The youngsters came out flying at the start of the first game and faded. The oldsters did the best they could but made one mistake and paid for it.
The announcers were all upset with the coach. In a way that's good. It shows we care. But in this case it's unfair.
The reason lay in Klinsmann's smile, which almost never left his face throughout the two matches.
It worked. Bruce Arena drove Mexico crazy with this style of play. Bob Bradley did pretty well too. But that kind of soccer has a ceiling to it. It will keep a team up in the top 20 but it doesn't win championships.
Beautiful soccer is different. It starts with holding the ball, being able to keep it at your feet when defenders come at you, while keeping your head up and finding an open player. Not just possessing the football, but moving it forward, a short back-pass then a longer forward pass, back-and-forth, side-to-side. The other team runs its socks off to no good purpose, they get discouraged, and chances come.
Watch Barcelona. Watch Brazil. Watch Manchester United now that they've gotten younger. Ball skills, sharp passes, possession, then a quick incisive move that always yields a good chance.
America has never tried to play that way because, frankly, we can't. We don't drill enough on the fundamentals. Our ball skills are poor. Want to know when Freddy Adu fell out of Klinsmann's plans? It was his one great moment in the Gold Cup, a long ball from behind the half-way line to a charging Landon Donovan that resulted in a goal against Panama. In American football that's called “the bomb,” but it's not the way Klinsmann plays. He plays the beautiful game. Freddy Adu lacks the skills for the beautiful game – that's why he washed out in Europe.
When Coach Klinsmann talks about getting “Latin players” into the team, he's not just talking about Hispanic last names. He's talking about ball skills. He's talking about finding players who play with the soccer ball the way Indiana kids play with the basketball, shooting 1,000 free throws late into the night, dribbling back-and-forth between their legs not just to be fancy, but to find an inch of space and the open cutter.
It takes dedication, from a very early age. That's what Klinsmann's long-term plan is for America. He's barely begun it, and it's the real reason he wasn't hired back in 2006, when Bradley came in. Klinsmann wants to tear up the script for teen soccer, he wants players focusing on ball skills, he wants them playing 11 months out of the year like their European and South American counterparts. No more just playing a few months, but obsessive practice, the kind of work that makes you good in any sport.
Clint Dempsey is the best American soccer player of his time. Clint Dempsey has ball skills. He tries things. He learned the game in Texas, playing constantly against Mexican-American kids, and he worked hard between games, too. We need to field 10 players like that on every team we put out there, not just the senior team but our U-17, U-19 and U-21 teams.
Measure Klinsmann by how he instills this attitude in kids who today may be no more than 12. Measure him by how he nurtures our teenage players, and where they go when they get to Europe, and how they do there. Having players go too soon, like Adu did, or failing there, like Altidore did, that's not going to get it done.
There's no reason why the next Chicharito, the next Messi, the next Rooney can't be an American. But getting there is just like the joke about getting to Carnegie Hall. Practice, practice, practice.
Qualification for the 2014 World Cup is going to be harder than it was the last few times, because Klinsmann isn't going to give up on his system. It's a system designed not just to qualify, but to advance to the quarter-finals, the semi-finals, the final. It's proven, but it takes hard work and discipline, from players and from coaches. It takes patience, too.
Which is what fans need now. We have to learn to watch how we play, not just the scoreboard. We need to learn what Coach Klinsmann knows, that sometimes you lose but smile because you're doing it right.