Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Klinsmann Era Gets Underway

Jurgen Klinsmann will begin his USMNT coaching career with a game against Mexico tonight in Philadelphia.

While the result won't mean a whole heck of a lot, some (many?) fans and media are taking this game rather seriously. Of course, it's a game no US supporter wants to lose. It doesn't matter if it's a friendly, a qualifier, a game on FIFA 11.... probably no US fan wants to lose to Mexico under any circumstances.

Before I get into the heart of this post, I think that sometimes it's necessary to go back in order to move forward. A bad loss here may not necessarily mean the ship is sinking or that the US is really in a tailspin. In fact, I wrote a story about the virtue of patience, at least Bruce Arena is preaching patience.

Anyway, it's perhaps interesting to look at how Arena progressed while looking at his matches against Mexico and the idea of patience. Remember, when Arena took over in 1998, the US team was in shambles after a terrible showing at the World Cup in France, highlighted (or perhaps low-lighted?) by player bickering and a bit of a revolt against then-coach Steve Sampson.

Arena was perhaps then under no immediate pressure - at least not more than usual - and had time to build the squad. There was patience.

His first match against Mexico went badly. Mexico beat the U.S. by 2-1 in San Diego at the USA Cup 99 in March of that year. In August, the US lost to Mexico in Estadio Azteca by 1-0 in extra time in a Confederations Cup semifinal (to this day, I will argue that that was the best chance the US has had of beating Mexico in Azteca, but we'll save that debate for another day).

Things started to slowly change in the United States' fortunes after that. A makeshift Mexico squad lost by 3-0 in USA Cup 2000 in June of that year. But in October, the tide really shifted towards the US in the border skirmish rivalry. Landon Donovan debuted with a goal in a US win over Mexico, by 2-0 in October at the LA Coliseum.

In February 2001, the US beat Mexico by 2-0 in a World Cup qualifier but lost to El Tri in Azteca in July by 1-0. A 1-0 friendly win in Denver preceded a World Cup Round of 16 matchup in 2002, won by the US and helping the squad reach the quarterfinals of the World Cup.

Patience then saw Arena guide the team not only to repeated success against Mexico but more importantly to the deepest stage the US had reached in the World Cup since 1930.

It took some early losses and early setbacks against Mexico but to help propel the US forward. And the Klinsmann era might also start with some setbacks against Mexico. Or it could be like Bob Bradley's first match against Mexico, a surprising (or was it?) 2-0 win over Mexico in Arizona in February 2007.

Either way, Klinsmann will get tossed into the fray with the United States' biggest regional rival. It's a measuring stick that will let Klinsmann know right away where the US stands on several levels.

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