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Bravo, Klinsmann. And Look Out, Belgium!

It wasn't pretty, but we cheated (the Group of) Death

Robert Cianflone/Getty Images Sport

That result was more than a necessity. It was a moral victory of sorts. Germany are the most complete team in the tournament. They have the top goal poachers and a great goalkeeper; they have a midfield packed with creativity and greed for the ball. And they are Germany! More than Italy, Spain, and any other European power, they advance through the World Cup with demoralizing consistency. To be paired against them is to have a strong suspicion of the unfortunate outcome. Their history implants itself in the brain.

Now, it is obvious that Germany dominated this game in many critical aspects, namely possession of the ball. But given the gap in quality of the players on the field, that was to be expected. There were other aspects of the game that were encouraging—and not just the fact that the U.S. had two chances in stoppage time to steal a tie. For starters, there were our standouts. Tim Howard has played remarkably all tournament. He moves across his box with tremendous concentration and authority. Mexico's Ochoa has become a GIF idol, but Howard is an incredible safety blanket. Then there's Jermaine Jones. Before the game, he was slighted on Twitter as a German reject. (He has a German mother and therefore could have joined the juggernaut if selected for it.) As much as anyone in this tournament, he gobbles up balls, shatters oncoming attacks, and flings his body into the cause. (His strike against Portugal was a true golazo, too.) These qualities haven't always manifested themselves. Or rather, he has frequently undermined himself by drifting out of position and demonstrating other forms of indiscipline. The placement of Kyle Beckerman alongside him in midfield has helped compensate for these weakness, covering for him as he roams after the action. But he is also playing better than he ever has in the U.S. shirt.

Then there's our defense. They are an experimental collection of journeymen who have done a fine job of stymying the first-rate German attack. Their performance, aside from a memorable gaffe in Manaus, has exceeded expectations. The Besler-Beasley combination has worked out nicely. Fabian Johnson has been a handful when he rampages forward.

All of this is to say, Bravo, Klinsmann. He has made the right decisions in structuring his squad. When he makes a mistake like starting Brad Davis, he quickly reverses himself. Before this tournament, I thought that he had oriented his squad too defensively; that he would make do with a mediocre group of players by picking a midfield that was more goonish than creative. But the promise of Klinsmann was that he would help the U.S. transcend its history as an ersatz England, reliant on the long ball, grit, and organizational competence. To my surprise, he is delivering on that promise despite the limitations of his players. We don't simply fall back into a defensive pose, crowding the box with ten players. His team attacks and they possess the ball for long stretches. Klinsmann has made important steps to transforming the DNA of American soccer.

It is easy to look at Belgium and today's results and to imagine looming doom. Belgium have always been a chic pick in this tournament to win the whole damn thing. And they have a collection of great players, a far more talented unit than our own. But it's the contrasting performances that gives me hope. Belgium have rolled through the weakest group but failed to gel yet. They remain a collection of stars without a system and a sense of coherence—the two qualities that we have evinced in the last two games. Belgium have trounced us before but they are beatable.