Subtext of Caleb Porter scrutiny: Where Jurgen Klinsmann’s gone right

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Jurgen Klinsmann has yet to face stakes like Caleb Porter did during Olympic qualifying, so it may be too early to sing his praises. Yet in the surfacing doubts surrounding Porter’s management of the U.S. U-23s (doubts that should diminish with time and perspective) there is room to praise the senior national team’s coach. After all, if blind allegiance to ideology and inflexibility are being cited as reasons to deride Porter’s qualifying campaign, we may want to take a moment to reflect on the subtle ways the German-cum-Californian has adjusted to his U.S. national team role.

As alluded to earlier, Klinsmann took over for Bob Bradley with many of the same questions that surround Porter. Likely to implement a more style-conscious approach, Klinsmann faced questions about whether the U.S. had enough technical quality to change. The U.S. would have to find the quality, so said the word on the street.

Turns out that word on the street was a bit off. Though he’s still trying to change the inherent style with which the players play, but Klinsmann has proven somewhat flexible tactically. While most of his deployments have been some variation of a 4-2-3-1, Klinsmann often has his team playing a 4-4-1-1 that doesn’t look so dissimilar to something Bob Bradley would play. Clint Dempsey plays behind Jozy Altidore and is often seen applying pressure to the opposition defenders. It’s not exactly the Oezil-esque role many imagined when Klinsmann took over.

Perhaps the deviations have been small, but they hint at an unexpected amount of adaptation. Not that Jurgen Klinsmann is some inflexible tyrant, but most assumed he’d come in with a mandate to change the culture. As it turns out, Klinsmann’s not forcing those changes down his players’ throats. After an opening run of games that saw the US only score twice in six matches, Klinsmann has adapted. The team’s won their last four, scoring six goals.

Klinsmann had the luxury of tinkering through a number of meaningless games, and it’s still unclear whether he’s actually figured things out. But he is tinkering. He’s showing flexibility. While he seems committed to the idea the U.S. can play a better style of soccer, Klinsmann’s not tied to any specific implementation. He’s seeing where his philosophies and the team’s skills meet.

Caleb Porter hasn’t had the luxury of a year’s worth of friendlies. He was thrown into the fire, and while he got burned, there’s still time to learn. Klinsmann provides a good example.