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Soccer: Klinsmann, U.S. finally getting comfortable

Published June 18, 2013 12:05 am

Soccer • The national team is enjoying its finest stretch of success under German coach.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Sandy •Â After the final whistle blows Tuesday night at Rio Tinto Stadium, there will be plenty of time to consider the result.

A U.S. victory over Honduras could be relished for months, until the next stretch of qualifiers. A loss, however, could sting until the autumn.

"We've got a long time between now and September," U.S. goalkeeper Tim Howard said Monday. "So we want to have a good taste in our mouth come Tuesday night."

Three points would leave the United States, already atop the six CONCACAF countries vying for spots in the 2014 World Cup, in an ideal spot.

It would also mark a significant turnaround for coach Jurgen Klinsmann.

Since taking over for Bob Bradley in 2011, the former German striker who coached his home country to a third-place finish in the 2006 World Cup has drawn his share criticism for his handling of the U.S. national team, his ever-changing lineups, and some notably low performances on the pitch.

But for both coaches and players, winning cures what ails.

"Listen," Howard said, "this is a simple business. If you win, you feel like a world beater. If you lose, you feel like the worst player in the world. At the moment, we're winning so we need to carry that on."

In June, the U.S. is having arguably its finest stretch under Klinsmann. A 4-3 win in a friendly over Germany was followed by World Cup qualifier wins in Jamaica and against Panama. A win Tuesday over Honduras would bring the U.S. to the verge of qualification.

It takes time for a new coach to put his fingerprint on a national team.

"The fact that we're not together consistently for a long period of time, guys come in from their club teams ... and trying to get everybody on the same page as quick as possible is a challenge at times," midfielder Michael Bradley said. "But as we've gotten more comfortable with each other, more comfortable with Jurgen, more comfortable with what he's asking, I think you start to see some progress."

Klinsmann seems to have settled in. After using different lineups his first 26 games as the U.S. boss, Klinsmann used consecutive lineups against Germany and Jamaica. Suspensions and injuries will complicate things some Tuesday, as Klinsmann continues to try to dial in his preferred 11.

"Any coach who comes in is going to try to change the way the team works from top to bottom," Bradley said. "It's normal that when a new coach comes in that there's a period of trying to understand the players, who he can count on in important moments. And vice versa, the players are trying to learn from him what he wants and the way he wants to work."

The consistency and familiarity have helped players. Center back Omar Gonzalez said he was still meeting players on the team when he was inserted into the starting lineup in February's 2-1 loss in Honduras.

"Now that we've had a few months together, the banter is good," he said. "You just feel a bond growing"

That has translated to good performances in training, and on the game day, players said.

"If you want to be on a team that has a chance to win something, if you want to be on a successful team, then you need every guy who's a part of it to buy in and you need every guy to put 100 percent of themselves inside," Bradley said. "Only when that happens, do you have a real chance of being a successful team."

afalk@sltrib.com

Twitter: @aaronfalk —

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