TAMPA, Fla. -- Almost a year ago, Jurgen Klinsmann became the head coach of the United States national team, promising to elevate the country to new levels. With World Cup qualifying starting Friday against Antigua & Barbuda, it's time to see how far the team has come over the past few months.
"Well I'm looking forward to it," said Klinsmann. "I enjoy the games when it's for points."
The U.S. is expected to beat Antigua & Barbuda by a heavy margin, but it won't be easy. Weather conditions in Tampa have been a mixture of heavy rain and occasional thunder, leading to concerns about the pitch at Raymond James stadium. A choppy field could hinder the U.S. ball movement. There's also a chance that the team might be complacent considering the stature of their opponents, yet Klinsmann isn't willing to hear any excuses.
"When you play a World Cup qualifier, you can't underestimate anyone," he insisted. "If that would be the case, a player having the wrong approach, I'll pull him after five minutes."
Over the past year, there have been significant changes under the former Germany boss. Though the team still employs two holding midfielders, Klinsmann has shifted the U.S. frontline around to focus on ball movement and creating chances. He has utilized Clint Dempsey in a free role behind the striker, allowing the Fulham star to freelance between trying to score and creating chances.
Though the 4-2-3-1 formation that Klinsmann has used has yielded mixed results, the U.S. impressed with wins over Slovenia, Italy and Scotland. The team has also seen the emergence of several young players including Brek Shea, Juan Agudelo, Joe Corona, Jose Torres and Terrance Boyd, who should factor in during the road to World Cup qualification. Klinsmann was quick to praise what he's seen from Boyd and Corona during camp.
"Terrance isn't afraid of anyone. You see that in practice against Oguchi [Onyewu]," he said. "These four weeks, you see why a player is here, even if he isn't getting the minutes. Joe Corona - first time with team, nervous not knowing what his spot is - the way he's been able to integrate himself with the team and become a part of the group is wonderful. There is some talent coming through."
Antigua & Barbuda is expected to compact its defense, which might give the U.S. some troubles. "They are going to make it difficult for us, but we have to play fast and keep the ball moving. Have a high tempo."
Klinsmann remains quietly confident.
"It's not my first World Cup campaign," Klinsmann was quick to point out.
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