We’ve entered year five of Jurgen Klinsmann’s reign as U.S. men’s national team coach, and his world remains a nebulous, volatile one. The progress fans were promised when he succeeded Bob Bradley has yet to arrive, and any hope that the program’s reinforced foundations have a.) actually been reinforced, and b.) will offer a better tomorrow is obscured by the present, one where half the fanbase see Klinsmann as acceptable; the other half, a fraud.
This international break’s two results did little to unite those worlds, but a subtler, less equivocal truth is starting to emerge. As Klinsmann continues to use friendlies to experiment — as he starts the likes of Michael Orozco and Ventura Alvarado in central defense for what should be a high profile match — the importance of actually watching these games gets diminished. As Steve Davis said last week, drawing big lessons from these games is always a mistake, but now the joy of viewing them is starting to evaporate, too. When it comes to the actual quality on display, some of these games just aren’t actually that good.
For the most devoted of national team fans, supporting the team is not optional, but for those of us who take in soccer as entertainment, this summer has been rough. Poor Gold Cup performances with brow-furrowing team selections have established a pattern that extended into this break. The excitement of a coming U.S. friendly has been replaced with memories of sitting through two hours of alternating boredom and frustration – the type of performances that leave people feeling so disappointed by international soccer.
It’s not fun to see a team, matched up against a foe with Brazil’s talents, use the game as a test bed for Alejandro Bedoya in defensive midfield. It’s not entertaining to see a team match Championship-level defender Tim Ream against Premier League-caliber attacker Willian. It’s not a fun soccer experience to see Jozy Altidore abandoned at the top of a formation, and a game’s entertainment value destroyed when a cast of players in unfamiliar roles lack the chemistry to execute attacking movements.
These games are on ESPN and FOX Sports. The networks send their A-list talent to cover them. We get pregame shows, one-on-one interviews, a barrage of coverage from the usual suspects with the idea that this is entertainment.
But it’s not. It’s more akin to a bad movie than something that generates excitement. The pomp, circumstance, ritual of the U.S. friendly has the feeling of a big Pixar blockbuster, but the experience has become Pixels – a trite idea from a bad production company, pandering and poorly executed, with a leading man so many have grown tired of.