Jürgen Klinsmann is a pragmatist, not an egotist. He built this American soccer team on the needs of a three-match first round, which demands endurance and strength and youth.
When Klinsmann left Landon Donovan off the squad going to Brazil, it was no act of domination, showing who was boss. I thought he was wrong, and still do, because, as a lot of people have said, sometime in this first round the USA just might need somebody to bust a goal, late.
Then again, they did that Monday in the steam bath of Natal, and it came from one of the five German-Americans, players with two passports, Klinsmann recruited to this team. John Brooks, 21 years old, with a father from Illinois and a mother from Berlin, inserted at halftime because of injury, popped in a header in the 86th minute for a 2-1 victory over Ghana.
This would not have been Donovan’s kind of game. But the next one against Portugal, or the one after that against Germany, might be the place where a wise, fleet attacker could pull out a draw, or a victory, to get the Americans into the round of 16, now a possibility.
When the Donovan debate was going on – and maybe it still is, since I am bringing it up here – I never could summon up any vitriol toward Klinsmann’s impact on this team. His credentials are too good. He was a fast and wily forward who scored World Cup goals, won a World Cup as a player and coached a third-place German team in 2006. “He knows stuff,” I told people. “He is no fool. He may think Donovan is soft, or past it. I think he’s wrong. But he’s a good coach.”
The USA has had other good coaches. Bruce Arena coached two of the best matches the USA has ever played, over Mexico and a bitter loss to Germany in 2002. (Klinsmann, uninvolved, thought the USA outplayed his homeland.) Bob Bradley had a team that scored a desperation goal against Algeria in 2010 -- yes, the Donovan goal. Now Klinsmann has done something neither of them did. He has beaten Ghana in the World Cup.
The Portugal match? They have injuries and a red card absence by the hot-headed Pepe. Klinsmann will put together a team for Sunday. He knows what he is doing. Now it is time for the players to recuperate. And us.
“They may hate the cultural context they now find themselves teaching in, but they love their work. The Achilles’ heel of schoolteachers, one all too easily exploited by politicians, is that they love their students.”
(One of the best reads in the NYT these days is Margaret Renkl, in Nashville. In her latest post, Renkl describes the dedicated core of “born teachers” – the majority, she submits.)
(From Madeleine Albright in one of her final interviews in February):
“Putin is small and pale,” I wrote, “so cold as to be almost reptilian.” He claimed to understand why the Berlin Wall had to fall but had not expected the whole Soviet Union to collapse. “Putin is embarrassed by what happened to his country and determined to restore its greatness.” – Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, recalling her first meeting with the relatively unknown Vladimir Putin in 2000. – The New York Times, Feb. 23, 2022.