If anyone needed his spirits raised, it was Klinsmann and his players.
●Thanks to last month’s loss at Honduras in the final-round opener, Friday’s encounter with Costa Rica at DSG Park in Commerce City has become, according to Klinsmann, a “must win.”
Statistically, it’s hardly that. Each of the six regional finalists will play 10 matches through the fall, and half the field is guaranteed a ticket to Brazil in 2014. But with a hellish visit to Mexico’s Azteca Stadium on Tuesday and a trip to Jamaica on the three-game June itinerary, the Americans can’t afford to drop points at home.
●Seven regulars, most notably goalkeeper Tim Howard, are unavailable for these two games because of injuries. Four of them were scratched just as Klinsmann was about to announce the list Monday. Two players, including captain Carlos Bocanegra, weren’t called in because they haven’t been playing regularly for their respective European clubs.
Midfielder Brek Shea arrived at camp with lingering foot problems. Forward Clint Dempsey returned from a calf injury days ago and isn’t fully fit.
And then there’s Landon Donovan, the program’s career scoring leader who hasn’t kicked a ball competitively since winning MLS Cup with the Los Angeles Galaxy more than three months ago — an extended mental-health break after a dozen years of nonstop soccer. He isn’t here and won’t resume training until the end of the month.
●Then Tuesday, in a scathing story published by the Sporting News, several players anonymously questioned Klinsmann’s methods, tactics and roster decisions. They described a team lacking direction and preparation, one that, according to a source in the story, is “overtrained and undercoached.”
The story caused a firestorm in the U.S. soccer community. Some people criticized the players who spoke out and others questioned the USSF’s decision to hire the unconventional German coach in the first place.
Venting in the media — and doing so anonymously — drew the ire of midfielder Michael Bradley, son of Bob Bradley, Klinsmann’s predecessor.
The younger Bradley said such comments by players were “shameful” and “embarrassing.”
Others, such as Dempsey and Herculez Gomez, played down the stir.
They said it wouldn’t distract from the task at hand and wasn’t much different from media reports they endure playing in foreign leagues. Nonetheless, the players discussed the matter to clear the air, and based on their comments Wednesday, the matter seems to have galvanized the group.
The furor comes at a delicate time for Klinsmann, who, since his appointment 19 months ago, has failed to deliver on his promise to showcase an inventive, entertaining team. He did orchestrate away victories against Italy and Mexico last year but both were non-binding friendlies.