How good are things going for U.S. men's national team coach Jurgen Klinsmann?
Even when Klinsmann makes a mistake now, it's not so bad.
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After a rough start to 2013, Klinsmann has the United States on a 10-game winning streak heading into Sunday's Gold Cup final against Panama (3 p.m., Fox, Univision) at Soldier Field. Klinsmann won't be on the bench for the game, suspended by CONCACAF for his actions in Wednesday's semifinal.
"We're going to use it as a little bit of a rallying cry," U.S. forward/midfielder Landon Donovan said Saturday before training at Soldier Field. "We've built something really special here, and we want Jurgen to be a part of it."
If Panama somehow upsets the United States, the storyline will be:
•The U.S. would have won with Klinsmann.
In February the storyline was:
•Can the United States win with Klinsmann?
And the United States isn't just winning, it has had tons of fun while winning, outscoring opponents 19-4 in the first five games of this tournament. Gone are the days when the United States would score a goal and then sit on the lead, hoping to eke out a 1-0 victory. Now the attitude is score and get some more.
It's the kind of soccer that looks great on national TV. And it shows just how much U.S. Soccer is maturing.
"At the end of the day, the players, we get the credit on the field, but people don't see what goes on behind the scenes," U.S. forward Eddie Johnson said. "There was a lot of pressure when (Klinsmann) came in as a coach and things weren't going well. Now things are starting to go well and he's getting a lot of praise. Not having him on the bench gives us extra motivation going into this game tomorrow."
The Americans are promising there will be no letdown because the opponent is Panama instead of archrival Mexico.
"We're more motivated to play Panama because they beat Mexico," Donovan said, calling Panama the best team in the tournament along with the United States.
"We've got to give everything we have and make it a great final for everybody involved," Klinsmann added.
If Klinsmann gets to celebrate on the field with his team after Sunday's game, it will be a great final for him after all, but he knows he will feel the heat if the United States stumbles when World Cup qualifying resumes in September. The Gold Cup is nice, but it's just a sideshow for Klinsmann and the United States on the way next June's World Cup.
"We want to go to Brazil," Klinsmann said, "where the big music is played."