Since it appears that we are going to be stuck with Jurgen Klinsmann as the US Men’s National Team manager for the foreseeable future, it seems prudent to get to the bottom of what the boss really means when he unleashes his well-worn contradictions.
If you’ve followed the USMNT since Klinsmann got the job in 2011, you know that very little of what the manager says can be taken at face value. So here, I’ve taken a shot at unearthing Klinsmann’s real truths.
Klinsmann says: US players need to compete at the highest level.
Klinsmann means: Some US players – Jozy Altidore, Clint Dempsey, Michael Bradley (in other words, every major American star who has returned to MLS anyway over the last two years) – should play in the Champions League. But others, like Mix Diskerud, and Brek Shea, he wants in MLS. And he’ll still call you into camp if you play in the NASL or college soccer – or, better yet, the German fourth division.
Klinsmann says: We are going to be very aggressive.
Klinsmann means: Well, if he says it in the World Cup, it means we are going to sit two blocks of five in front of our goal, try to counter – or better yet, get a corner – and hope goalkeeper Tim Howard is the team’s most influential player. In other words, it means don’t trust your team to keep the ball for even three minutes against Ghana. You don’t get outshot with 92-41 in the World Cup on accident.
Klinsmann says: The US has to believe it can beat anyone in the world.
Klinsmann means: We have to be realistic. We were underdogs in the Group of Death – after all, we couldn’t win the 2014 World Cup, and in 2018 we should dream of the semifinals. Let’s not be ridiculous here.
Klinsmann says: I’m invested in the long-term growth of US Soccer.
Klinsmann means: Apparently the long-term growth of US Soccer is disconnected from the growth of MLS, since that is a venture that Klinsmann is clearly torn about.
As long as the league only employs such World Cup worthy talents as Brad Davis and Chris Wondolowski, it’s fine, but bring in those national teams stars like Dempsey and Bradley and MLS becomes a problem.
It would make sense that as the domestic American league gets stronger, the national team will get stronger. But for Klinsmann it’s not that simple.
Klinsmann says: US Soccer needs to establish a progressive style of soccer on the field.
Klinsmann means: It’s unclear, really. When Klinsmann was hired, one of his main talking points was about style – finding an American style, whatever it might be, and using it throughout the US program.
But there’s been absolutely no progress on this front. Klinsmann sets up his team to try to win by whatever means possible. In the Azteca against Mexico, it was bunkering. That’s how much of the World Cup went too.
Against weaker opponents, Klinsmann has favored more offense. What’s clear is that there is no uniform style that the US has settled upon or is trying to achieve.
Klinsmann is smart. There’s no question about that. He knows he’s in a results business, and as bubbly and charismatic as he might seem personally, his US managerial style has been nothing short of cynical.
Klinsmann says: Michael Bradley is a #10.
Klinsmann means: It worked for one half in an April friendly against Mexico, so clearly Bradley as an attacking midfielder is the future. No use denying it.
Klinsmann says: Fitness is vital.
Klinsmann means: Get ready for those non-contact muscle injuries! World Cup victims included Jozy Altidore, Fabian Johnson, and Matt Besler.
Klinsmann says: The US has to “get nastier.”
Klinsmann means: It’s not malicious, but Klinsmann seems to have a certain distrust of the mental fortitude American players. As Americanized as Klinsmann is in his personal life, he’s a hard-core German when it comes to soccer.
Perhaps that distrust stemmed from his relationship with the introspective, ever-searching Donovan – the first major American player he coached – but Klinsmann seems to think that American players are less driven than their European counterparts. It’s hard to knock Klinsmann for that bias; after all, he’s had plenty of success in soccer doing things his way.
But it’s almost as if he doesn’t understand some American players. Is that a great quality in the coach of the US National Team? You decide.
Klinsmann says: In the United States, aging stars like Kobe Bryant are catered to solely for their past accomplishments.
Klinsmann means: I’m getting ready to screw Landon Donovan.
Klinsmann means: Actually, this one seems pretty clear