Jurgen Klinsmann is about six months into his tenure as coach of the U.S. Men's National Soccer Team. His record is now 3-4-1 after Saturday's win over Venezuela in a friendly that featured many of the program's younger players but was lead beautifully by veterans Jermaine Jones and Ricardo Clark. Jones dominated the middle of the field the entire game and Clark, a second half substitute, helped advance the attack and scored the dramatic game-winner in the seventh minute of stoppage time.
The entire match was a study in Klinsmann's moves paying off perfectly starting with his ability to negotiate the return of Jones and Clark from their respective Bundesliga clubs and secure their participation in the January training camp.
"I knew that once he was on the field that he's a play that is technically very gifted and he can play one-touch football," Klinsmann said of Clark.
"That means, we needed to find a way in the second half to move the ball faster, to get faster into their final third, to be a little bit more pushy, to be more getting the ball in the box and be more aggressive. You kind of have to force them to go. We told them at half time to be patient but you have to push it harder. He gives you more speed with his distribution that helps."
It wasn't just the roster moves that worked. Klinsmann pulled the right levers during the game resulting in multiple scoring chances late and culminating in a well-deserved victory.
Klinsmann understood that his team was in complete control of the match despite the 0-0 score and aggressively went for the win by bringing aggressive forward Chris Wondolowski in place of midfielder Benny Fiehaber at the same time Clark came in for midfielder Jeff Larentowicz in the 63rd minute.
"I just wanted to provide some energy coming on to the field and help the team out. That's an ideal way to make an impression. I just hope there's more to come and more to come for the national team," Clark said.
Those moves switched the U.S. formation from a 4-3-2-1 with Fielhaber playing the distributor role so crucial to that formation to a more attack-oriented 4-4-2 which put the dangerous Wondolowski forward into the box. Adding Clark to the midfield at the same time increased the tempo and frequency of the chances which came fast and furious in the final 20 minutes of play.
"We needed to push it further and further up into their box to force this goal," Klinsmann said. "It's good to see that they can play and switch the system right away, that they understand it, what is meant with it. It's just about getting this one goal sooner or later. A bit late, but not too late."
It wasn't that Fielhaber played poorly. He played a beautiful ball through to Brek Shea in the first half that easily could have resulted in a goal, but it was a different role for Benny and one not perfectly suited to his game. The slender Fielhaber admitted that he's not at his best with his back to the goal holding off defenders and making plays.
If forward Juan Agudelo (ankle sprain) had been available, Klinsmann said he would have started and played the 4-4-2 for the entire game. His injury, however, provided a great learning opportunity for the young American group and showed their ability to play multiple formations and adjust on the fly.
Gaolkeeper Bill Hamid made his first international appearance and admitted to having butterflies in the early minutes of the game. It turns out he was barely tested and had no regrets about that.
"No chance," Hamid said, "I'm happy the guys, every single player in front of me played extremely well. Defensively, we were sticking the tackles, cutting out lanes and doing what we needed to do to prevent them from getting chances and it showed. They got no chances on goal. They had one or two crosses, we dealt with them. The only slim thing I needed to do was come out and punch one early in the first half. Other than that, it was all from my feet and that was all I needed to do."
Brek Shea said he had an up and down game. The ball didn't seem to find him very often and his fitness level was not where he wanted it to be thanks in part to a head cold. Here's audio of Brek after the game: Brek Shea postgame audio