U.S. vs. Brazil friendly, check out the match's StoryStream, which has previews, as well as live and postgame coverage.