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New American Character (USMNT): The Good, the Bad, and Canada


If you're like me, you feel put off by this new look United States Men's National Team. You relished Scotland, you cringed at Brazil and you groaned over Canada. Does this mean the Klinsmann era is already over before it's begun? Does that mean We call up Bob Bradley to see how things are going in Egypt and maybe he wants to bring his steely, robot-like face back to the land of amber waves of grain and purple mountains majesty?

No, God no.

What I've liked about this new-look National Team is that Jurgen Klinsmann's overall style has locked onto something particular in the American character that Bob Bradley didn't touch.

Jurgen Klinsmann's philosophy that every nation has an opportunity to express its national character through football is something that I think a lot of people rolled their eyes at. And I can understand why: what does that mean, exactly? And when you're looking at a country like America--with its seemingly infinite variety--you're compelled to ask: which American character?

One could make the argument that Bob Bradley's system of bunker and counter-punch was quintessentially American. After all, it's how we watch all our other sports: gridiron, basketball, baseball. The most exciting moments are when we catch a stunning breakaway after watching the other team plug away without a basket. We can't deny that's part of our character.

But that doesn't translate well to the football pitch (unless you're in MLS, I suppose) because the game is evolving. Statistical data is starting to trend to show that teams who can possess the ball more win more games on average than teams who rely on the counter-punch. A bit convenient that somehow now Klinsmann identifies that the American Character plays possession football, don't you think?

There's something to that, though. Klinsmann sees a different America than what Bradley saw. Klinsmann sees an America that doesn't feel comfortable being the underdog. He sees an America that constantly wants to assert itself, that wants to take the ball and take charge of the game. Americans want goals. We take no joy from getting pummeled. In every situation, we're wondering why we aren't the ones dictating the game.

This is almost verbatim from Klinsmann himself, and I have to say I bought it. Or at least, I genuinely believe that this is what he genuinely believes. So with that in mind, how's he been doing?

Scotland seems a distant memory, but it's the best that the USMNT has performed in their history. It was the most clinical ball that Americans had seen. The passing was crisp, the positivity and generous play was apparent all over the pitch. American was simply a different class.

Against Brazil, it was a different and sadder story. The USMNT was smacked with a 4-1 loss. Jurgen Klinsmann then asked if the guys wouldn't be "nastier". I don't want to dwell too much on this game. But suffice to say that aside from a shaky defensive performance and a fireworks display from the offense of Brazil, the USMNT was still able to get their will imposed on the game.

Canada was problem, no doubt. What Canada did tactically is something that 4-3-3 or 4-3-2-1 teams struggle against when playing a fun attacking style: flood the midfield. Putting bodies in the midfield to disrupt the attacking lanes and hopefully score on a counter-punch. This is a tactic that can be used to keep games close, and Klinsmann's "nastiness" implied a rigidity against Canada that we hadn't seen before. Both teams being so rigid, the game turned out to be quite boring. Brazil, though a loss, by comparison was more exciting.

The only conclusions I have to draw from this is that the American Character of Football is slowly starting to assert itself. It's not something we can totally quantify in statistics or analysis. I haven't caught every aspect of Klinsmann's system, nor have I captured everything about his predecessor Bob Bradley. In the end, it's not something that I can catch. It's something that you simply have to see.