Evaluating Jurgen Klinsmann? Not yet … his work is just getting started

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Jurgen Klinsmann showed up Wednesday morning at the Columbus Airport a bit frazzled, affable as always but late for a flight due to some last minute media obligations, part and parcel of the big qualifying achievement from mere hours before.

So he was in a bit of a hurry. That seems appropriate in the bigger picture, too, since the man still has so much to do.

Believe it: Klinsmann’s work in his high-profile, game-changer role with the United States national team is just getting started.

As the euphoria settles over his team booking its spot for Brazil 2014, temptation will be fierce to commence conversations about the big U.S. Soccer picture. That means talking about Klinsmann and his ability to drive the program forward, something we all (fans and the chattering class, that is) have been hammering away at since Klinsmann’s summer 2011 hiring.

But it was always premature, all the rush-rush of banging on, assessing, conversing, etc. For when it comes to assessing Klinsmann and his ability to deliver value on the big money and bigger expectations that came with his ballyhooed arrival, it was never about qualifying.

Qualifying for a World Cup was just the starting point for Klinsmann, who won a World Cup as a German player in 1990 and came close as a manager for his homeland back in 2006.

Qualifying for a World Cup, if we’re being honest, was never in question — no matter what the Nervous  Nellies and the anti-Klinsmann barkers said along the way.

(MORE: Five key moments that shaped the U.S. qualifying campaign)

Plenty of managers could have driven the bus for a talented bunch like the Unites States, shuttling the team into a World Cup through our nominally threatening region. Heck, Steve Sampson did that back in 1998, and he had far, far less talent at his disposal. Team captain Clint Dempsey said it’s great and all that his country has qualified once again, that the team is brimming with confidence and well being, but …

“It doesn’t really matter how things are now, to be honest with you,” Dempsey said. “It’s one thing to qualify for a World Cup, but we’ll be talking about something different if we don’t advance out of our group.”

source: Getty ImagesFor Klinsmann, his job was always about getting the team further in a World Cup, about pushing the program past its quadrennial sticking point, a tenuous hold on second round appearances.

Some of this is literally down to luck of the draw (as 32 World Cup qualifiers are grouped in FIFA’s December draw). But the bottom line looks like this:

If the United States gets to the World Cup quarterfinals next sumer in Brazil, looking lime a confident and sensible sort in doing so, then stamp ‘Mission Accomplished’ on Klinsmann’s time in charge.

Or, if the team pushes forcefully into the second round and then loses to a strong opponent, looking competent, aggressive and assured along the way, then we’ve wandered into a gray area. Anything short of that and his time may not be a total bust, depending on the draw and how the team passes the eye test, but it certainly will not be a back-slapping moment of success for U.S. Soccer.

Since the day he was hired, I have consistently said that all Klinsmann evaluation must wait for the Summer of 2014. That was never something anybody wanted to hear, but it was ever thus. (Obviously, that would have changed if the qualifying campaign had unraveled spectacularly along the way … Right, Mexico?)

So not a thing has changed now. We know more about Klinsmann and how he is shaping this big home improvement project for U.S. Soccer, but we still await the lab results, so to speak.

Barcelona plan Cruyff tribute at club’s training center

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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) One year after his death, Barcelona says it will name the future stadium at its training center after Dutch great Johan Cruyff.

The new stadium at Barcelona’s training center just outside the Catalan city will be called “Johan Cruyff Stadium” in honor of the club’s former player and coach.

Barcelona says in a statement that “the most emblematic building in the facility where future Barca players are coached is to be named after somebody who played such a central role in fostering youth talent at the club.”

Barcelona also says it will commission a “commemorative sculpture” of Cruyff, who died of lung cancer on March 24 last year at age 68. The statue will be placed at Barcelona’s main Camp Nou stadium.

Cruyff is largely credited with launching Barcelona’s era of trophy success, both as a player and a coach.

As a player, Cruyff joined Barcelona midseason in 1973 and led the middle-of-the-table team to its first national title in a decade.

He later returned as a coach and guided Barcelona to four consecutive Spanish leagues from 1991-94 and the club’s first European Cup in 1992.

“I think the tributes are very warming,” said Cruyff’s son, Jordi Cruyff. “It sort of changes the sadness that we might feel as family to lose a father, a husband and a grandfather. It changes to a certain kind of pride to understand that he left something behind.”

MLS Snapshot: Defense optional — Crew SC outlast Timbers, 3-2

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The game in 100 words (or less): As far as teams who get out in the open field and score the lion’s share of their goals on the counter-attacking, there aren’t many MLS teams better than Columbus Crew SC and the Portland Timbers. The two sides met Saturday night at MAPFRE Stadium, site of their MLS Cup 2015 clash, and lived up to their reputations. Of the five goals scored, two were notched on flat-out counters and two more came to pass through quick transitional movements. Portland (9 points) dropped their first points of the season, falling 3-2 to goals scored by Justin Meram, Ola Kamara and Niko Hansen, while Crew SC have back-to-back wins and find themselves level on points (7) with the New York Red Bulls with each side having played four games.

[ MORE: Saturday’s MLS (afternoon) roundup ]

Three Four Five moments that mattered

4′ — Asprilla opens the scoring early on — 2017 Crew SC defending, same as 2016 Crew SC defending.

11′ — Meram fires home the rebound for 1-1 — One of Portland’s biggest weaknesses last season was their set-piece defending. Looks like not much has changed.

19′ — Higuain feeds Kamara for a 2-1 lead — The question mark that Portland will eventually have to answer is this: How much, if at all, have they improved defensively in the open field? Based on this Crew SC counter-attack, the answer might be “not much.”

45+3′ — Adi recovers to make it 2-2 — Everything Adi does these days (even the bad things, like this first touch) ends up being good.

84′ — Hansen cleans up at the back post for 3-2 — Jake Gleeson made a spectacular reaction save to deny Kamara his second goal of the game, but the rookie, making his MLS debut, was in the right place at the right time.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverageStandings | Stats | Schedule ]

Men of the match: Wil Trapp

Goalscorers: Asprilla (4′), Meram (11′), Kamara (19′), Adi (45+3′), Hansen (84′)

Andorra’s 11-year, 58-game losing streak is over

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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) Rarely has a scoreless stalemate in front of the home fans tasted so sweet.

But 11 years of nothing but losing will do that to a team.

Andorra’s 0-0 draw with fellow minnow Faroe Islands in World Cup qualifying on Saturday ended its run of 58 competitive defeats.

It was the first point in qualifying for the Pyrenees mountain principality, population 80,000, since a scoreless draw with Finland in 2005.

Faroe Islands finished with 10 men after Joan Edmundsson was booked a second time with 15 minutes to play.

World Cup qualifiers: Dutch disaster persists; Greece hold Belgium

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A roundup of all of Saturday’s World Cup qualifying fixtures, as Groups A, B and H hit the halfway point in Europe…

[ MORE: USA 6-0 Honduras | Three things we learned | Player ratings ]

Bulgaria 2-0 Netherlands

Spas Delev scored both Bulgarian goals (5th and 20th minutes) to secure all three points and send Danny Blind’s Netherlands side (7 points) into fourth place in Group A, six points back of leaders France and three back of second-place (qualifying playoffs) Sweden.

17-year-old Matthijs de Ligt was handed his international debut for the Dutch; he was ultimately at fault for both of Delev’s goals; he was subbed off at halftime (as was Georginio Wijnaldum).

Luxembourg 1-3 France

Olivier Giroud scored twice (28th and 77th minutes) for France, and Antoine Griezmann added the other (37th minute – penalty kick), as Les Bleus maintained their three-point lead in Group A. Kylian Mbappe, Monaco’s 18-year-old rising star, made his international debut in the 78th minute, when he replaced Dimitri Payet.

Portugal 3-0 Hungary

Cristiano Ronaldo bagged the 69th and 70th goals of his international career (36th and 65th minutes), as Portugal (12 points) kept pace with an unbeaten Switzerland side (15 points) which managed a 1-0 victory over Latvia to keep their 100-percent record intact. Andre Silva scored the opener (32nd minute) for Portugal, the 21-year-old Porto striker’s fifth goal in six international appearances.

Belgium 1-1 Greece

Romelu Lukaku‘s 89th-minute rescued a point for Group H leaders Belgium (13 points), but it did little to mask an otherwise uninspiring performance from Roberto Martinez’s side. Kostas Mitroglu put Greece ahead in the first minute of the second half, but Panagiotis Tachtsidis saw his second yellow of the game in the 65th minute, and that was the start of Greece’s unraveling. The draw was just enough to keep Greece (11 points) in second, ahead of Bosnia-Herzegovina, whose 5-0 thrashing of Gibraltar moved them to 10 points with a superior goal differential.

Elsewhere in UEFA’s World Cup qualifying

Group A

Sweden 4-0 Belarus

Group B

Switzerland 1-0 Latvia
Andorra 0-0 Faroe Islands

Group H

Bosnia-Herzegovina 5-0 Gibraltar
Cyprus 0-0 Estonia