Lessons from U.S. qualifiers
Jurgen Klinsmann celebrates the anniversary of his hiring as U.S. coach on July 29, yet it's safe to say we've learned more about the direction of the national team under the German legend during the past four weeks than in his previous 10 months at the helm. Not that we've figured Klinsmann out, of course. Far from it. Because, as we noted after the Americans settled for a 1-1 draw in Guatemala on Tuesday night in their second World Cup qualifying match of the 2014 cycle, the most predictable thing about Klinsmann is his unpredictability.
Still, after following the team around the region and watching five games over the past 18 days (and visiting training camp in Florida before that), we've seen certain themes begin to emerge. Will the bullet points below continue to be significant in the second year of Klinsmann's tenure? That we don't know. As he likes to remind us, everything that happens on the road to Brazil "is a process."
But to find clues about where the program might be headed over the next two years, let's start by examining where it's been over the past month.
When the latest U.S. roster was announced last month, the most surprising omission was Brek Shea, who started in eight of Klinsmann's first 10 games in charge. The most indefensible snub, though, was Eric Lichaj, the tenacious Aston Villa left back who emerged as a starter for the U.S. during the 2011 Gold Cup. The decision to pick unproven Edgar Castillo over Lichaj nearly came back to bite the U.S. when Castillo and starter Fabian Johnson went down with injuries before the qualifying opener.