ZURICH – Express yourself.
Those are the buzzwords of the Jurgen Klinsmann era in American soccer, which began Wednesday with the US national team's 1-1 draw with Mexico. The German coach smiled seemingly throughout the night and showed the emotion of a coach energized by the challenge of trying to push the United States to a new level.
Klinsmann had no problem expressing himself as he jumped for joy following Robbie Rogers' late equalizer, and the new coach came away content with his team, which pushed a strong Mexico side to the brink of defeat, doing so with aggressive and confident soccer in the second half after a forgettable first half.
"We wanted to see a performance with energy, with excitement and with the goal that the fans really enjoy their team," Klinsmann said after the match. He acknowledged the team has many areas to improve on, but he was careful to do more praising than criticizing his team, which could have very easily come away with a win against a Mexico side that played a lineup made up mostly of starters.
Player after American player praised Klinsmann and the positive energy surrounding his first camp, with many saying how exciting it was to have a coach who continually stressed that they shouldn't be afraid to try things or be afraid to fail. While those proclamations felt like an indictment of former US coach Bob Bradley, the reality is the vibe around the team is tangibly different, significantly more relaxed.
Brek Shea personified that new-found freedom and fearlessness with his tide-turning substitute's appearance. One of the brightest rising stars in MLS, Shea struggled in his previous national team appearances, but looked far more confident on Wednesday night.
"(Klinsmann) wants players to play with confidence and play how they want to play," Shea said. "He wants you to have fun and if you make a mistake he wants you to forget about it and he wants everyone else to tell you to forget about it. A lot of it is positive energy."
Shea wasn't the only player to impress the new coach. Real Salt Lake midfielder Kyle Beckerman put in a strong showing in a defensive midfield role, outplaying the more highly-regarded Jermaine Jones and firmly establishing himself as a contender in what has long been the US team's deepest position.
Michael Orozco Fiscal was another player who stood out after earning a somewhat surprising start. The San Luis defender never really impressed much during his time with MLS side Philadelphia, but he has done well upon his return to the Mexican League and looked very poised playing alongside US captain Carlos Bocanegra in central defense. While the performance hardly means he's ready to really challenge for a starting centerback spot, Orozco has definitely earned his place on Klinsmann's radar.
Klinsmann's debut didn't start out in ideal fashion. A brilliant, though fluky Mexico goal gave the visitors a 1-0 lead. The United States was thoroughly dominated for much of the first half, failing to even register a shot on goal. Left back Edgar Castillo struggled mightily while Jose Torres also had trouble keeping the ball and having the impact expected from him after a week of camp that left Klinsmann impressed enough to start him.
The tide turned in the second half as US substitutes Shea, Juan Agudelo and Rogers gave the United States energy and pressed a Mexico defense that faced a steady barrage of attacks in the final 30 minutes. Two potential appeals for penalties for the USA were denied and a late foul on Robbie Rogers by Gerardo Torrado resulted in just a yellow card despite the fact Torrado clearly hauled Rogers down as the last defender.
Those missed calls kept the United States from coming away with a victory but didn't take away from what felt like a very positive start to the Klinsmann era.
"I thought in the end we deserved to win but we're really happy with the performance," Landon Donovan said. "It took us a little while to figure things out and get comfortable but once we kind of turned the tables and put them under pressure the game changed dramatically and, at the end of the day, we probably should have won."
Wednesday night was never about the final result though, not even in a rivalry match against Mexico. Wednesday night was about getting the Klinsmann era off to a positive start. Though far from perfect, Klinsmann's debut can be called a success. His team stood toe-to-toe with Mexico, some new faces impressed and there's a positive vibe around a team that has fully embraced its new coach.