How much leeway does one good week buy Jurgen Klinsmann?

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Unless you’re deaf to the discussion that surrounds the U.S. men’s national team (and if you are, more power to you), you noticed how Brian Straus’s Sporting News piece was disproportionately embraced by the critics – those who already had doubts about Jurgen Klinsmann. As ‘level-handed’ as Straus tried to be about relaying his insiders’ doubts, the piece was laced with indictments. If you were at all concerned about the national team’s direction, the story become vindication.

Opposing views eventually surfaced, but by then the contingent of detractors had been lured into the open. For them, Straus’s work was ammunition. Philipp Lahm’s criticisms were already emblazoned in their minds, ready to unload in retort whenever the occasion arouse. For them Joachim Löw, not Klinsmann, was always the key to Germany. Take him out of the equation, and all Klinsmann had to his coaching career was his failure at Bayern. This guy may not even be as good as Bradley.

And in the buildup to Costa Rica, those criticisms hit a crescendo only to fe hoisted on their own petard, sent falling to the Dick’s Sporting Goods pitch to be buried frozen under foot. Beneath ankle-deep snow and three World Cup qualifying points, the detractors’ case started to turn cold. Not only had the U.S. won, but the adaptability Klinsmann had been preaching for near-two years was on display, taking full points in a game everybody acknowledged as must win.

After the result at Azteca provided further validation, it’s tempting to think the anxiety of Colorado is in the team’s past, though that would seriously underestimate the strength of the detractor’s beliefs. Just as they crouched in wait for work like the Sporting News’s to shine light on dressing room rumblings, so they’ll wait for the team’s next stumble. If the attack doesn’t come around at Jamaica or at home against Panama and Honduras, expect a humbled but dedicated opposition to ask if the U.S. isn’t just delaying the inevitable. Until Klinsmann fulfills the promises, there will always be doubters.

There’s nothing unfair about holding coaches to standards, but it’s important remember who sets those standards. Or in the case of Klinsmann – a man whose easy demeanor leaves some to read him as arrogant or aloof – it’s important to realize who didn’t set those standards. Klinsmann has never promised to deliver a World Cup, nor has he claimed he’ll be the man to finally make the U.S. a power commensurate with the country’s stature. He’s only come in with a plan to improve U.S. Soccer, something every boss should have in tow. That Klinsmann’s plan is more exhaustive, ambitious, and revolutionary than his predecessors’ doesn’t mean his ultimate goal (progress) is any different.

With the same eye toward success as any coach who would take the U.S.’s reigns, it seems Klinsmann’s only arrogance was deigning to accept a position he was granted, because it was inevitable a man of with his CV would engender high expectations. His main problem is having different, proven, but easily criticized plan to build a program, the scope of which allows critics to bemoan one aspect (tactics) while undervaluing others.

One good week is can neither squelch nor refocus that dissent. The skepticism is too deep-seeded to uproot with five days and four points. That those results came in the face an uncoiled backlash will pierce the pride of the slumbering bully, but he’ll resurface. Only fulfilling contrived promises will smooth Klinsmann’s course.

But Klinsmann has bought himself some time, as well as some credibility. The next bump in the road won’t be met with the same scrutiny, and crisis number two will be evaluating knowing how Klinsmann defused crisis number one.

But until the U.S. becomes Germany – or CONCACAF’s facsimile there of – Klinsmann be seen as a false prophet, and through no fault of his own. With ever word of dissent that leaks from the locker room, people who never wanted Klinsmann hired in the first place will the seeds of a bigger, perhaps non-existent problem. If he stumbles in Panama, fails to win the Gold Cup, or can’t get past the Round of 16 in Brazil, he’ll be no better than Bob, regardless of whether he’s set the underlying course in a new, more versatile direction.

The crisis is over, but the U.S. needs more than a re-centered campaign for Klinsmann to earn any leeway with his doubters.

Sampaoli defends Messi, blasts Argentina squad

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Jorge Sampaoli is lambasting his team after a 3-0 loss put Argentina on the edge of failing to qualify for the 2018 World Cup’s knockout rounds.

“The reality of the Argentina squad clouds Lionel Messi’s brilliance,” Sampaoli said. “The team doesn’t gel as well as it should.”

[ MORE: Modric urges humility ]

Sampaoli said his players could not find a way to get the ball to Messi, and that the introduction of Boca Juniors youngster Cristian Pavón was aimed at opening up the field a little bit.

And Sampaoli is not shying away from the long-discussed comparison between Messi and Portuguese star Cristiano Ronaldo. From the BBC:

“Cristiano is a great player and he has achieved a lot with club and country. Right now it is hard to compare these two players because of the ability in the Argentinian squad clouds the judgment. Leo is in a difficult position because the squad doesn’t gel with him. As coach I have to accept that. I don’t feel shame but I definitely feel pain. It has been a long time since I have gone through this experience as a coach and obviously it is more painful when I’m wearing the colours of my country.

“We have no alternative but to give it our all in the final match. We have not performed at the level the country expects. We were ambitious ahead of the game but now it is harder for us as a group. We did think this would be the match we can take off as a team, but it wasn’t in the end. I think this is an excellent squad but we didn’t gel or come together. We need to take advantage of the next match, when the pressure will be on, and hope to progress.”

Now, of course Sampaoli is going to defend Messi, but Argentina’s team is not chopped liver. The side certainly isn’t as deep or solid as Croatia, but 1-1 with Iceland preceded this one.

That said, Argentina’s performance once Croatia essentially decided to surround Messi was unacceptable. If favored Nigeria doesn’t handle its business against Iceland, the World Cup finalists won’t have a prayer of going back.

Modric urges humility after big win, stunning goal (video)

AP Photo / Ricardo Mazalan
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There are few teams who’ve looked as strong as Croatia at the World Cup in Russia.

[ RECAP: Argentina 0-3 Croatia ]

Zlatko Dalic’s men now have a pair of shutout wins against decent competition, topping Nigeria 2-0 over the weekend before hammering Argentina 3-0 on Thursday.

The nature of those performances will have many, us included, debating just how far Croatia can run in this tournament. Veteran midfielder Luka Modric is hoping his team doesn’t do the same.

Let’s not be euphoric or get ahead of ourselves,” Modric said. “Of course this win will boost our confidence for the next game, and we have shown we can create opportunities, but let’s keep our feet firmly on the ground.”

Modric noted that Willy Caballero‘s howler “was a shot in the arm,” but added that they had played a “perfect game.”

That’s true. And while so much focus will be on Messi’s struggles, don’t sleep on the terrific performance of Vatreni. 

Modric also seemed to bristle when asked about shutting down Messi.

“I don’t want to talk about other players. We are happy with our own performance. We wanted to cut out Messi receiving the ball because he is the most dangerous player.”

Croatia smashes disheveled Argentina

AP Photo/Ricardo Mazalan
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Ante Rebic, Luka Modric, and Ivan Rakitic have Croatia in the knockout rounds and Argentina on the verge of World Cup disaster.

Croatia scored a trio of second half goals, one aided by a Willy Caballero howler, in a 3-0 win in Nizhny Novgorod on Thursday.

Argentina will enter its final match against Nigeria on the outskirts of the knockout rounds regardless of how Nigeria-Iceland ends on Friday.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

Ivan Perisic forced a big save out of Wily Caballero for an early Croatia corner kick that came to nothing.

Messi had a chance stopped inside of 10 minutes, then started a play that Dejan Lovren blocked for a corner in the 13th.

Enzo Perez missed an open goal off a poor Croatia giveaway in the 30th minute.

There were a pair of fouls not out of place on a red card lowlight reel, one for each team, but neither resulting in a sending off.

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Croatia took the lead through Caballero’s gaffe and Rebic’s smash in the 54th.

Argentina nearly answered moments later. After a mazy Messi dribble, Argentina regained possession in the 64th minute, spearheaded by a Gonzalo Higuain run that led to a corner.

Croatia came close to making it 2-0, as Mario Mandzukic couldn’t turn a flick on frame and instead saw it glide into the outside of the goal.

Then Modric put the match to bed as the clock hit 80, an absolute beauty. Another huge defensive mistake allowed Mateo Kovacic to cue up Rakitic for the third.

[ LIVE: World Cup scores ]

WATCH: Caballero blunder punished as Rebic rip puts Argentina on ropes

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Willy Caballero has made one of the bigger blunders in recent World Cup history.

His Argentina side needs at least a point from Thursday’s match-up with Croatia, and the match remained scoreless into halftime.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

But 10 minutes after the break, Caballero flubbed a clearance in a big way.

The Argentina goalkeeper then could only watch as Ante Rebic kept his composure to blast a side volley into the goal.

It was a fine finish, to be sure, but not possible without such a terrible gaffe.