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Direct from Prague

Jurgen Klinsmann: "We Should Have Gone Further"

Between training sessions for Wednesday's friendly against the Czech Republic, the U.S. men's national team coach discussed his frustration with his club's performance in the 2014 World Cup.
BY Brian Sciaretta Posted
September 02, 2014
11:32 AM
PRAGUE—The United States national team will begin the new cycle on Wednesday when it takes on the Czech Republic (2:15 p.m. ET; NBCSN, UniMas) and for head coach Jurgen Klinsmann it will be the first opportunity to focus on the lessons learned during this summer's World Cup in Brazil.

Back in July the German coach hinted at his team's lack of initiative following the loss to Belgium in the Round of 16, but on Tuesday in Prague he opened up in more detail about that.

"You kind of leave the place with, 'It was a good performance, it was thrilling games, but shit—we should have gone even further,'" Klinsmann said. "There is still that learning curve. We want to become this more proactive team and go eye-to-eye and take it to the opponents no matter what their big name is. I had the feeling that we could have done that."

What most stood out for Klinsmann was the fact that his team in Brazil played too conservatively, dropped too deep, and had too much respect for its opponents. As a result, the U.S. was out-possessed for most of its games, save maybe for a long stretch in the second half against Portugal.

Klinsmann lamented the fact that, particularly with the Belgium game, the team only came to life once Belgium pulled ahead in stoppage time—a juncture in which the Americans made it close with a Julian Green goal but eventually fell 2-1.

"You analyze it again," Klinsmann said. "You watch the games again, you say, 'OK, I think we should have done even better if a couple of more pieces fell into place.' Individually and overall the confidence level to say, 'Why not [go] at Belgium and why [not] putting them under pressure? Why suddenly again dropping?'"

The key challenge for Klinsmann, he insists, will be to transform the mentality of the players—who he believes have the quality to play more aggressive soccer.

"This is a mental, psychological transition we have to go through to get that confidence and that attitude to say, 'We start that way from the first minute and not when we're a goal down."

"I think in general the Belgium game we dropped too deep. The forward line through midfield was not good enough to help the whole defense—giving [Belgium] far too many chances. Your defense always starts with your front line. So we were not able to do that."

"Germany, I said right after that game, there was too much respect for whatever reason. We played them a year before and we high pressured them. Yes, it was not exactly the same team but from a principle, you could have done the same thing. Our intention was to go and get their backline under pressure and not let them build up and play easily from the midfield."

But it didn't play out that way in Brazil, as Klinsmann replayed the emotions from that June 26 match in Recife.

"No. What are we doing? We're dropping back again. It's Germany, we're screaming, 'No! Go, go, go!'"

Klinsmann disagrees with the notion the U.S. is able play better when trailing because opponents play conservatively when ahead. When asked about this, Klinsmann is quick to respond: "I don't think so, not necessarily."

He then added: "I don't think a team like Germany goes up a goal and all of a sudden they drop and wait for it."

Klinsmann is also adamant that the U.S. has the quality to possess and attack more than the team actually believes, which leads him leading him to the conclusion that the team.

"Quality-wise, if you look at our midfield: Michael Bradley, Jermaine Jones—they know how to keep the ball, they know how to make it flow," Klinsmann said. "I think it's just this mindset still that maybe we like to see ourselves in the American picture still as an outsider and we have to first get hurt and we then react."

Moving forward changing this mental approach will be a top priority for Klinsmann and he addressed the issue with his players in his very first team meeting in Prague. With such a young roster, Klinsmann is eager to have an increased influence with players such as Emerson Hyndman, Rubio Rubin, annd Jordan Morris who are just now getting integrated into the team. Klinsmann acknowledged that this process will take time but it could pay huge dividends in helping the U.S. compete against powerful opponents down the road.

"This is something that I would like to see getting changed over the next couple of years," Klinsmann said. "I said this yesterday in my opening talk to the players. I said, 'I want you to become more confident and take the game to an opponent and not just react to things.'

"This is, I think, a process. The earlier we start that process and the younger many of the players are and that that into their system, and into their heads, maybe there is a little bit of a chance to do that."

"It's not going to happen overnight, we always said that," he continued. "I think we did some big strides over the last couple of years with certain results in games we played. We see their step forward. But I just had the approach after the Belgium I was disappointed in the way that you get out of the Group of Death, and if you get out of the group, you can actually make it far.

"That was my approach and that is what I told the players—that if you get out of that group, you can get anywhere. You can go far. Then it's 'Boom!"

Brian Sciaretta is an American Soccer Now columnist and an ASN 100 panelist. Follow him on Twitter.

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