There's almost always a change or two that catches the masses off guard. In fact, he almost never uses the same 11 twice. So when the U.S. coach kept matters predictable for the first two games of this World Cup, the lack of shocks was surprising in itself.
That changed Thursday. With the Americans playing for their World Cup lives against Germany, Klinsmann handed out-of-favor center back Omar Gonzalez his first start of the tournament. While the USA fell 1-0 to powerhouse Germany, the narrow defeat allowed the Americans to advance on goal differential, thanks to Portugal's 2-1 win over Ghana.
After starting eight matches for the USA during the final phase of qualifying, Gonzalez figured to see a lot of minutes in this World Cup. But a handful of high-profile errors, along with a minor knee injury last month, saw the 6-foot-5 defender lose his starting spot to Geoff Cameron. In a cameo as a late defensive reinforcement against Portugal, Gonzalez was then nowhere to be found when the USA conceded the 95th-minute equalizer.
So plenty of eyebrows were raised when Gonzalez got the nod alongside Besler against Germany, with Cameron giving way after his own struggles against Portugal. A botched clearance from Gonzalez early on did little to settle the nerves of American fans.
Gonzalez then settled into the game. His last-gasp slide tackle on Thomas Muller in the 15th minute was key. So was his 47th-minute header to deny Mesut Ozil. Although a Muller goal gave Germany the win, the USA could have found itself in trouble on goal differential if Gonzalez hadn't helped maintain the slim deficit.
Gonzalez ended the match with 10 clearances — more than twice as many as any other U.S. player. His five recoveries also led American field players, and his five duels won only trailed Jermaine Jones' 10.
After that performance, it's difficult to imagine Klinsmann returning Gonzalez to the bench for the round of 16. His combination of anticipation and aerial prowess could be critical against likely opponent Belgium, which attacks with plenty of size in the box.
As many had once expected, the 25-year-old is officially a World Cup starter. It just took a little longer than anticipated.