Klinsmann reinforces standards after Guatemala win as Gold Cup beckons for USA

NASHVILLE, Tenn. —

United States coach Jurgen Klinsmann conveyed his message in simple, stark terms in the wake of the 4-0 victory over Guatemala on Friday.

It’s nice to win by a comfortable score line, but the performance needs to improve in order to win the CONCACAF Gold Cup in Philadelphia later this month.

“I’m not happy with that performance,” Klinsmann said. “I’m kind of disappointed with a couple of things: movement off the ball, speed of play, urgency. Things that we talked about before were not executed the way we wanted to be them to be executed. We were lucky not to get a tie. Suddenly, if at the beginning of the second half, if it’s 1-1, it’s a different ball game. It looks really nice at 4-0, but we have a lot of work ahead of us. A lot of work. That’s pretty much my summary.”

It provided a cogent, cutting take on a performance tailored to the demands of the rigors ahead. This friendly marked a considerable departure from the glitzy affairs against Netherlands and Germany last month. And it showed by the frustrating, gritty way it played out.

Guatemala asked for no quarter and gave none in return. Los Chapines harried and hustled in every way that they could, even when asked to play without Marco Pappa and Carlos Ruiz in the first half. They tried to create opportunities in clever ways — looking for the counter when they won possession in helpful areas, trying to punish the Americans’ iffy set piece defending on the night — and scraped to stay in the game for as long as possible.

Instead of producing a comprehensive response to those measures, the Americans illustrated the gulf between the teams by relying on the odd flourish to accompany their toil. They were not at their best — there were too many chances ceded given the caliber of the opponent, too many opportunities missed along the way — and yet they conjured a couple of bits of quality, muddled through the rest and procured the result nevertheless. It proved a necessary, if occasionally frustrating, exercise to recall the particular exercises ahead.  

“All of us as players, we’re not naïve to think we were unbelievable tonight,” U.S. goalkeeper Brad Guzan said. “We know there are areas where we need to sharpen things up. We know there are areas where we need to clean things. But, saying that, going forward here on out, it’s about results. Winning is a mentality. It’s contagious. It was important that we kept that going from two great wins in Europe. Although it wasn’t our best performance, it was important that we found a way to win, which we did.”

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Those tenets stood in rather stark contrast to the underlying principles used to stun Netherlands and Germany. Some of the inherent traits — the adventure from Timothy Chandler and Fabian Johnson, the pace of DeAndre Yedlin and Gyasi Zardes out wide, the presence of Michael Bradley in midfield, the possibilities created when everyone found full flight — remained in place, while other qualities surfaced to cope with the more pragmatic circumstances.

The concoction proved more than enough on this night. Those habits — the idea of figuring things out and keeping the trains on the track even at something below top speed — matter a great deal with this tricky tournament on the horizon, but they cannot obscure the need for more precision across the board, either.

“It’s always good to win, always good to get goals, always good to get a shutout, but we expect a lot out of our team,” U.S. forward Clint Dempsey said. “We know that we can be better. We know that we’re going to have to be sharper to win the Gold Cup and make sure we hit the ground running against Honduras.”

Klinsmann placed this match in that context as he identified players who impressed and omitted others who underwhelmed. There are changes to make between now and Tuesday — Kyle Beckerman didn’t play in this match because Klinsmann wanted to test out other options, for example — as this group figures out how to make the best use of the pieces in place.

It is a process without an instant resolution. It might take some time to rekindle the chemistry between Jozy Altidore and Clint Dempsey to its menacing best. It might require a game or two to eliminate some of the lapses on set pieces. It might take even longer to find that top gear necessary to march all the way through this tournament.

If there is one important take-away for Klinsmann on this night, it is that he now boasts more information about the options at his disposal at this very instant. There is more than enough talent in place within the squad to accomplish the goals set forth. There is work still to do. There are strides still to make. And this night brought those imperatives into sharp focus ahead of the Gold Cup opener with Honduras on Tuesday (live, 9:00p.m. ET, FOX Sports 1, FOX Sports Go).

“It was very, very useful, this game,” Klinsmann said. “I’m really glad we had that opportunity to come out here tonight and see where everybody is. There were some very positive performances and some very not-so-positive performances. That’s for us now to talk to the players, talk to them in a team context and also on an individual basis. We’ll take it from there."

“We have four days to prepare for a game against Honduras where — if you guys had a chance to watch them play Mexico two days ago — we expect a very, very nasty game,” Klinsmann continued. “A very aggressive and a very difficult game. We’ll talk players through that over the next couple of days. We have to step it up in order to get three days on Tuesday night.”