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Jurgen Klinsmann, Jozy Altidore and theories of dark motives

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Jurgen Klinsmann doesn’t like MLS players, right? It’s so obvious! (Well, except for all those he took to Brazil last year … way more than Bob Bradley took to South Africa in 2010. But never mind that!)

Jurgen Klinsmann plays favorites with some agents and, therefore, favors their clients, right?

Someone’s got pictures of Jurgen Klinsmann; that’s the only way to explain his unpredictable choices! Of course they do.

It’s all such nonsense. And yet it persists, as U.S. Soccer supporters strain to explain what looks to them like the unexplainable.

Only, it’s not. Unexplainable, that is. Nothing of the sort. You just have to accept some basic truths when it comes to Klinsmann and thought processes that tilt toward the less conventional.

So before we get into the latest of Klinsmann’s newsy personnel choices, let’s review some central truths about the U.S. manager (which mostly apply to all managers):

There are no dark motives here. This isn’t the X Files, where “the truth is out there.” He is just a manager trying to win games – fully aware that Ws and Ls will ultimately dictate how long he keeps that office at the StubHub Center in sunny So-Cal. He’s no different than any other coach that way.

Yet, somehow, a bunch of U.S. Soccer supporters – probably a minority, but even a small group can make a bunch of racket, as we know – seem to see conspiracy theories – which is where we wander into the goofball zone.

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Coaches make choices based on what they think is best for the team. Period. You may not agree – which is fine. I haven’t liked all of his choices; Timothy Chandler’s ongoing inclusion is the latest puzzler. But our opinions don’t really matter, do they? Honestly, he doesn’t owe us explanations.

Perhaps some fans read more into his choices because he actually tries to explain them … and he’s not the best at it. It’s probably not easy, attempting to explain tough choices while working in a second language, while avoiding the tacky, self-serving practice of publicly throwing nonperformers under the bus.

Honestly, I think Klinsmann would slightly unclutter his life if he wouldn’t fly those explanatory balloons. Maybe he should be more surly and matter-of-fact, a la Bruce Arena or Louis van Gaal. They do what they do and they don’t care if you like it – nor do they bother to explain.

But he does try to proffer explanation, which smells too much like strained attempts at justification to those who spend too much time in dark corners of the internet. It makes the grassy knoll types lean in harder to their conspiracy theories.

Fans like to lament that Klinsmann just doesn’t like this guy, or gives that guy more chances “because he likes him.” Well, yeah! That’s what being a manager is all about. Every coach “likes” certain players over others. That’s because every athlete comes with a varied set of skills and abilities; managers prioritize these differently – sometimes to wildly differing degrees.

So we get to the Jozy Altidore news; the Toronto FC man was released back to his MLS club and will not participate in the CONCACAF Gold Cup money rounds. (Elimination play begins this weekend with the tourney quarterfinals.) Here is what Klinsmann said about the striker, who is coming off his latest hamstring injury and didn’t look good in two Gold Cup starts:

“We believe that Jozy’s just not there yet,” Klinsmann said. “Jozy never really got into this tournament and never really picked up the rhythm. He’s just simply not in the shape right now to help us. For Jozy, it’s just simply going back to Toronto, picking up his rhythm, getting in shape, working on his fitness and then he will start scoring goals again.”

Klinsmann added Alan Gordon as a replacement to his Gold Cup roster. The U.S. manager also released Greg Garza and Alfredo Morales in favor of the more experienced DaMarcus Beasley and the more dynamic Joe Corona.

Altidore will be back. Honestly, who else does the United States have at this position? Gordon is great for a late spark and brings a bag full of “giver” spirit and can-do attitude, which Klinsmann loves. But is the 33-year-old MLS backup really the answer over 90 minutes against Mexico, or down in the qualifier tests ahead down in Honduras or Guatemala?

Klinsmann’s larger ambitions (including World Cup qualifying, which begins for the United States sooner than you might think, in November) needs a fit, sharp Altidore. If this is a motivational ploy (which is possible), it has worked before. Remember how well Altidore responded to being excluded from an important stretch in late 2012: by scoring in a U.S. Soccer record five consecutive goals in 2013.

So perhaps it’s motivation with an eye to the future. Maybe he saw what the rest of us saw in Gold Cup matches against Honduras and Haiti, an ineffective striker who is low on fitness and confidence.

Either way, everyone should get out of the “dark motive” business. Disagree if you like; sometimes that’s what impassioned support is all about. But any starting point beyond “the coach wants to win games, now and later,” is an exercise in conspiratorial nincompoopery.

Editor’s note: Steve Davis writes a weekly column for World Soccer Talk. He shares his thoughts and opinions on US and MLS soccer topics every Wednesday, as well as news reports throughout the week. You can follow Steve on Twitter at @stevedavis90. Plus, read Steve’s other columns on World Soccer Talk 

 

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5 Comments

5 Comments

  1. Firas Shadad

    July 15, 2015 at 5:04 pm

    Some of the criticism to JK is justified and a lot of it is not.
    Could it be related to anti-foreigner sentiment? possible but less likely.
    I feel some of it can been put into two categories:

    1.Certain fan feels that they have to criticize their team manager to feel legitimized. Unless you criticize your team or manger you are not a true fan mantra.
    2. My conspiracy theory relates to retired USMNT players. I feel that he is not on good terms with them and they might have an agenda against him. Lots of them have a platforms (TV or radio) to voice their opinion.

    • David

      July 15, 2015 at 6:33 pm

      I agree with no 2. Wasn’t Bruce Arena critical of JK a few years ago saying something like the USA needs more American born players? It does seem like the retired players dislike JK for whatever reason. I’ve question some of the player selections, but overall, I feel JK is the best coach the USA has ever had.

      • Firas Shadad

        July 15, 2015 at 10:25 pm

        I think some of his MLS comments might have rubbed some retired players the wrong way. His job is not to promote MLS but rather build a good national team.
        As for JK’s legacy, I think he will end up being the best coach ever for the USA. His winning % is similar to Bruce Arena at this point.

  2. Smokey Bacon

    July 15, 2015 at 4:51 pm

    I’m not American and I’ve been frequently critical of Klinsmann for no other reason than his team’s frequently look like strangers on the pitch. Too often the choice of personnel, tactics and formation have been questionable.

    He’s right on Altidore though. Dozy looks like yesterday’s man.Zardes is the future.

  3. Realest Realist

    July 15, 2015 at 2:46 pm

    Guess I’ll go down the conspiracy rabbit hole myself and state the following:

    I honestly think the continued anti-Klinsmann sentiment from certain segments of the American soccer support stems from nothing more than a deep distrust of non-Americans, particularly those in a position of power in America (in the sporting context, USMNT manager def qualifies as such).

    Or, if we’re being blunt: Some fans of American soccer fans just don’t like foreigners.

    (Which is ironic btw, because this is supposed to be the World Game.)

    But the point above may also explain why they have such a deep-seated hatred for JK as well. He isn’t 100% committed to Americanizing the World Game, never has been, and never will be. That his vision of American soccer is based on a global standard rather than the American standard hasn’t endeared him at all to those people, either.

    As for the Gold Cup: Jozy was sent home for no other reason than he proved completely and utterly incapable of making a positive contribution to the team during the tournament.

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