Klinsmann sees Copa as positive step; Gulati to assess
GLENDALE, ARIZ. >> Jurgen Klinsmann thinks a fourth-place finish in the Copa America was a step in the right direction. U.S. Soccer Federation President Sunil Gulati will speak to his coach and assess.
After opening with a 2-0 loss to third-ranked Colombia, the No. 31 United States beat Costa Rica, Paraguay and 13th-ranked Ecuador to advance to a semifinal against No. 1 Argentina. Lionel Messi and his teammates routed the U.S. 4-0, and the Americans closed with a 1-0 loss to Colombia in Saturday's third-place game.
"It's a tough tournament," Gulati said. "We didn't lose to anybody in the tournament that's ranked outside the top five in the world, but we need to win some of those games, obviously."
The U.S. has qualified for seven straight World Cups and beat Guatemala in a key home game in March to put itself in place to advance to the final round of qualifying for the 2018 tournament. Yet, ever since last year's surprise loss to Jamaica in the semifinals of the CONCACAF Gold Cup, Klinsmann's results have been questioned by some.
"I've never said he wasn't on solid ground or was on solid ground or anything else," Gulati said. "A lot of stuff gets written. As we do in every tournament — I've said this a thousand times — next we'll sit down and talk to Jurgen, talk internally and assess everything."
Klinsmann, the former German star and coach who took over in 2011, has set a goal of advancing to the semifinals of the 2018 World Cup — the U.S. last reached the final four at the first tournament in 1930. The Americans were eliminated by Belgium in the round of 16 two years ago.
"This senior team, we've done well," Klinsmann said. "I think there've been some challenges in this tournament. Colombia was a good measuring stick because we played them twice. The first game we didn't get up against them enough, but tonight we could have won the game, so a good performance."
Geoff Cameron and John Brooks established themselves as the first-choice starting central defenders, and right back DeAndre Yedlin, midfielder Gyasi Zardes and forward Bobby Wood solidified positions as regular starters — with Wood moving ahead of perpetually injured Jozy Altidore.
Darlington Nagbe and 17-year-old Christian Pulisic were regulars off the bench and could be the next to break through as Klinsmann tries to lower his lineup's age heading toward the 2018 World Cup in Russia.
"We can take the positives out of this," Cameron said "We got out of the group and made it to the semifinals and lost to a good side. At the same time, we've got to keep it going. We've got qualifiers coming up and I think we can go in there with our chest out a little bit more and be confident and be eager to show our true ability."
Brad Guzan started in goal ahead of 37-year-old Tim Howard, the No. 1 choice at the last two World Cups. Ethan Horvath, just 21, replaced Nick Rimando as the No. 3 goalkeeper and moved himself to the top of the next generation's pecking order.
The Americans realize how much they need to improve to compete with the world's best.
"We look at some of these teams and they're a shining example of what a good team is. They're tough, they're hard to beat, they're resilient," Howard said.
The national team next plays on Sept. 2, when it can clinch a berth in the CONCACAF hexagonal by winning at St. Vincent and The Grenadines. They host Trinidad and Tobago four days later at Jacksonville, Florida.
Klinsmann believes the tournament provided good lessons against top teams played in extremely competitive situations.
"They need to see that level and feel it and face these guys eye to eye and understand," he said.
Yedlin and Wood are 23, and Brooks turns 23 next month. They have broken through while others have stalled, such as Julian Green, Mix Diskerud, Aron Johannsson and Emerson Hyndman. Players such as Matt Miazga, Ventura Alvardo, Jordan Morris and Kellyn Acosta hope to be in the next wave to make the roster regularly.
"You see players who start to bloom. ... They're becoming stronger," Klinsmann said. "It's (also) fun to watch some older ones, like Clint (Dempsey) and Jermaine Jones, battling there and having a real impact on this team still."
The team spent six weeks on the road at 10 areas. Now the Europe-based players have a few weeks off, while Major League Soccer players return to their teams.
"It was a wonderful time, because they made it their tournament, they made it their thing," Klinsmann said. "We want to empower the players. We want to empower them to take things in their own hands and make it happen. Getting in the final four of such a huge competition here is a wonderful achievement and they should be very, very proud of themselves. Every day was a learning day and there are many more to come."