By Peter Martin
International Business Times
Jurgen Klinsmann embarked on his first great test as head coach of the American National Soccer team this past week when the squad kicked off World Cup Qualifying against Antigua and Barbuda on Friday and Guatemala Tuesday.
It can be difficult to judge the American team based on their qualifying in CONCACAF thanks largely to the level of skill elsewhere in the conference.
Mexico and team USA are clearly the class of the conference with each team qualifying for every single World Cup dating back to 1994. But the remainder of the group is a group of countries known more for drug kingpins, off-shore accounts and drug kingpins than high level athletic competition.
This means that it is very difficult to judge Klinsmann based on his team's efforts in the CONCACAF stages. Team USA will, barring some unthinkable miracle, advance from this group to the final stage and then qualify from that group for the World Cup.
The question Klinsmann will be judged on by many people is what he does when he arrives in Brazil in 2014, but the games his team is playing now will give fans a keen insight into that next step.
The first thing many fans noticed was the complete culture changes in the way the America team plays.
Team USA has been a boring, fundamental, defensive team for decades. American teams have long had to deal with their lack of talent relative to their European and South American opponents, but that may finally be changing.
Players like Clint Dempsey, Landon Donovan, Michael Bradley, Maurice Edu, Tim Howard, and Jozy Altidore are starting to have success in club leagues at the highest levels.
Klinsmann is trying to take advantage of that newfound, high level talent with the introduction of a new and more offensive minded system.
In both of their qualifying games so far Klinsmann has abandoned the traditional 4-4-2, or 4-5-1 in favor of a 4-3-3 look that has paid dividends.
The 4-3-3 allows Klinsmann to push talented wings like Edu, Bradley or Jose Torres forward to join Donovan, Altidore and Altidore at the top of the formation. The design relies on quick passing through the midfield to create opportunity, something that team USA has never done.
The question is can the American players actually carry off that style of play?
Through two games of qualifying, and nine other games under Klinsmann, the answer seems to be sometimes.
Against Antigua, the American's had some wonderful chances and dominant ball possession through the first half thanks to beautiful one-touch passing. The play that led to the second goal, when Donovan left a beautiful ball in front of Donovan was unlike anything anyone has ever seen from an American team.
Team USA's third goal against Antigua also came off pretty passing and a great run.
The problem has been when the style breaks down the whole thing falls apart. They have been very vulnerable to counter-attacking moves that have forced some impressive saves from Howard, as well as led to the only goal scored against them in qualifying so far.
The team is now finished with their qualifying work until September when they face Jamaica on September 7 and 11 in a home-and-home series. With a pair of wins, the Americans could lock up a spot in the next round.
Klinsmann will also get his second chance at Mexico when the Americans travel to Estadio Azteca in August. The jury is still out on Klinsmann and his style, but the picture becomes clearer every time the American's take the field.
-- To report problems or to leave feedback about this article, email Peter Martin
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