The plus and minus of a tough U.S. national team schedule

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Whether U.S. manager Jurgen Klinsmann has done enough justify his expense and all the cat-and-mouse efforts to secure his services – How many failed runs at the guy did Sunil Gulati need before finally sealing the deal? It got hard to keep up – you cannot fault the man for accomplishing one of his missions.

He promised the United States under his watch would play a bugger of a schedule. And the man can certainly put on his flight jacket and stand on deck beneath the “Mission Accomplished” banner on that one.

To be fair, it’s not like the Americans were regularly rolling over cupcakes under previous manager Bob Bradley.  The schedule then generally represented a reasonable mix of games the United States should have won, games that were destined to present a struggle and games that fell nicely in between.

(MORE: The annual U.S. moment of panic — it has arrived)

Under Klinsmann, the schedule does seem to be a little tougher, with a fair share of those tricky road matches in Europe and the bullies from around the world visiting our shores regularly. How better to properly pinpoint the issues, and to prevent any sense of creeping complacency.

I mean, seriously … no one in the U.S. camp can feel even a smidge of complacency today, right?  Of course, there’s always a chance of some creeping out-flow of confidence, too. Members of Klinsmann’s staff say spirits are high, and that all the “sky is falling” sentiment is outside the windows of the U.S. bus.

What Klinsmann says about it:

There’s a lot we can learn from these opponents. This is why we play teams like Belgium, like Germany, like Russia or like Italy because there’s so much that you can read from those games. Obviously you want to win them and when you lose them it’s not such a big pleasure, but I’d rather play Belgium 10 more times than El Salvador 100 times because that’s where you learn.

“Those are games that you need to play. …They understand why certain things happen and then you can correct it. … Every day’s work on the training field, going through certain elements and principles, help us build toward Jamaica. We want to make sure there is a better flow and a better understanding on the field and better communication for when the games come that we badly need to win.”

FIFA rankings are such a joke they barely merit a mention. But since there aren’t many other ways to gauge competition, I’ll begrudgingly make an exception. Belgium, deliverers of Wednesday’s painful lessons, is No. 15.

Joachim Low’s Germany is No. 2. And late last year, Klinsmann’s men traveled to a place none of us had ever heard of to play Russia, currently No. 11. U.S. goalkeeper Tim Howard (pictured above), sounding a bit more moderated than he might have right after attempting to backstop some of the defensive booboos in Cleveland, seems to agree:

I think that’s the design, to kind of keep challenging ourselves. When you challenge yourself at this level, you run the risk of doing things you wish you didn’t do a few times. I think it is better than playing a team that we can dominate and is kind of a cakewalk for us. I think these games are probably better, and will serve us better in the long run.”