Head coach Jurgen Klinsmann of USA and assistant coaches look on from the sidelines against Canada during their international friendly match on June 3, 2012 at BMO Field in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)
Amid a week of criticism, U.S. soccer coach Jurgen Klinsmann takes an injury-depleted team with an inexperienced defense into a World Cup qualifying game he calls "a must win" against Costa Rica on Friday in Commerce City, Colo.
After Klinsmann left defender Carlos Bocanegra, the captain since 2007, off the roster for the next two qualifiers, he faced ample criticism. Then came a revealing Sporting News story which painted a picture of a team in turmoil. Numerous anonymous players criticized Klinsmann for his continual line-up changes as well as his reliance on German-born players. Klinsmann said such complaints are common when a team goes through transition.
Klinsmann, a former World Cup champion who coached Germany to a third-place finish at the 2006 tournament, is scheduled to meet with reporters Thursday.
Former national team coach Bruce Arena also weighed in when asked by ESPN the Magazine whether he follows the U.S. team. "Not as closely as I used to," he said. "I don't even know some of the players, which is odd as the former coach. Players on the national team should be -- and this is my own feeling -- they should be Americans. If they're all born in other countries, I don't think we can say we are making progress."
Most of the regulars on the current national team play professionally in Europe; when Arena coached the U.S. in 2002, more than half of his starters were from MLS. "It should still be the case, in my opinion," Arena said.
On Wednesday, several players expressed their support for Klinsmann. U.S. midfielder Michael Bradley said teammates' criticism was "shameful" and "embarrassing," according to the Washington Post. Bradley also said he wasn't concerned about the team's unity and chemistry.
"Any team in the world, not every guy is going to be happy. ... That's normal. If that wasn't going on, then something wouldn't be right. But you cross the line when you take those thoughts and you take your disappointments outside of the team, outside of the inner circle. So for me, it doesn't help anybody. It doesn't help anything that we're trying to do this week," Bradley said.
"When you play in a team you have a chance every day to give everything you have, and part of that means having the balls to say things to guys to their face and having the balls to say things in front of the team."
On his Facebook page, Bocanegra said Klinsmann has "always been up front with his players about where they stand ... Not every player is going to be happy with all the decisions and methods." Without Bocanegra and injured goalkeeper Tim Howard, Clint Dempsey will wear the captain's armband in the next two games.
After losing to Honduras last month in the final round of qualifying for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, much is on the line Friday at a sold-out Dick's Sporting Goods Park. The U.S. hasn't lost a home qualifier since 2001. A home win is essential given that cozy environment will be followed by a trip to the always hostile Estadio Azteca vs. rival Mexico four days later.
The U.S. is part of a six-team hexagonal along with Costa Rica, Jamaica, Panama, Mexico and Honduras. The 10-game, round robin will be played through Oct. 10 with the top three teams automatically advancing to the World Cup. The fourth-place will play in a two-leg playoff against the champion from the Oceania region.
By Kelly Whiteside