Some of it was down to chance, like Landon Donovan getting a friendly rebound on his first goal, or Michael Bradley’s searing long-range half-volley charting a dead-perfect course into the upper-90 on the second. But most of it was down to design, a blueprint materializing into a visible structure.
Since his July 29, 2011 appointment as U.S. men’s national team head coach, Jurgen Klinsmann seemed capable of talking about little else than “proactive” soccer that pressured high, built out of the back and attacked quickly, fluidly and in numbers. He tailored a grueling fitness regime to it, preached professionalism and coached as hands-on as any national team coach in recent memory. He was frequently spotted sprinting up and down the field during practice – and at times during games too – to encourage and instruct breakaway attacks from up close.
On Saturday, for the first time, his vision turned flesh, the merits of what he had been banging on about and hammering on plain to see. After almost 10 months of mixed results and sometimes dispiriting outings, it all came together. The U.S. had notched an eye-catching 1-0 win over Italy in February. But it never dominated an opponent like it did Scotland, simply demolishing its opponents 5-1.
That it gave up a goal at all was due to poor marking on Kenny Miller in the 15th minute, with the U.S. already up 2-0, when Miller was left free to head back a cross and it ran into the goal off the otherwise solid Geoff Cameron’s chest. That, really, was the only chance Scotland mustered all day – if you could even call it a chance.
That was as much the product of the U.S.’s pressing and pursuit of possession as it was of Scotland’s own failings. The U.S. forced the Scots into simple turnovers all night. And when they coughed it up, the Yanks attacked with pace, precision and authority. They busted forward in great numbers so as to create a tidal wave that made it hard for the Tartan Army to cope.
It was then that the U.S. found big pockets of space between the lines and could settle in for good spells of possession. With nice coverage of the field in a 4-3-3 and a first-rate performance from the midfield trio of Jermaine Jones, Michael Bradley – especially Michael Bradley – and Maurice Edu, the game was so well-played that it will become the paradigm for Klinsmann’s system. It was, in all ways, what his transformation has been about. Negative has become positive.
If the game wasn’t really a victory over a strong opponent, it was nevertheless the victory of an idea. An idea implemented by an ambitious and enthusiastic coach whose vision won’t pander to concerns from detractors, accusing him of lacking realism. He’s right and he knows it. And as of Saturday, we all know it too.