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Klinsmann talks penalty kick approach as knockout phase draws near

Clint Dempsey of USA

photo by Kieran McManus/


SAO PAULO —  With the group stage now over and done with and the knockout rounds drawing near, the subject of penalty kicks was bound to come up to U.S. Men’s National Team head coach Jurgen Klinsmann eventually.

It did not take very long at all.

Klinsmann was asked about his penalty-kicks approach on Friday, a day after the U.S. booked a Round of 16 meeting with Belgium. Klinsmann did not say who his preferred five spot kick takers would be if a penalty shootout situation were to arise in that July 1 match in Salvador or beyond, but admitted that he has had the Americans preparing for such a scenario for quite some time now.

“We were practicing already in Stanford, so it’s just part of normal preparation,” said Klinsmann, referring to the start of the U.S. pre-World Cup camp in May. “You have to prepare for things. You prepare set pieces, you prepare penalties, you tell the players how to approach a penalty. It’s a mental moment, so if you’re not prepared for that mental moment to walk from the halfway line in front of 60,000 to the penalty spot and get the job done, then I think it’s wrong.”

U.S. captain Clint Dempsey has taken the majority of the Americans’ penalty kicks in recent times, so he seems all but certain to be one of Klinsmann’s top choices. The other four spots are a bit more of an unknown, though there are some candidates like veteran midfielders Michael Bradley and Jermaine Jones who would seem like good options for the immense-pressure situation.

Another possibility is midfielder Brad Davis. Davis has experience in taking big penalty kicks, having converted the winner in the Americans’ shootout victory over Panama in the 2005 Gold Cup final.

“The key going into knockout stage is about understanding the dynamic of knockout games,” said Klinsmann. “That means do or die.”

Tim Howard has developed a reputation in the English Premier League of being a good penalty kick stopper, but Belgium’s Thibault Courtois wouldn’t exactly be easy for American kick takers to beat either.

That would leave the onus on the five players that Klinsmann would select. The process to help determine which five would face a potential pressure-cooker situation may have been started back in May, but the preparations are not complete.

“We coaches have to walk them through that process and now in every training we will practice penalties,” said Klinsmann. “It’s just a normal thing, and hopefully they are prepared, they are ready, they are calm enough and put it in their favorite corner or wherever that is.”


  1. Johannsson scored a PK in a CL match.
    Dempsey has trouble putting it on frame, for example vs Panama in WCQ, but has more experience than the others with PKs.
    Good point about Davis converting a PK in the Gold Cup.
    Jones has confidence if nothing else.
    Johnson would round-out the five.

  2. Has Tim Howard actually ever saved a pk? I can’t remember it happening. I would love to see his all time pk stats with the USA (and club but listed separate)

    Also, is there a list of every pk shootout the USA has ever been in? What’s our all time record?

    • First I remember was the 1995 victory over Mexico in the Copa America (4-1) a scoreless game. Here are the others since. I think this is all of them, though I am happy to be corrected:

      2005 – W vs Panama 0-0 (3-1 in shootout)
      2002 – W vs Canada 0-0 (4-2 in shootout)
      2000- :L vs Columbia 2-2 (2-1) in shootout

      As for Howard, I cannot recall any saves in a USMNT shirt. Since 2009, he has saved 6 of 15 for Everton (40%)

      Strangley, penalties really aren’t part of our diet at the World Cup. We have conceded two PK goals (1990, 2006) all time and scored two (1950, 2010), fewer than the # of own goals we’ve forced (3).

  3. I’m not even sure who takes a penalty during a game. We all know Dempsey is not great. However, when it comes to a penalty shootout I think you have to go with the leaders and best players on the team, even if they aren’t so good at penalty kicks. Altidore, Dempsey, Bradley, Jones, Johnson, Zusi, Johansson.

  4. Let hope we beat Belgium without having to go to PKs. Their goalie is out of this world. Argentina and Switzerland yeah we can that chance

    • Agree Courtois is amazing, but Howard is not some punk kid either. It’s more about the takers’ ability to handle the situation.

      Look at the Brazil Chile shootout — really only thre players (David Luis, the Chile #20, and Neymar) took confident, credible penalties that were converted. The others either missed the target or went very near dead center with no disguise or pace. “Just put it on frame and hope he guesses wrong” was the prevailing mentality.

      Honestly, I’m not sure who our guys are here. Strangely, sometimes defenders make excellent PK takers, as they don’t have this fear or expectation. I hope they discover the right personnel during training.

      But like you I’d rather we never find out. Penalties are for the birds but it’s a necessary evil until somebody comes up with a better idea.

    • Hard to say not knowing who will be on the field (extra time will require subs) but I presume they will take PKs in training and that will determine who takes.

      • It’s usual coaching stuff. The possibility of a shoot-out always is factored into late subs. And JK is right about it being usual to get a few PK moments here and there along the way, once you have your team in camp. It’s not a focus, but something you also don’t want to ignore completely. So he’s seen everyone take at least a few.

  5. In my opinion, Klinsmann should not say anything else anymore, since in his own words “realistically, this team is not going to win the WC.” Our players may prove him wrong and make it farther down the bracket where he may have to say “I WAS WRONG.”

    • He’s admitted when he’s gotten things wrong before. So no need for the CAPS. Still holding on to that statement from so long ago? Funny how the team responded and it’s even funnier how the only ones to keep bringing it up and hanging onto it like dear life itself are fans and the media.

      I am sure JK would love to see his team go far, even if it means having some get to say WE TOLD YOU SO!

    • You guys are hilarious.

      Let me tell you a story that might help you out here. A good friend of mine coaches an elite high school boys cross-country program here in SoCal, a hotbed of running. Every time I’ve visited her practices during the summer, she is openly pessimistic about the possibility of winning their league or competing at the regional or state. In front of the team, in the local newspapers. Wherever.

      They have now won league titles in 15 of her 16 years there. They are regulars on the podium at the regional and state level. And I’m sure she is busy at this very moment telling some local journo that they just don’t have the talent this year.

      Wake up guys. JK doesn’t give a hoot what you think about these comments. You are a USMNT fan. Your only obligation is to get amped and noisy for your boys. You should be abled to motivate yourselves. Getting that extra 1-2% out of our athletes that you need to make the difference is his job. And he is good at it.

  6. Does this mean we are going to bunker down again and play for the draw like against Germany?
    So much for attacking football.

    • I don’t think so. I think it’s just an indication of how tight these games can now get at this point, particularly for a team like the US. It’s hard for me to imagine Klinsmann would, from the onset, go out to tie, play 30 minutes of O.T., and then hope to beat a team with P.K.s. Sounds like a recipe for exhaustion and failure in the next quarter-final match to come.

      • So the option is to come out and attack Belgium? Not going to happen. This is going to be Bunker Bob Ball X 2.
        Twenty sideways passes, five backward passes, one long ball up the field. Rinse and repeat.
        This is why games get close at this stage. Last World Cup no team had the balls or the skills to do anything else but bunker agains Spain.

    • The knockout stage, 4 games to get to the final, historically produces tight,close games in every sense.

      In 2010 Spain won all four games 1-0.

      The pressure is other worldy and the competition should be tougher for everyone. So goal fests or blowouts are going to be rare.

      • Doesn’t it take three wins in the knockout round to reach the finals? Like Belgium In rd 16. The Swiss in the quarter finals, then a semi final matchup with Costa Rica and presto, the finals

  7. Futbolisimo’s Knockout Round Pics:

    * Chile *
    ** Chile **
    * Columbia *
    *** France Finalist ***
    * France *
    ** France **
    * Germany *

    * Holland *
    ** Holland **
    Costa Rica
    * Costa Rica *
    *** Holland Finalist ***
    * Argentina *
    ** Argentina **
    * USA *

    Final: France v. Holland

    Winner: Vive la France!

    Keys to success:

    – Chile: stay hot and keep Alexis Sanchez healthy and creative.

    – Columbia: keep those milky smooth attacking wheels churnin’.

    – France: young-ins must keep keepin’ it cool and beyond their years.

    – Germany: remain their pasty-white, boring, efficient selves.

    – Dutch: twee woorden – Robben & Robin.

    – Costa Rica: get resto and hold on to those sueños and don’t change a thing.

    – USA: bionic titanium-silicone-hybrid transplant of Jozy’s hamstring, like yesterday.

    – Argentina: brew up mas maté con muchisimo más cafeína en el medio del parque.

      • Ha, no, not necessarily. I just wanted to do some unconventional picking this time for a sport that is (mostly) so magically irrational and unpredictable. I never really thought USA would get out of the Group Stage. Ghana was a miracle in my opinion. Cannot believe they came out of that match with 3 points. And this is nothing personal against the guys on the squad. I like them, but Klinsmann has tactically made lemonade out of…

      • Thanx, np here. Imo, the following 8 advance to quarters:


        However, if there are any upsets of this it’d be:

        Costa Rica

      • Pretty much. And yes, the US team beating Belgium, a squad with such Champion’s League-quality talent (and that also made the US look like boys a year ago) feels like a major upset in the W.C…

      • For everybody really, not just you, ELO Rankings had the USA at 13 and Belgium at 14 in their latest rankings immediately before the tournament started. Belgium got through an easy group easily but without shining. The US squeaked through a very hard group. I’d call that about an even showing for each team. You can call it an upset if you want, but these are pretty much evenly matched teams despite the big Belgian names.

      • “(and that also made the US look like boys a year ago)”

        A friendly and in the next game the US beat Germany. Both games have little relevance today.

      • C Squad – Dude that’s crap! There were three starters in the Germany line up from that 4-3 loss playing in the World Cup and others on the pine.

        No C Squad players make the World Cup. None!

    • I afraid of Brazil losing and causing more protest because they spent so much $$$ to get a world cup that I would just fuel the protest.


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