Stoppage Time: Klinsmann's U.S. novel approaches rising action

2:38 PM, Feb 5, 2013   |    comments
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Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - Jurgen Klinsmann's reckoning as U.S. national team coach is fast approaching, which can only mean only thing: the Hexagonal of World Cup qualifying is upon us.

The United States have made their way to San Pedro Sula, Honduras, to kick off the Hex, and so begins the meaty part of Klinsmann's tenure with the American national team, which has been triumphant, mediocre or calamitous to this point, depending on who you ask.

The exuberant German assumed his position at the helm of the national team in 2011, a release from the status quo of U.S. coaches who preceded him. Everything he has done since being appointed by U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati has been building to this next set of matches as Klinsmann gets set for a new chapter in the novel that is his career.

In the preface to Klinsmann's tale, the United States jumped onto the radar of the world's elite with a monumental run to the quarterfinals of the 2002 World Cup under Bruce Arena, but that gave way to dreadful outing four years later that saw the Americans score just twice (one of which came from an own goal) and claim just one point from group play.

To juxtapose the floundering Americans, Klinsmann reinvented the German national team with the infusion of techniques never before seen in modern football. He implemented the use of psychologists and fitness experts and ushered in a youth movement that helped the Germans finish third in the 2006 World Cup, all while getting his side to play an entertaining brand of football.

Klinsmann enjoyed a short hiatus before signing up to coach Bayern Munich in 2008, while the United States retooled for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. Bayern's massive expectations were not met by Klinsmann and he was relieved of his coaching duties before the conclusion of the season.

Meanwhile, the U.S. squad, despite some thrilling drama in the group stage, fizzled out of South Africa in the first round of the knockout stage in a loss to Ghana.

What followed was a pivotal position for Klinsmann and U.S. Soccer. The German relocated to California with his wife and flirted with U.S. Soccer about a host of changes, wanting to instill a nation-wide, top-to-bottom philosophy in education, coaching and development to take American soccer to the next level.

The pair finally came to terms in July 2011 and Klinsmann was handed not only the keys to the U.S. car, but also the deed to the auto shop.

Klinsmann's 18 months in charge of the national team have been up and down. For every sublime win against a world power (1-0 defeat of Italy in a friendly on Feb. 29, 2012), there has been a head-scratching result that inspires doubt regarding whether any ground has been made (2-1 loss at Jamaica on Sep. 7, 2012).

The United States made it to the Hex, but a draw in Guatemala and a loss in Jamaica made the journey more difficult than it should have been.

While it is still too early to judge Klinsmann's impact on youth development, now would be the ideal time for the German to deliver on consistent play and positive results against tough opponents.

The climax of Klinsmann's U.S. story undoubtedly will be the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, but there is no guarantee the Americans will even qualify.

The Hex, the "rising action: of the novel, looks quite difficult, especially out of the gate. The U.S. squad opens up in San Pedro Sula, which was the most violent city in the world in 2011, according to a study from Mexico's Civic Council on Public Security and Criminal Justice. The clash against a hard-nose Honduras side is just the tip of the iceberg as the U.S. squad will follow it up with a home match against Costa Rica and road tilts in Mexico and Jamaica.

And our protagonist is well aware of potential complications.

"Going into World Cup qualifiers, there are not only the expectations and the pressure that you've got to qualify no matter what," he told U.S. Soccer's official website. "There's also a sense of don't let things slip through your hands, get the job done as early as possible, don't waste any opportunity right from the beginning.

"One of our key messages to the players is to have that sense of urgency to go into Honduras and give them a fight and go for three points. We aren't calculating anything. We want to go in there and start getting points with urgency because that builds more confidence for the next games. This is really important that the players understand that it's not going to be easy. It's World Cup qualifiers and if you want to go to Brazil, be ready for it right away."

The U.S. certainly has the quality to get through the Hex. In fact, it is widely expected. And it is precisely that expectation that makes the Hex the amuse-bouche to the main course of the World Cup. It is the rising action that will transform into the climax in just over one year's time.

Klinsmann is in a position to ultimately act out his own legacy as coach of the U.S. national team. A deep run in the 2014 World Cup will see him instantly reach hero status among American soccer enthusiasts. Get bounced from the opening round or fail to qualify, he'll be cast the villain.

Anything in between and we're most likely looking at a sequel for the 2018 World Cup in Russia.

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