Photo by ISIphotos.com
By FRANCO PANIZO
Chris Wondolowski and Michael Orozco may have found the back of the net against Belize, but they might not have been given the chance to had the match not been played on turf.
Minutes after seeing his U.S. Men’s National Team post a 6-1 rout of Belize in their Gold Cup opener in Portland, Ore. on Tuesday night, head coach Jurgen Klinsmann revealed that he opted to sit some of his more experienced veterans due to the playing surface at JELD-WEN Field. It was a precautionary measure taken by Klinsmann and his coaching staff to avoid having veteran centerback Oguchi Onyewu and seasoned forward Herculez Gomez play on the turf given their history of knee injuries.
“The decision not to start Gooch and Herc were based on the fact that they had knee issues in the past and we didn’t want to risk anything on the turf fields,” said Klinsmann in his postgame press conference. “The same with Stuart Holden, we said, ‘If we need you, you’ll come off the bench when things maybe open up a little bit,’ so that was our concern.”
Holden was the lone player of the three Klinsmann was worried about giving minutes to on the turf field who saw time on Tuesday night. As was the case in last Friday’s 6-0 victory over Guatemala in a friendly, Holden came off the bench at halftime and provided an instant spark for the Americans, delivering a range of passes in a central midfield position.
Holden also scored his first international goal in nearly four years – Thursday would have marked the exact day since he netted the equalizer in a 2-2 Gold Cup draw with Haiti in 2009 – in the 58th minute, burying a Landon Donovan header from close range for what was the U.S.’s 10th of 12 goals over their last two matches.
“It’s a constant work,” said Klinsmann of the team’s transition to being more proactive. “We want to push the game higher up in the opponents’ half whenever possible, even if we play the big nations, and so every time we get together we’re working on those principles. We want to find the strikers, the attacking midfielders fast, early enough, playing out of the back.
“You have to always follow those principles and work on them. I think the players understand more and more how we want to build up through movement off the ball in midfield and the strikers up front have to do the same type of work. It’s a consistent work and it will continue and we’re just trying to improve every time we’re together.”
Klinsmann also suggested that he was not worried by the Americans’ inability to puncture Belize’s defense with real consistency during the opening half-hour despite dominating the possession battle. He stressed that patience is key in beating a team that hides in a defensive shell and aims to hit back on the counter, which Belize did to good effect even after Wondolowski scored the first of his three first-half goals in the 12th minute.
“It’s just a normal development of a game,” said Klinsmann. “When you play a team that is with 10 players behind the ball, it will take time to open up space there. In the beginning, they are fresh, they are energetic, they are enthusiastic to play this tournament, and so they close every little space they see, so it takes patience. It always takes patience.
“There will be many other games the same way, so we’ve got to just keep the ball moving around, we’ve got to move off the ball fast and efficient and I think once you get a bit of a rhythm and then you score the first goal then things open up a little bit and eventually you will break them down. It’s always a game of patience and so it was not surprising that it took kind of the first half an hour to grind it a bit.”
- During his press conference, Klinsmann also acknowledged the more than 18,000 supporters at JELD-WEN Field on Tuesday evening that demonstrated an impressive tifo and were rowdy throughout much of the lopsided match: “A big thank you to a fantastic crowd here in Portland. That was wonderful to experience and the players were all curious how it would be it and they lived up to the expectations, so thanks to the crowd here.”
- The other topic Klinsmann responded to was about the status of Philadelphia Union forward Jack McInerney, who seems unlikely to be given any serious minutes in this Gold Cup due to this being the first time he is with the full U.S. team.
“I think for a player like Jack, right now it’s a tremendous learning curve,” said Klinsmann. “You train every day with these guys and you see, ‘Okay this is my club level and this is the national team’. He’s coming along, we’re happy with him, we see him, we see his talent and he’s getting more confident every time he’s getting on the practice field.
“In the Gold Cup, it’s a bit tricky because we can only sub three guys. It would have been easier maybe (with) two or three preparations games, then you throw him in there to get a couple of minutes in, it’s no problem. But now with the rules, only having three, you want to make sure that you make the right ones based on what you see really in training as well, but he’s on a good path.”