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.
SOS (Sigi’s Outta Seattle)
Unlike Frasier, Sigi Schmid will sign-off from Seattle without a shelf full of awards.
Sigi Schmid, the now former head soccer coach of the Seattle Sounders (and mid-season, no less) will now be afforded an intriguing future that could very well pin his resume beside Jürgen Klinsmann’s resume. At 63 years of age, Mr. Schmid, barring an unknown physical condition/restriction or family issue, has many years left to lead a soccer club.
Or national team?
On the plus side, Mr. Schmid compiled a team in the Columbus Crew that had a few familiar names (foreign and domestic) and nearly an entire roster of virtual unknowns that put together one of the best MLS Cup runs in the league’s history. That championship, the first MLS Cup for the Crew, was hoisted with fanfare in 2008 in Los Angeles. And fans remember that special title from eight years ago.
On the negative side, his teams in Seattle, while filled with young and excitingly promising talent, was mostly just that: promising. On a further negative note, Mr. Schmid’s squads are typically anchored by a foreign star near or slightly above his prime. Consider that arguably the greatest dilemma for the USMNT (United States Men’s National Team) is transitioning from the current/older roster of players from the past two World Cups towards a revolution of youth and unknown chemistry, so to speak.
Could Sigi Schmid find his creative stroke circa Columbus Crew 2008 again?
At the same time, recall Sigi Schmid failed to win the MLS Cup in Seattle with the Sounders with all the money and resources thrown his way. And winning the MLS Cup was the purpose of his hire.
This debate will slowly intensify and U.S. Soccer has to move fast to determine if results and style against the best national teams in the world hold any significance in maintaining or appointing the USMNT head coach. U.S. Soccer can illogically stick with Mr. Klinsmann (when an artist paints a frustratingly repetitive and dismal future for an audience craving optimism, hire a new artist) or fire and then hire a new manager with an exciting and dynamic vision with a proven record of success at either the club or with a national team at the highest level.
Interestingly, the word “fired” hasn’t been used to describe the “parting of ways” between Sigi Schmid and the Sounders organization. Perhaps Seattle’s MLS brass foresaw a firing as a self-admittance and declaration of going 0-8 at trying to win the MLS Cup. Was it just bad luck? Note that this kind of streak didn’t exist when Sigi Schmid managed the massive Columbus Crew. Maybe that was then and this is now?
As Frasier Crane would say, with authority, wit and his piercing glare, “there are no accidents.”
We’ll have to wait and see if U.S. Soccer executives agree with that psychological diagnosis whilst eating tossed salads and scrambled eggs.
P.S. Frasier’s logic also applies to current USMNT head coach Jürgen Klinsmann.
There’s No Coming Back From 4-Nil
Argentina 4 – United States 0 (played in Houston, Texas)
The same roster, the same “tactics” and the same result.
If Jürgen Klinsmann isn’t fired now, when?
The Jürgen Klinsmann Experiment reached its peak level of misery last night. The Copa América Centenario semifinal loss against Messi & Co. should’ve lit the final piece of wood in the fire beneath Mr. Klinsmann’s seat. Hopefully, the incompetent senior leadership at U.S. Soccer will finally act accordingly. The group responsible for hiring and firing has yet another opening (and possibly the last and best chance) to finally fire Mr. Klinsmann based on uninspired performances lacking purpose and creativity and drastically unrealized expectations throughout his 5-years as USMNT manager before the United States devolves towards a third consecutive underwhelming World Cup.
The United States is far better than what they’ve shown under the management of Mr. Klinsmann and five years has been more than enough time.
As Americans have proven for 22 years since this country hosted the World Cup and started Major League Soccer two years later, the United States is excited for this growing sport and are ready to see its best eleven take a step towards respect on the world’s best fields. In fact, the ambition should extend to being feared. That’s not happening. Perhaps surprisingly, the impatience in the USMNT is not rooted in enduring necessary growing pains, but instead in the Groundhog Day syndrome.
Living the same day/watching the same underwhelming team over-and-over-again isn’t fun.
At least the movie has Bill Murray.
One criticism that cannot be kicked at USMNT head coach Jürgen Klinsmann is inconsistency. Mr. Klinsmann has been, to a fault (or two or three), relentless in his approach and supposed vision. As has been written about and examined many times on this blog, U.S. Soccer needs to move on from its current manager, most of its roster, current style of play (there’s a style of play?) and hire a manager with a proven track record of success at the highest club or national team level.
A list of potential replacements will be the focus of a separate blog post.
Jürgen Klinsmann, given time, was supposed to build and mold a USMNT that could compete with the best in the world. Last night was Mr. Klinsmann’s litmus test five years in the making. When he started with the USMNT in 2011, genuinely competing against Argentina and the like was the main reason for his hiring. Hosting and playing the second best team in the world (Germany is still the best), hands across America quickly covered the faces of the game’s discouraged viewers.
Yes, Messi was Messi (whose beautiful assist and subsequent free kick strike made him his country’s all-time goal scorer) and Argentina played very well, but the Americans didn’t even make the game competitive. The first Argentinian goal, headed past a visibly startled Guzan in the third minute with Beckerman day dreaming nearby, was a perfect encapsulation of the match: Argentina was ready at every touch of the ball with spontaneity and vision, while the Americans couldn’t decide whether to pressure or back off, play or watch.
The end result was a comprehensive 4-nil domination by South America’s footballing royalty.
Like Lavezzi, U.S. Soccer needs to use its head or Groundhog Day could get Russian subtitles in a couple years.
Cuatro a Cero Sounds Good Too
First: Columbus, Ohio is THE undisputed soccer capital of the United States of America.
(What would Johan Cruyff do?)
As tributes from the Netherlands to Spain and all around the world continue for the recently deceased footballing legend Johan Cruyff, his name should be on the minds of the USMNT (United States Men’s National Team) and its fans.
When you consider the confusing insistence of Jürgen Klinsmann to use the same players who struggle to win big games against top teams (and lesser opponents), who lead squads that lack any apparent tactical purpose, how is anything going to change without making a big change at the top. Mr. Klinsmann selects his players and decides who plays and who he develops.
Too many players who should be on the pitch gaining valuable experience aren’t getting genuine opportunities to play and improve, which is ironic given Jürgen’s prowess for recruiting young, dual-citizenship talent.
The 2-nil loss at Guatemala this past Friday was shocking, but, sadly, not entirely surprising. Guatemala is not a powerhouse by any stretch of the imagination and if the 95th FIFA ranked CONCACAF foe becomes the standard for success, the USMNT is really in trouble. And this is why Cruyff should be on the minds of American coaches, players and fans tonight and in the near future.
Johan Cruyff’s style was/is world-class that looks like a high-stakes, speed-infused master level chess game. However, don’t be fooled, it takes tremendous vision, hard work and talent to execute his philosophy. Most teams can get results just playing for the win. But teams with an objective focused on carrying out a grand strategy with complex, purposeful movement and possession that can attack at will, while simultaneously simplifying the game with clarity and mesmerizing with creativity are commonly referred to as champions.
Is this how you would currently describe the USMNT?
Win or lose tonight (I predicted a win), Jürgen Klinsmann’s future should still be discussed with pressing questions going forward. My vote has been for a new coach for quite some time now. The issue isn’t just advancing in World Cup qualifying, but whether or not the USMNT product on the pitch can play against, and not just chase, the best teams in the world.
Granted, Klinsmann and Co. delivered a massive win in a massive stadium when they needed a victory. 4-nil warrants congratulations. The goals were great and the atmosphere was incredible. At Crew Stadium, the USMNT team has won 8 games, including 7 World Cup qualifiers with absolutely zero losses.
Once again, well done Columbus!
However, is keeping Klinsmann as manager worth risking another underwhelming 4-year World Cup cycle?
That’s the massive question leaving Columbus, Ohio.
P.S. Local fan favorite Ethan Finlay was clearly onside when he scored.