Mexico City: Just a week ago, serious questions were being asked about whether Juergen Klinsmann was the right man to lead the United States to the World Cup finals next year in Brazil. But after following up Friday's 1-0 win over Costa Rica in snowy Denver with Tuesday's second ever draw for the U.S. at Mexico's Azteca Stadium in a qualifier, Klinsmann has answered many of the doubters.
"We're on the right track here," the U.S. coach told reporters after Tuesday's 0-0 draw. A goalless draw with Mexico changes little in terms of the positions in the CONCACAF qualifying group but it was a significant result for a team which had been badly weakened by injuries. "We had so many challenges over the last 10 days in terms of injuries, in terms of players not available," Klinsmann said.
"After the Costa Rica game they were completely exhausted from playing in the snow blizzard. Then we had another two players out. "So this group has shown they are ready for those challenges and they deserve a huge compliment." For the two March qualifiers Klinsmann was without, due to injuries, first-choice goalkeeper Tim Howard, full-backs Steve Cherundolo, Fabian Johnson and Timmy Chandler, midfielders Jose Torres and Danny Williams.
The German coach was also unable to call on Landon Donovan, the U.S's all-time top scorer who is just about to return to club soccer after an extended break and his captain Carlos Bocanegra was left out due to a lack of games at club level. On top of those key absences, Klinsmann and his team had to handle the fall-out from an article which cited anonymous sources within the squad as expressing a lack of confidence in the former German national team boss.
Combined, the injuries and the tension could have become an excuse or even led to disharmony among the players but the response in two testing encounters was two determined and confident displays. "This is still a team that over the years has shown that when big moments come, when the spotlight comes on brightest that's something we relish," midfielder Michael Bradley said.
"Last week the build-up to Costa Rica ... things go on, on the outside of the team, that try to disrupt the inside of the team. "I felt every guy did a really good job of maintaining a strong focus," he added. "We still have lot of things to improve on but when you look at the mentality of the team and what it look likes when we step on the field I think there is still a lot to be proud of." Klinsmann had been accused of tactical naivety by his anonymous critics but at the Azteca he set his team up well, adjusted when necessary and found the right way to grind out a result.
He also noted that the excellent performances of young central defenders Omar Gonzalez and Matt Besler owed much to the time they had spent as part of Klinsmann's off-season January camp for MLS players. The German cannot have been happy at the snipes taken at him but he has carefully avoided attacking the media or over-reacting to the news that some in his squad may not be fully in tune with him.
But the former Tottenham, Inter Milan and Bayern Munich forward has concealed any internal annoyance and instead talked of the debate being a sign of the game's growing importance in the country. "We're pleased there's so much discussion, so much debate out there. Because it shows you again that you can't stop soccer in the United States anymore," he said. "It is a big-time part of society now and there are millions who watch and follow the game."