Should U.S. Soccer Reinvest in the Same Kind of Arena for the Future?
“Patience is a virtue.”
True, but staying with it two-and-a-half years past its boiling point was beyond any logical comprehension.
The Big News: Jürgen Klinsmann was fired as the head coach of the USMNT (United States Men’s National Team).
Many will speculate that this decision was driven by the recent and shocking opening group losses for the World Cup in 2018 to “That Team Down South” (Jimmy’s Daily Planet trademark pending) 2-1 in the “Dos-a-Cero” sanctuary known as Crew Stadium in the soccer capital of U.S. Soccer on November 11th, followed by an equally embarrassing and inexcusable 4-nil drubbing in Costa Rica days later.
Sure, but soccer fans paying close attention knew Mr. Klinsmann’s American soccer experiment had reached the insanity level years ago.
Bigger News: Regardless of performances on the pitch (fair, mostly bad and worse), nothing changed. The same roster was compiled with minor, predictably ineffective alterations. The same core group of players were given multiple (yes, multiple) World Cups to define and showcase their talents in leading the USMNT. And yet, each World Cup (again, that’s plural) in 2010 and 2014 revealed nearly identical staleness regarding vision, creativity and results.
Precise and purposeful ball movement that is adaptable, whilst breaking down the complexities of the opponent’s defensive apparatus? Nope.
Kick the ball up top and then hope for the best. Yup.
Not only that, but the 2014 World Cup roster for the USMNT with newcomers Kyle Beckerman, Alejandro Bedoya, Matt Besler, Geoff Cameron, Timmy Chandler, Brad Davis, Omar Gonzalez, Brad Guzan, Jermaine Jones, Graham Zusi and Chris Wondolowski achieved…
Do you know? Nothing comes to mind. What sophisticated, fluid style did they enact on the pitch? Again, my mind is blank.
That’s quite a feat, considering that the only place for the USMNT to go is, well, up. And this is why Mr. Klinsmann’s American soccer experiment is described as insane above, which is that the same ineffectual roster with the same non-existent strategy (micro and macro) was used for the past several years and the end result was a wasted 2014 World Cup by not bringing in the youngsters to lead a daringly exciting and innovative team of the future. The names that come to mind are Julian Green (Bayern Munich, 21), Mix Diskerud (NYCFC, 26), Christian Pulisic (Borussia Dortmund, 18), Aron Jóhannsson (SV Werder Bremen, 26), Wil Trapp (Columbus Crew, 23) and Gedion Zelalem (Arsenal, 19), to name just a few.
To be fair to Mr. Klinsmann, he played Julian Green against Belgium in the 2014 World Cup and Mr. Green rewarded Americans with a goal against those Belgians.
Let’s not forget that some of the best players in the world have to work their entire careers with the best clubs to earn the honor to represent their country is just one World Cup. U.S. Soccer claims to mimic the rest of the world in order to catch up to their level in Europe and South America. Fair enough. However, U.S. Soccer has neglected to include the same standards as the best national teams in Europe and South America.
Why did Mr. Klinsmann select the right dual-citizenship players and then refuse to develop them through natural growing pains?
The Biggest News: I have been writing on many, many occasions about these very concerns and about how Mr. Klinsmann should have been fired a long, long time ago. So, while I am very happy his tenure as USMNT manager is over, the next question is who will replace Mr. Klinsmann? Conventional wisdom and hearsay points to former USMNT head coach Bruce Arena. This is a double-edged sword. Yes, Mr. Arena coached the last great USMNT in 2002, but he also knows the system. And there’s the key phrase: “the system.” That leads me to believe that Mr. Arena, if appointed, will not change the system, but merely tinker within it. Odds are high that hiring Mr. Arena for a second go-around will look and feel more like a band-aid rather than a creative overhaul for the future that’s desperately needed and available at the next manager’s finger tips.
The quality on the pitch has to improve (after Mr. Bradley and Mr. Klinsmann, it’s damn near rock bottom), yet it appears as though the status quo in the starting eleven and call-ups will remain mostly the same. Landon Donovan will likely return, along with a few other familiar names to American soccer fans.
Just what American soccer fans are yearning for right now: Something familiar.
The USMNT will be better, but the revolution of selecting the best American players in MLS and leagues around the world based on talent, shared philosophy and individual fit within a cohesive collective unit without great concern for name ID and not simply choosing the most familiar or “tested” athletes, whatever that means anymore for players deemed “inexperienced” with the USMNT, will be put on hold in all likelihood. An unwillingness and fear of the unknown by known personnel at the top and within the U.S. Soccer family to venture into a brave new world will prevent the grand opportunity for dynamic innovation with a bit of exhilarating mystery attached and, instead, very likely opt for the reliably non-flashy, safe approach led by Mr. Bruce Arena.
On the one hand, Mr. Arena did select Brian McBride, Brad Friedel and John O’Brien for his 2002 World Cup roster.
On the other hand, Mr. Arena did select Jeff Agoos to start in his back line for the 2002 World Cup.
The risk/reward with Mr. Arena guiding the USMNT to its promised land is a coin flip at 50/50.
News That Needs To Happen: It’s time to fire Sunil Gulati, the U.S. Soccer Federation President.
Mr. Gulati, and his business partners at U.S. Soccer, hired and then fired Bob Bradley and Jürgen Klinsmann. Clearly, he doesn’t have the intelligence, vision or basic understanding of the beautiful game to lead U.S. Soccer at the highest level. Why should Mr. Gulati be trusted to hire a third head coach of the USMNT? He’s been disastrously 0-2 recently. That’s around a decade of bad judgement.
We are living in the era when people feel (rightly so in many cases) that institutions of all varieties are failing them. That’s actually a false assumption. It’s the people leading the institutions that are failing. Just like the pitch, it’s way past time for the next generation of soccer professionals to lead U.S. Soccer into a promising future. The right players are ready to work and thrive and USMNT fans are ready to cheer and make the United States a soccer nation (see Columbus, OH if you have any concerns with this notion). Incredibly, the United States may have flashes of a golden generation of sorts in the wings.
However, if the next USMNT head coach doesn’t shine a bright enough light (or any light) on these aforementioned players, then we’ll see yet another major American soccer investment in fool’s gold.