When Head Coach Bob Bradley was let go after the 2011 Gold Cup, Jurgen Klinsmann quickly replaced him as Head Coach, beginning a new era for a team that was clearly on the rise.
The former German national team player won the 1990 World Cup and coached Germany to a third-place finish in the 2006 World Cup. Needless to say, he had a solid background in the world of soccer.
However, the Klinsmann era got off to a rocky start. Landon Donovan, the player who is widely considered to be the greatest American soccer player ever, began a hiatus from both the national team and from his club team, the Los Angeles Galaxy, as team USA went on to lose four of its first six games.
All of a sudden, things started to click. Klinsmann made good decision after good decision as his team went on a historic run of 12 straight wins, the seventh-longest winning streak in the history of international soccer and the longest in the world at the time. The streak included wins over No. 2 Germany, a near-perfect showing in the Gold Cup and a 2-0 comeback against Bosnia-Herzegovina on the road.
The win-streak established Klinsmann as the right man to lead team USA into the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, but his leadership was once against questioned when he cut Donovan from the World Cup roster.
For thousands of fans, including myself, this move was difficult to understand and even harder to swallow. Not only does Donovan have the most goals and assists in the U.S. men’s national team’s history, but he was widely believed to still be the team’s best player at the age of 32. He won the Golden Ball in the Gold Cup, awarded to the tournament’s best player, and was valuable as an experienced leader having already played in three World Cups. This didn’t matter to Klinsmann, though, who claimed that the United States loves to reward its players for what they have done rather than rewarding them for how good they are now.
Soon after, in what was apparently an attempt to motivate his team, Klinsmann claimed that there was not a “realistic chance” for Team USA to win the World Cup. The team had already been placed in this year’s “Group of Death,” put up against No. 2 Germany, No. 4 Portugal and its World Cup nemesis, Ghana.
If these moves leading up to Brazil proved to be the wrong ones, Klinsmann would be the one to blame for a wasted World Cup.
Now, with two games already having been played in Brazil, people all around the world are shocked once more by the brilliant decisions that Klinsmann has made.
Forward Clint Dempsey got the United States off to an incredible start in its first match against Ghana by scoring a goal in the first minute of the game. Alejandro Bedoya performed well as he filled Donovan’s shoes on the right side.
However, an injury to center back Matt Besler prompted Klinsmann to substitute young defender John Brooks in his place. As the second half began, I had one question going through my mind, the same question thatI’m sure thousands of other Americans had: “Who the hell is John Brooks?”
In the 86th minute with the game tied at 1-1, the 21-year old German-American scored the game-winning goal off of a corner kick from teammate Graham Zusi. Now every fan who watched that game will remember the name John Brooks for the rest of their lives thanks to the decision by Klinsmann to put him on the pitch.
More tough choices had to be made in the second group-stage match against Portugal with Altidore still out of the lineup and more injuries happening all over the place. Bedoya did not have the same performance he had in the team’s first match and was soon replaced by 20-year old DeAndre Yedlin.
This was another questionable move that proved all of Klinsmann’s doubters wrong, as Yedlin came in with an immediate impact. In the 81st minute, he made a run to the end-line that led to Dempsey’s second goal against Portugal and a 2-1 lead for the US.
A win or draw in its final group-stage match against Germany will have the USA through to the next round, but a loss by multiple goals could have them shockingly eliminated. Klinsmann, who obviously has a very intimate history with Germany, may have to pull another rabbit out of his hat to give team USA its most incredible World Cup group stage result ever.
Can he do it again? Let’s hope so.
A version of this article appeared in June 24, 2014’s print edition of the Daily Nexus.