February 4, 2013
By Michael Lewis
TAKING NOTHING FOR GRANTED
Klinsmann realizes the U.S.'s path to Brazil will not be easy
Jurgen Klinsmann is taking nothing for granted.
His team might be one of the CONCACAF favorites to reach the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, but the U.S. national coach refuses to count his points before they are awarded.
The United States starts its hexagonal round quest to reach the World Cup for the seventh consecutive time on Wednesday, when the Americans meet Honduras in San Pedro Sula, Honduras. Kickoff is set for 4 p.m. ET (beIn).
“There is no easy way, not for Mexico, not for the United States, not for anybody," Klinsmann said during a Monday conference call. "You have to get your points, you have to win your games and you have to get the job done. You have to go into every game with the expectation that it’s going to be be difficult, that it will challenge you to the limits. That’s our approach: take it seriously every time you go out onto the field, very seriously, and be very awake and then we’ll see how it runs out through those 10 games.
"I told the players it’s all about alertness, commitment and determination. The way they train, the way they presented themselves already this morning, it looks like they are ready.”
The Americans will have to be particularly alert against Honduras, one is considered by many to be one of the favorites to earn one of the three automatic berths to Brazil. The fourth-place team will take on the Oceania champion in a home-and-away playoff in November.
Los Catrachos are expected to bring plenty of challenges to the U.S.
They have players who perform in the United States, such as San Jose Earthquakes defender Victor Bernardez, Houston Dynamo midfielder Oscar Boniek Garcia, who played in last year's MLS Cup final, and New England Revolution forward Jerry Bengtson.
They have players who play in Europe, such as Wigan Athletic defender Maynor Figueroa and midfielder Roger Espinoza, who recently transferred from Sporting Kansas City, and Veria forward Carlo Costly, who is based in Greece.
And of course, they have some talented domestic players such as goalkeeper Noel Valladares (Olimpia), considered one of the best netminders in the confederation and forward Georgie Welcome (Motagua), whose goal lifted Honduras to a 1-0 win over the U.S. in the 2008 Olympic qualifying final.
“We have a lot of respect for this team," Klinsmann said. "I think they’ve done very well over the last couple of years.
"Obviously qualifying for South Africa, challenging us and Mexico in this region and having players overseas with more presence than ever before."
Klinsmann got an opportunity to watch the Hondurans at the South Africa World Cup. He liked what he saw, but he felt they needed more confidence.
"The only thing they were lacking was the confidence to beat one of the bigger nations, to really believe in it at the end of the day and playing-wise they’ve done well," he said. "You have strikers up front in Bengtson who can always harm an opponent. You have Espinoza in midfield who has a lot of creativity and a wonderful touch, they have a very strong defense physically so that’s why we respect them, that’s why we’ve done our homework. You’ve got to give them a compliment to what they’ve done over the last couple of years.”
Klinsmann directed the U.S. to a first place finish in the CONCACAF Group A semifinal round last year. The former German international striker and World Cup champion and coach got a taste of the confederation's unique stadiums, climate and fans as the U.S. played in Jamaica, Antigua & Barbuda and Guatemala.
The Americans went 1-1-1 in their three road matches.
as each venue posed their own unique challenges. In Guatemala, where the U.S. lost a second-half lead and settle for a 1-1 tie, it was exuberant fans.
In Jamaica, where the U.S. lost a first-minute lead en route to a 2-1 loss, it was a difficult stadium called The Office, where even Mexico has experienced trouble bringing home points.
And in Antigua & Barbuda, it was battling a plucky, Caribbean side in the rain, pulling out an 11-hour win, 2-1.
“Every continent has its tricky parts and difficult environments and San Pedro Sula definitely has its own difficult environment, but those are challenges that players need," Klinsmann said. "They need to go through those games, they need to prove themselves and they need to find ways, on the field, to get the job done. I will always welcome these opportunities, these matches, because that’s what it’s all about, going to these places that are not your home, cozy environment and proving a point.
"I know the players are ready for that. Some have been down there already and others have played enough World Cup qualifiers already. We have an experienced team. We have players that are ready to step it up but obviously you know to expect a difficult situation.”