A national soccer team should represent the traits of its people, Jurgen Klinsmann claimed when he was appointed U.S. coach roughly a year ago. And Americans are a proactive people, he continued.
That fit in nicely with talk of how the scorer of 47 international goals for Germany liked attacking, attractive soccer.
Thus far, it hasn't shown.
On Wednesday, Klinsmann achieved what no other U.S. national teach coach has in 75 years of futile attempts – he won in Azteca. It was historic. It was a game changer. But it was also decidedly Bob Bradley-esque. Hell, it was even a little in the mold of Bora Milutinovic.
The 1-0 win came with the U.S. bunkering down, holding barely a third of possession. It was scrappy. It was opportunistic. The Yanks didn't win a corner.
"They controlled the second half," goalkeeper Tim Howard said. "The first half was a bit of a punch-counterpunch type thing. The second half they controlled the tempo."
Howard led the U.S. team with 46 touches, according to ESPN. Seven Mexican players saw more of the ball. The Americans strung together a measly 30 passes in the attacking third. El Tri had well over four times as many passes in the attacking zone.
"When you analyze a game you find many many things you want to improve and see better," Klinsmann said. "In the first half we had big problems to keep the ball."
The German's other defining moment with the United States came in similar style, a gritty 1-0 win over Italy in Genoa.
"Can you play better? Yes. Can you play technically cleaner? Yes," Klinsmann said. "But I think these kind of moments ... and moments like in February winning in Italy are really important."
Coming in to replace Bradley after the 2011 Gold Cup loss to Mexico, Klinsmann has spent the first year forming his team in relatively pressure-free friendlies. He has chosen impressively difficult opponents, including Brazil and France, as well as Italy and Mexico. And following a slow start (four losses in his first six games), form has picked up considerably. Aside from the friendly against Brazil, the USA hasn't lost in 2012.
The latest triumph will mark Aug. 15, 2012, in the history books of the fierce U.S.-Mexico rivalry.
"When you're on the field you sense certain things, that even the Mexican side had that feeling that those Americans are tough to beat today," Klinsmann said.
The thing is, Bob Bradley might have said something similar about Spain in 2009. A stodgy defensive performance led the United States to a Confederations Cup semifinal triumph against the team that would go on to win a World Cup and another European Championship.
Klinsmann was supposed to lead the U.S. out of its reliance on counterattacking and white-knuckle hanging-on. Thus far, he hasn't.
Did we see his preferred style on Wednesday? "No," he answered quickly. The 48-year-old estimated that we won't see a style mature until between the 2014 and 2018 World Cups, and even then it would morph and evolve based on the players' attributes.
Bradley might argue that his empty-bucket 4-4-2 formation squeezed the best out of a player pool nowhere near as deep as the top countries'. Klinsmann's tactics against stern opposition tacitly support that view.
"Our wish is keep the ball longer. Our wish is combine a certain way longer and better than we did tonight," Klinsmann said.
Winning on Mexican grass is historic, but it's perhaps years away from a proactive U.S. team. For now, expect to see more gritty, counterattacking displays against the better teams in the world.
"We want to get close to the top 10, top 12 nations in the world," Klinsmann said. "We know we're not there yet."
Brent Latham contribued reporting from Mexico City
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