Jürgen Klinsmann has had his ugly moments on the road. I once saw him take a 50-lira coin on the head at Atalanta, while he was playing for Inter, around 1989 or 1990.
Those things were nearly an inch in diameter and weighed two ounces, and a few of them in your pocket could slow you down. The coin that clanged off his head undoubtedly felt like a manhole cover.
Klinsi returned with a mesh wrap over the bloody bandage, and staggered to the end of the match. Welcome to the road.
Now Klinsmann is coaching the United States in its quadrennial adventure in the Concacaf region, which is nothing like what he experienced on the road with the West German and German national teams.
The mood swings of the U.S. team were evident in the last week when the U.S. lost in Jamaica, 2-1, and then beat Jamaica four days later in Columbus, Ohio, winning by a 1-0 score after overwhelming Jamaica in the first half.
It was obvious from watching Wednesday’s match that U.S. is not the same squad without Landon Donovan and Michael Bradley, who were injured for both matches. The rare home-and-home format is an inequity in the qualifying round because it penalizes a team twice if its star player, or players, cannot make it against a formidable opponent. Although, in Concacaf, all road games are formidable.
The U.S. survived at home without the practiced explosiveness of Donovan and the intense control of Bradley at midfield.
The highlight of the match was Clint Dempsey’s rubbery face as he taunted the Jamaican players, twisting his features into more expressions in a few seconds than an old Vaudeville comic could do. Check out the video at:
I must admit, I had never heard of Graham Zusi, who replaced Bradley on Wednesday and took command. Turns out he is a stalwart with Sporting Kansas City. It is impressive that Major League Soccer can send a home-grown player right into the starting lineup of a must-win qualifying match. The league continues to grow and play a role in the development of U.S. soccer.
Now the U.S. must play at Antigua and Barbuda on Oct. 12 – Columbus Day; supply your own jokes – and then play host to Guatemala on Oct. 16. Klinsmann is no fool. He is learning what Bruce Arena and Bob Bradley knew from experience in the American program – take nothing for granted in Concacaf.
The mood swings from road to home matches are a reminder that U.S. soccer is very much a work in progress. The mood against Antigua and Barbuda will not be as hostile as the receptions in Mexico or Guatemala or Costa Rica, where the fans are intense and some of the calls mysterious and strange objects fly out of the stands, although not necessarily those old 50-lira coins.
David Vecsey's sweet tale of distant love before the Web, now NYT Podcast, narrated by Griffin Dunne. Please see:
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