When Jurgen Klinsmann was hired as the United States manager, he promised to build a team that would be “proactive.”
That team has yet to appear in under the German’s reign and some have begun to wonder if he’ll ever be able to deliver. But the Americans’ Copa America Centenario opener may have been a turning point for Klinsmann and the U.S. because he did everything he could to make good on that promise.
The U.S. were hyper aggressive, won the possession battle and tried to take the game to Colombia. They were unmistakably proactive.
DeAndre Yedlin and Fabian Johnson spent most of the match flying forward. There were times when the duo were further up the pitch than any other Americans, and it wasn’t rare for seven U.S. players to be attacking the Colombia goal. All the while, the U.S. kept the ball. They had more than 60 percent of the possession in the first half and finished with more of the ball than Colombia.
It was all by design. That is how Klinsmann wanted the team to play.
Unfortunately for Klinsmann and the U.S., the end product was lacking. For all of the time the Americans spent on the ball, they struggled to generate chances. They were narrow and rarely found space. Bobby Wood looked lost on the wing and nobody was able to be a dynamic passer through the center.
The U.S. attack was anemic. Part of that was due to Colombia’s defense, which was strong to begin with and only got tougher when they went 2-0 up, allowing them to drop numbers behind the ball. But there is no doubt that the Americans had their own issues independent of the defense they were facing.
Toss in set pieces and one bad stretch, from Michael Bradley’s giveaway to DeAndre Yedlin’s handball, and you have the makings for the American loss.
There were encouraging signs, though. The defense, which was asked to press repeatedly and play high up the pitch, was generally good. If it wasn’t for set pieces, the story of the match may be how good the back line was. They stepped up and pressured Colombia’s forwards and often made them turn any potential threats into passes backwards that allowed the Americans to get numbers behind the ball.
“For the most part, I thought we did really well,” Brad Guzan said after the match. “The guys in front of me they put in absolutely great shifts in. At the end of the day it’s two set piece goals.”
Considering that defensive fragility is the biggest concern with the aggressive nature of the Americans’ play, that they were generally sound is nothing to sneeze at. That’s especially true with a back line that hasn’t played together a ton and only figures to get better with time.
That could be on Tuesday when the U.S. take on Costa Rica. Then, they won’t just have one more match under their belts, they will also be playing a team that doesn’t present quite the same challenge that Colombia did.
From the start, the Americans can open things up and play on the flanks more now that they’re past Colombia.
“We knew they were dangerous on the wing so we tried to shut that down,” Yedlin explained. “We tried to utilize our guys in the middle.”
They won’t have to be nearly as narrow against Costa Rica, a team that can certainly challenge the U.S., but can’t touch the dynamic wing play of Colombia.
Without having to worry about Colombia beating them outside, the U.S. can stretch the field horizontally with the ball. With that extra space, the Americans might find the opportunities to create chances from all that possession they had against Colombia.
There was no head hanging from the Americans after their loss. While they lamented their failures and pledged to get better, they saw signs of progress. They saw that proactive play. They saw a good defense. They saw a way forward.
“I think we’re playing better football than we have in a long time,” said Geoff Cameron. “We showed our strength, showed our creative side.”
That creativity may need some work, but there’s no doubt that the Americans edged closer to what Klinsmann wants them to be. Not just against Colombia, but in the friendlies leading up to Copa America Centenario. There are clear steps. Now it’s about turning those steps into a finished product in their next two matches, because there’s no reason for the Americans to panic right now.
The U.S. knew they would need a terrific performance to beat a good Colombia team. But they also knew that they didn’t need a result against Los Cafeteros to get out of their group. Their advancement was going to hinge on their showings against Costa Rica and Paraguay, which are still to come.
It remains to be seen if the style the Americans played with on Friday will make a return on Tuesday. Consistent approaches hasn’t exactly been a hallmark of the Klinsmann regime. And they still have plenty to sort out going forward, but if they can sort out their issues of space and creativity and replicate their defense from the run of play, the Americans should find themselves in the quarterfinals. Then Klinsmann will not just be able to point to results, but he’ll be able to say that they did it his way â “proactive.”