Klinsmann Aims To Win Hearts, Minds, and a "Trophy"
Following a 4-1 dismantling at home, a limp fourth-place finish in this summer's Gold Cup, and Landon Donovan's claim that he should be fired for a failure to win tomorrow, Jürgen Klinsmann's goals for the CONCACAF Cup have nothing to do with saving his own job. Instead, he's focused on convincing El Tri fans to abandon their loyalties:
"We have a lot of guests coming in that live here, but maybe wear the green jersey first. And hopefully by the end of the game they pull their jersey off and have the red white and blue underneath that. This is our goal: we want to win over our Mexican friends."
Speaking at a press conference the day before a monumentally-hyped matchup with archrival Mexico, the US manager told the assembled media, "It's going to be interesting to see how many fans will cheer for the US tomorrow night, and how big the presence will be from the Mexican fans. But I think you will see definitely a shift. You can't compare to four years ago here at the Gold Cup final...[the split of fans] was probably 90 to 10...the Mexican support [is] very divided. So we'll try to get them over to our end as well."
Whether or not any dual-nationals may be wooed, Klinsmann also wants to get his own support on-side: "I think we will have a huge, huge support tomorrow night. And then it depends on how the game goes. You have to win your fans over, you have to play well, you have to excite them, and hopefully once you get that feeling across to the crowd then special things can happen."
Asked whether the atmosphere would be hostile despite the nominal home game, star forward Clint Dempsey said, "I dont know. It's always pretty exciting just playing in front of the number of fans who go to those types of games. It's what you dream about growing up as a kid."
While some may doubt the value of a Confederations Cup berth, everyone around the program continually used the word "final" to refer to the atmosphere and the stakes associated with the match. In Klinsmann's words, "There's a trophy on the line." In Dempsey's, "For us, it's an opportunity to win a final."
As a final with a trophy on the line in the iconic Rose Bowl, it's nearly impossible to avoid the comparison to the 2011 Gold Cup Final in the same venue that ended up a humbling 4-2 loss for the hosts and represented the end of Bob Bradley's career as National Team coach. For current players, like Jermaine Jones, however, the comparison never comes up: "You know, it's funny that everybody talks about it, but it's done. They got the cup that time, but this is a different game"
Regardless, the pressure of the moment is palpable. And the stove only got hotter with Donovan's comments. Discussing the pressure in general, Klinsmann said "you can define pressure the way you feel...for me, it is exciting. Every opportunity that you can have games where there is a lot on the line [that's] what you're living for."
"Expectations are high. Thankfully expectations are high. It shows you again the growth of the game in the country that more and more people talk about it and express their expectations."
Responding to Landon explicitly, Klinsmann smiled and said, "it's no problem at all for me if people express their feelings. I had over my career over 20 coaches...and there was never a perfect one."
However, while on the subject of expressing opinions, he couldn't resist a light-hearted dig at his detractors: "Everybody probably would [propose] a different lineup tomorrow night. A lot of experts give out their own lineups, and it seems like they know the team better than when we train."
Klinsmann also confirmed that midfielder Alejandro Bedoya, who missed the previous two practices with an illness, would be replaced on the roster by Bobby Wood. "it's a bummer for Ale because he was burning for this game," said Klinsmann.
Klinsmann also announced Michale Bradley as his captain for the match, calling the 28-year-old "caring" and "energetic," and lauding the deep stable of players with over 100 caps to choose from including Bradley, Dempsey, Beasley, and Howard.
Bradley, speaking afterwards, said, "These are special games. It's always important to take a moment in weeks like this and take it all in. There will come a day when I'm not playing anymore, and [I'll] miss this. It's something we don't take lightly, to represent the national team, to play in games like this. I think you'll see 11 guys and a bunch more on the bench tomorrow whose performance shows that in every way."