This World Cup ended the same way as the last one for the US: a hard-fought defeat in the Round of 16. Many pundits observed this fact and noted the defensive style the US used for most of the tournament. Strangely, some pundits have used these observations to criticize Jurgen Klinsmann, claiming that he didn’t provide the kind of attacking soccer that he promised when he took over from Bob Bradley. These people couldn’t be more off base.
Klinsmann made just two mistakes the entire tournament: first, he put Chris Wondolowski in the squad. Second, he used him. Wondo is a fantastic MLS player, and he excels at getting into dangerous spaces without the ball. But he lacks the physical tools and the finishing touch to succeed on the international level, as he showed by missing a sitter against Belgium, bringing back memories of his miss in the 2011 Gold Cup. The US would have been better off with Terrence Boyd, who would have been an ideal backup for Jozy Altidore as the two share similar skill sets, or Juan Agudelo, who would have brought pace and creativity to the side. The inclusion of Agudelo also would have helped the young American’s club career; his lack of international appearances prevented him from gaining a work permit, and ultimately led to his release.
But enough criticism. Klinsmann was one of the best managers in the tournament. The controversial inclusions in the final squad–chiefly DeAndre Yedlin, Julian Green, and John Brooks –paid off wonderfully. He used his substitutes to perfection. And most importantly, he got the US out of a group in which no one gave them a chance. This accomplishment can’t go overlooked. And to those who claim that the US only advanced by playing defensively, I would suggest that they go back and rewatch the Portugal game. For almost an entire game, the US outpassed, outpossessed, outshot, and outplayed a team that entered the tournament ranked fourth in the world. And of course, the US did this while the team’s most creative player, Clint Dempsey, was forced to play as a lone striker due to an injury to Altidore. Even if the US didn’t play like that for the entire tournament, the fact that they played like that at all against a top team should be considered a success. And with quite a few bright young prospects (looking at you Gedion Zelalem) potentially ready to make an impact in the next cycle, it won’t be long before American fans will be seeing more performances like the one against Portugal.