What happened in the USA game against Portugal should come as no surprise to anyone. Tracking their games into this World Cup, the USMNT look like a dragon finally emerging from the egg. The wings are unfurled, the eyes are fierce, and the jaws are full of fire. What the world saw against Portugal was no haphazard, happenstance performance by the USMNT against one of the world’s powerhouse teams. But the very definition of just who the world’s powerhouse teams are seems to be changing.
Speaking in an interview with US Soccer on Monday, USMNT head coach Jurgen Klinsmann said:
“The world champion going home early is huge because they dictated the global stage now for eight years. They were really the number one team wherever you played international football, so having them going home early, having England going home early, says something. There are surprises that come from our region, from CONCACAF. We want to do the next little step that we have to take in order to get there. We always said it’s going to be a tournament full of surprises, full of challenges and it’s proven that way.”
The fact that he refers to moving past Germany to the last 16 as “the next little step” shows a coach who has belief in his team. For all the debate and criticism about just what Klinsmann has been doing with the USMNT team, his players appear to have not only listened but gone out and implemented what was asked of them.
The team’s sudden growth seems at once linear and yet exponentially bigger than the sum of its parts. When you look at the omission of Landon Donovan and the loss through injury of Jozy Altidore it becomes clear that what Klinsmann has built with USMNT is the very definition of a team, one that is not reliant on any single player but rather on the group.
“But it’s a tournament where you have to grow from game to game and you have to raise the bar every game you’re going to play going forward. That’s the key to being in this tournament as long as you can.”
There is also much debate about the South American climate, the heat and humidity favoring certain teams above others, but Brazil has provided a climactic range that included England playing Uruguay in chilly 55 degree weather and still not benefiting from conditions in which they should have felt at home. Even so, Klinsmann saw the necessity to acclimatize his team as much as was possible in the short time available to him.
“We had a very intense preparation at Stanford in the dry climate to get the foundation into their legs. Then we moved over to New York for our send-off game and from there to Florida, so a bit similar to the conditions that we faced in the northeast of Brazil. And now, going into this game in Recife against Germany, with a 1 p.m. kick off, the heat will be there and it will be humid.”
The importance of the World Cup in providing a platform that allows individual players and teams alike to rise to new levels of dominance in the world game cannot be overstated. For all the training, tactics, friendly games, and plotting and planning the new champions emerge from one place: the field of competition in the heat of battle.
“I think this is really important for everyone to see, especially for the players, that we’re getting better and we’re getting stronger with every game that we play. We’re building more and more the stronger foundation. And the players now know what a tournament is about. We experience all the emotions, we experience different circumstances, different stadiums and environments. So it is exciting to see the team grow.”
All quotations are from an interview given to US Soccer