Copa America Centenario
Klinsmann on Colombia Match: "We Have No Fear"
June 02, 2016
SANTA CLARA, Calif.—Jurgen Klinsmann likes to talk about learning curves. He used that expression at least a half-dozen times during Thursday's press conference in the freshly scrubbed concrete bowels of Levi's Stadium.
Bobby Wood had a learning curve a few years back as he struggled to find playing time in Germany's second tier. DeAndre Yedlin had a learning curve when he transferred to Tottenham and was forced to adjust to a higher level of competition. The national team's poor showing in last year's Gold Cup—yep—that was a learning curve too.
The Copa America Centenario, however, isn't about learning. It's not about teaching either. No, this tournament is strictly a report card for Klinsmann, his players, and the entire U.S. men's soccer program.
"This is a big benchmark," Klinsmann readily acknowledged. "We want to see where we are between two World Cups. This is a gift given to us from CONMEMBOL and CONCACAF, and for our team it's just a wonderful opportunity.
"In this specific moment, you want to see where you stand, where you are. For this moment, this is about measuring yourself."
Friday's test will be brutal (9:30pm ET; FS1, UniMas, UDN). With temperatures expected to reach the mid-90s, an American team missing two of its top strikers, Jozy Altidore and Aron Johannson, will square off with a Colombian squad that is currently ranked third in the world and features a fast, technically gifted, battle-tested squad let by Real Madrid star James Rodriguez.
"Are we capable to compete with them, eye to eye? To beat them? And make it far in this tournament? I think we are," Klinsmann said. "I think we have the capability. I think we have the qualities. We have the drive. I know we have the talent. But you've got to prove it. Now you've got to prove it."
Unprompted, Klinsmann added an additional point of emphasis: "The same for the coach as well."
Now in his fifth year at the helm, Klinsmann hasn't always done a great job in the accountability department. He has placed the blame for some losses squarely at the feet of his players, claiming that they lacked fitness or that they cowered against tough competition.
After being called out in the media for throwing his players under the bus on several occasions, Klinsmann has only recently begun to take responsibility for poor results—but these statements often felt a bit insincere. Reporters usually have to corner Klinsmann into acknowledging his failings, and the coach's tone during these exchanges convey irritation rather than contrition: You want me to say it's my fault? Fine. It's my fault. Happy now?
Today, though, Klinsmann's choice of words, and how he uttered them, felt different: "The same for the coach as well."
The ruthless striker who won a World Cup with West Germany in 1990 and a European Championship with a reunited Germany in 1996 seemed to be united, finally, with his players. And he wasn't shy about celebrating their attributes.
"We respect them a lot and they deserve our respect," Klinsmann said of Friday's opponent. "I'm a big admirer of Coach [Jose] Pekerman and we know how fast they can transition from defending into attack. They're very dangerous and score very many goals. We know about their strengths but we also see that they leave a little weaknesses behind as well, so hopefully we can take advantage of that.
"On the other side, we have no fear."
"We have players that can match up with those players. That's a big stage for Michael Bradley. That's a big stage for Clint Dempsey. That's a big stage for Jermaine Jones. That's what they want to play. Now they have the opportunity so go out there and play that stage."
Note the repeated use of "we." Also note the distinctly defiant tone.
"Colombia is a very good team with very good individual players," Klinsmann continued, "but I think so far that during these 10-12 days of preparation we are making progress. We are fine-tuning elements, we are making progress, and we cannot wait to challenge the big names from South America.
"I think we have strong enough, talented enough players to beat Colombia. Yes, we do have that.
"If you ask the Michael Bradleys and Jermaine Jones and Clint Dempseys if they are capable to win [this] game, they will respond to you, 'Yes!'
The Yanks last played Colombia in 2014, jumping out to a 1-0 lead on a 10th-minute Jozy Altidore goal only to concede two second-half goals and ultimately lose 2-1.
"We played them in a wonderful friendly two years ago in London," Klinsmann recalled. "We lost to them in the very last minute with a goal. We were close there. We missed some 100% chances there—Bobby Wood missed one of them. Hopefully that chance comes again and he puts it in. Let's find out."
Wood, along with national team newbies Darlington Nagbe and Christian Pulisic, are expected to be key contributors throughout Copa America Centenario. But Klinsmann rejected the notion that he will make an extra effort to get them onto the pitch with an eye toward the 2018 World Cup.
"They have to fight for their playing time," Klinsmann said. "Nothing is given for free here because you're young. This is Copa America. This is about now. This is not about two years from now when hopefully we qualify for Russia.
"This is now about the best team representing our country in order to get results. This is all about now.
"It's about winning."
John Godfrey is the founder and editor in chief of American Soccer Now.