A little too relieved?

Goalkeeper Tim Howard and midfielder Fabian Johnson celebrate the Americans' crucial home win against Jamaica. Photo courtesy of mlssoccer.com

There was a palpable sense of relief in the upper level of Jack Demsey’s Pub after the US men’s national team’s 1-0 win over Jamaica.  Those who had been concerned before kickoff now claimed they were never that worried, while fans who were too nervous to admit any anxiety before the game threw back celebratory shots and basked in the warmth of victory.

Yes, the US was back where it should be: in the driver’s seat of their World Cup qualification group, if ever so slightly.  But through the toasts and cheers there was still one question from before the game that remained unanswered.

How did we get to this point?

CONCACAF qualifying is notoriously messy.  Terrible fields, questionable refereeing and overtly hostile crowds make for unpredictable road trips in which the guiding philosophy has long been to get out with what you can and make sure you win at home.

But the sort of nail biting US fans had been doing since last Friday’s loss in Kingston is usually reserved for the Hex, the final round of qualifying when the US is forced to slug it out with the other big boys in the region.  Yes, the US lost away games in the same round of the last qualifying cycle, but only after safe passage to the next round was guaranteed.

Scrutiny has fallen squarely on the shoulders of Jurgen Klinsmann, the supposed savior of US soccer who has led the Yanks to several high-profile friendly results, including the first ever wins in Mexico and Italy, but has also seen them to their first meaningful loss in the third round of World Cup qualifying in over 12 years.  And many question his efficacy compared to his more pragmatic, if less charismatic, predecessor, Bob Bradley.

An earlier post broke down exactly how each manager performed out of the blocks for the US, but now that the Americans are in the midst of a meaningful qualifying campaign the time for training wheels is over.  Klinsmann’s 17-game record, while not as representative as Bradley’s 80-games, can no longer be viewed through the rosy glasses of a “work-in-progress.”  It’s time to see progress.

And yet, Klinsmann’s win percentage is almost unchanged from Bradley’s.  At 52.9%, in fact, he trails his forerunner by just over 1%.  On losses the difference is a bit more pronounced, and not in the German’s favor.  Klinsmann has lost 35% of his games at the helm, while Bradley lost just 31%.  Combined with drawing 12% of games in the new era versus 15% in the old, a picture begins to form of a US team that was certainly not flashy, but significantly tougher to beat under Bradley.

Of course, the US doesn’t just want to be hard to beat; they want to take it to their opponents.    Throughout his reign, Klinsmann has spoken optimistically of an attacking brand of soccer that will give the team the on-field swagger they should have against CONCACAF minnows.  Despite his talk, Klinsmann still trails Bradley in goals scored per game.  He has, thus far, managed 1.2 goals per game, while Bradley sits happily at 1.7.

In fairness, Klinsmann’s team has faced stronger opposition in its early days than Bradley’s.  Between friendlies intended to test the US against some of the greatest teams in the world and a qualifying group that is much tougher than the last time around, it has been difficult for this iteration of the team to stamp themselves on games.

Even Klinsmann seems to recognize the need to get results before style at this point.  Both goals the US scored against Jamaica seem to come straight out of the Bob Bradley playbook: a gritty goal scored off a ball Herculez Gomez refused to give up on and a lethal set-piece by the same.  Rather than push for a second goal on Tuesday night, the Yanks even sat back and defended in a way reminiscent of their old game plan.

Which raises another question: Why pay Jurgen Klinsmann more than double his predecessor to be a less effective Bob Bradley?

What did you think of the US performance against Jamaica?  Will Jurgen Klinsmann’s plans ever come to fruition?