Many different cultures use the adage “good things come in threes,” and usually the sentiment revolves around luck. For what U.S. Men’s National Team head coach Jurgen Klinsmann is trying to build, the belief is that there is more to it than just luck.
The U.S. has twice made history this year, winning for the first time against four-time World Cup champion Italy, then breaking a 75-year winless streak against regional rivals Mexico on their home soil with a 1-0 win on Aug. 15 at the vaunted Estadio Azteca. Now, the U.S. team has its third shot at the record books in 2012, heading into Friday’s match seeking its first victory in World Cup qualifying on Jamaican soil. And for Klinsmann, it all starts with mentality.
“Obviously, those are two big wins for U.S. Soccer, the team and all the fans,” he said of the wins earlier this year. “What we are trying to do is instill a belief that no matter who the opponent, what the venue or the type of game, we have the mentality that we are going to win. It also sends a message to the rest of the world that when the United States comes to play you, they are coming to win.”
The match on Feb. 29 in Genoa pitted the U.S. against an Italian side that boasted a 7-0-3 record versus the United States in a series dating back to 1934. Displaying determination, skill and the ability to capitalize on a chance, the U.S. captured a 1-0 win on the strength of a superb finish from Clint Dempsey that left the Italians stunned and continued to feed the USA’s growing confidence.
“As a coach, you’re pleased because you see them progressing. You see players stepping up and playing against these amazing, experienced Italian players who have won the World Cup and played big tournaments year in and year out,” Klinsmann said. “Obviously, it was a big step for us.”
While Klinsmann deployed a veteran lineup against Italy, the game against Mexico brought a different challenge and opportunity altogether. Having only two days to prepare for the first friendly between the teams in Mexico since 1984, the U.S. boss elected to leave several regulars behind and, instead, rely on the growing depth of the U.S. player pool. Only two starters had ever stepped on the pitch at Estadio Azteca for the U.S., and Klinsmann gamely deployed players in new positions, setting Fabian Johnson at right back and pairing Maurice Edu in the middle with Geoff Cameron. He also started three Mexican-Americans in Edgar Castillo, Jose Torres and Herculez Gomez.
Undaunted by the mystique of Azteca, the U.S. earned the historic victory thanks to another Mexican-American, Michael Orozco Fiscal, and were backstopped by the outstanding performance of Budweiser Man of the Match Tim Howard. Once again, another brick was added to the foundation of belief.
“It took a lot of grit and determination,” Howard said. “We went out there and played our hearts out. It’s not lost on any of us that we made history … It’s special and it’s important to us. It’s not the end of the road, we’ve got a long way to go and we’ll keep working, but this is a huge step forward for us.”
“Everybody is excited and looking forward to continuing this run of doing things that are special – the first time winning against Italy, first time winning in Mexico and if we beat Jamaica it will be the first time there doing that,” Dempsey said. “We’re just trying to keep doing things that are special and try to qualify for the World Cup because that’s the main goal.”
While those victories are achievements to appreciate, Klinsmann emphasizes that the games that matter are ones that have “World Cup” as part of their label.“As a whole team we're improving and developing. We're getting stronger with our chemistry and understanding different components that are working better,” Klinsmann said. “We want to continue on the path of pushing ourselves to the limits, getting good results and building a core of players that is always ready to step up when it matters.”
The U.S. heads into Jamaica with a “home and away” series of World Cup qualifiers beginning Sept.7 in Kingston, then culminating four days later with a stop in Columbus, Ohio. The teams have played four times in qualifying, each match resulting with the teams splitting the spoils. Klinsmann is pushing for the team to earn “maximum points,” and with mounting confidence and a winning mentality, the U.S. believes that good things don’t just come in threes; they can be earned in threes.