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Jurgen Klinsmann

USSF has systemic problems as well as holding Gulati accountable

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The United States Men’s National Team program has hit a clear tipping point. Saturday’s 3-2 loss to Mexico in the CONCACAF Cup coupled with the stunning 2-0 loss to Honduras in the CONCACAF U-23 Championship represented a double-whammy indicting the current direction of the program.

Poor results and national team regression come at a point where the sport is more popular than ever before in the United States. Thanks to this reality, non-qualification for the FIFA Confederations Cup and likely non-qualification for the 2016 men’s Olympic soccer tournament likely diminish some of the growth potential for the sport both in terms of viewership and finances prior to the 2018 FIFA World Cup.

Major League Soccer, which has grown and improved by leaps and bounds in recent years, combined with the growing structure in the lower divisions of American soccer should in theory have created a more competitive national team program. But the opposite appears to be the case: The top line talent for the United States team was arguably stronger in 1995 when the US made the semifinals of the Copa America tournament than today. Major League Soccer began play in 1996. The quality depth of the US player pool, it can be argued, was stronger in 2005 than today, even though MLS was struggling at the time though far more Americans were playing leading roles at European clubs during that period.

In the coming days, US Soccer President Sunil Gulati and Technical Director/Head Coach Jürgen Klinsmann must provide answers to all of the concerns swirling around the program.

The worrying situation as I see it is outlined below.

Youth results not good enough, style lacking

Jürgen Klinsmann has hailed the generation of players now featuring at the U-20 and U-23 levels as a stronger group of youngsters than the most recent periods of time. On paper this is true, but the reality is that the results for the United States at youth competitions have gotten progressively worse since the late 2000’s.

At one time, the United States could be counted on to have enough technical players to make it through a youth tournament looking good. But since 2009, the program has collapsed and stands on the brink of missing a second successive men’s Olympic tournament. The United States’ successes in the mid 2000’s at U-17 and U-20 World Cups seem ages ago, and in fact most of those players have either flamed out or cycled through the national team program with notable exceptions of Michael Bradley, Jozy Altidore and Brad Guzan.

Klinsmann also promised that youth teams would play a similar style as the men’s national team. But with the senior team fluctuating between tactics and the youth teams struggling for results, this has not happened. On Saturday, the U-23 team led by Andy Herzog, Klinsmann’s top deputy and former FC Bayern teammate, set up and played in a completely different stylistic fashion than the senior team later in the evening. This continued a pattern of experimentation with tactics and constant formation changes at all age levels of play during the Klinsmann regime. Both teams, however, shared the same result — a crushing defeat. Where the overall program direction is stylistically and tactically must be addressed.

Over-reliance on older players and poor tactical decisions

For all of Klinsmann’s tinkering in friendlies, he has returned to older, more experienced players in the big moments.

Saturday’s squad selection was unimaginative and tactically wrong. Klinsmann decided to employ a 4-4-2 diamond formation, using the oft-injured Jermaine Jones on one of the wings. Jones is a gamer and played his heart out in extremely humid conditions. He’s also turning 34 in less than a month and forcing a guy to play in difficult role for 120 minutes was a mistake. Klinsmann also opted to keep the ineffective Clint Dempsey on the pitch for 120 minutes. Dempsey, whose game has regressed since his move to Major League Soccer in 2013, has proven time and again he cannot effectively combine with Michael Bradley when the Toronto FC midfielder who captains the US team plays in a more advanced role as he did Saturday night. But with the difficult conditions, Dempsey, who is in his 30’s and ineffective could have easily been withdrawn and replaced by DeAndre Yedlin midway through the second half. Instead, Klinsmann pulled the young Gyasi Zardes, leaving an ineffective Dempsey on the pitch. If Yedlin had been brought in for Dempsey, Jones could have been moved to a withdrawn holding midfield position in a 4-2-3-1 formation pairing with Kyle Beckerman or maybe Danny Williams who should have been brought on at some point.

If Klinsmann wanted a goal, not bringing on Chris Wondolowski defies logic though Bobby Wood has come good and produced again under pressure. But given the number of older players Klinsmann played, including DaMarcus Beasley who came out of international retirement this year at the manager’s request, Wood is one of the younger players who has been given a real run in the side. While Klinsmann claims he is thinking long-term, his squad selections outside of friendlies indicate he is more concerned about his own short-term job security than fixing the US program.

The US program has suffered from a malaise in player development at the youth level at places like IMG Bradenton, the USSF’s national residency program in Florida. Additionally, players are falling through the cracks of the system all of the time, and many who finally get an opportunity after growing up in the US to play professionally in the US lower leagues opt to represent different nations having been ignored by the US Soccer hierarchy.

Does the United States care more about short-term result or long-term goals? We know the rhetoric is for the latter, but the evidence seems to support the former. Again, this question needs to be answered.

Soccer as a “cause” among the US media

Unfortunately, the United States has many in the soccer media who continue to view promotion of MLS and the US National Team as a “cause.” I was once in this boat, but as the sport has become more popular and a big business in its own right domestically that the time to play cheerleader has long since passed. Questions must be asked and answers will have to be forthcoming and honest. Otherwise heads should roll from the very top. But many in the US Soccer press and among bloggers are so invested in a defensive view of the American product, both at the club and national team level, that they ultimately do a disservice to the effort to move the program forward.

Because of this attitude, many newer fans to the game have simply skipped watching MLS or the lower domestic leagues and turned attention to Europe, particularly the English Premier League. In some cases, these fans have even forsaken support of the US Men’s National Team to watch England or another foreign national team. While front-running is unfortunately a reality of many American sports fans, the media’s passiveness and protectiveness of the US program including MLS furthers this attitude.

Conclusion

Neither the anti-Klinsmann crowd nor those who support the US manager have all of the right answers. Klinsmann’s numerous opponents often point to the national team’s stagnation and his comments criticizing MLS without truly considering the collapse of the youth programs along with the failure of MLS to produce enough high-level talent to fill the player pool. The manager’s proponents often blame MLS fanboys for his troubles and have rallied around Klinsmann ignoring his lack of tactical acumen, his inability to impart a consistent style and his unwillingness to even select some consistent European-based players like Eric Lichaj. The truth is that Klinsmann has a vision for the program but no real mechanical skill to get the US where he wants the program to be. But at the same time, his critiques of MLS, player training and fitness levels are worthy of further discussion. However those conversations always seem to regress into a conversation where MLS defenders face off against those who hate the league and are unwilling to give it any credit, thus achieving nothing in the way of practical suggestions.

The state of the program is as bad as it has been since the 2006 FIFA World Cup loss to Ghana. That defeat led to several months of careful introspection and planning. The US team came back and performed at a higher level between 2007 and 2010 than it had been 2003 and 2006. However, at the time these conversations took place in more of a vacuum as the sport had not yet become a fixture on the sporting landscape in this country. Now, it is a mainstream topic and I fear that the conversation will not be as thoughtful and lengthy as in 2006.

Since Klinsmann appears to be headed nowhere despite the dual poor results on Saturday, it’s up to the media and backers of the program to ask the appropriate questions. The ball is very much in the court of public opinion. Now is the time to demand answers to everything we have outlined above.

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19 Comments

19 Comments

  1. Santiago 1314

    October 14, 2015 at 11:30 pm

    JK can Stay, if he gets a USA Passport

  2. Denuse Vail

    October 13, 2015 at 11:06 pm

    I don’t think any team could have beaten Mexico , Saturday they were that good. Old age has caught up with the USMNT and now only time, new faces and hard work will capture our hearts yet time is something American Soccer is running fan is running out of.

  3. Denuse Vail

    October 13, 2015 at 11:05 pm

    I don’t think any team could have beaten Mexico , Saturday they were that good. Old age has caught up with the USMNT and now only time, new faces and hard work will capture our hearts yet time is something American Soccer is running out of.

  4. the observer

    October 13, 2015 at 4:23 pm

    Q: Do you believe MLS is a fraudulent competition? Score 1 for yes, 2 for no.
    Q: Do you believe the US pay-for-play youth setup is a joke? Score 1 for yes, 2 for no.
    Q: Do you believe the Federation, vis. the NCAA, is a joke? Score 1 for yes, 2 for no.
    Q: Do you believe the US functions outside the International Soccer Economy? Score 1 for yes, 2 for no.

    A score of 6, 7, or 8 disqualifies your opinion on anything to do with US Soccer, the Federation, the US National Team, MLS, and soccer in the US in general.

    A score of 4 or 5 qualifies you to participate in the discussion. Carry on.

  5. Platini Michel

    October 13, 2015 at 12:32 pm

    Jk must go now!

  6. Chips

    October 13, 2015 at 11:26 am

    First of all, I think the US is just about where it should be. Are men’s soccer program is just average and will continue to be for a few more years. Are senior squad has been our senior squad for years. Bradely, Jozy, Gonzo, Belsler, Howard, Guzan, Demps, I could go on but these players potential has been maxed out. We are average cause they are average. We have to look forward to the youth which I believe is improving greatly. Jurgen, despite his recent failures, has been able to capture talent from other countries which has never happened before. Players like Brooks, Green, and Zelalem are playing for the US because of him. Them along with Hyndman, Miazga, Morris, and other youth we have excite me about the future of men’s US soccer. We will get there I promise you that we will get there but in time. Until the next generation is ready, we are going to continue this trend of average soccer no matter who is at the helm. All I know is our youth does look better than before despite the failures of the Under 23 team. I know players like Brooks, Yedlin, Avarado, green, and woods were left out of the team but I also wonder if the club wouldn’t release them for the whole qualifying period… With the exception of green, they are all starting for there club teams. As for the US-MEX, I was disappointed to see the US line up so defensively and play counter attacking soccer. Something Jurgen moved away from when he became coach. Why the step backward, idk. All I know is the youth systems are better under Jurgen and we are attracting more talent from players who could play for other countries and from right here at home in the states with youth picking soccer over other sports. No matter what happens in the future with Jurgen, he will have played a vital part in the future success of the men’s program. And I do believe that we will be successful in the future. I believe that we will win, eventually. For now, I’ll deal with the average team.

    • Chips

      October 13, 2015 at 11:35 am

      O and Donovan is a little B***H!!! Be a positive influence for US soccer or get the F**k out of this great country!!!

  7. Tom

    October 13, 2015 at 11:21 am

    For those that say it is not Klinsmann it is the talent pool I disagree. We had just as good if not better results with a much smaller talent pool. Arena successfully used MLS players when the leauge had way less talent.

    The problem is Klinsmann is neither a great motivator or a great X’s and O’s guy. He can see talent but has no idea how to get the pieces to gel together. He is also unable to put aside his own personal biases to get to a greater end.

    In short Klinsmann is not a great soccer mind. He may love the sport, he may love America, but he just is not a good National team coach or a good director.

    What we really need is a great soccer mind that can install a solid foundation. Someone that can put aside petty prejudice and make all the players better. Make the entire program better not just the pieces he likes.

  8. Domenick

    October 13, 2015 at 10:18 am

    I just don’t get why klinsmann is playing the veterans. These guys peaked at the World Cup and have nothing left to play for on the national level. Bring in the younger guys let them play together, develop chemistry and improve as a group.

  9. Douglas

    October 13, 2015 at 9:20 am

    Danny Williams! Why hasn’t he seen more minutes? 2 goals in championship so far, one last week against middlesboro, and helping push Reading in the top 3. Goal against Brazil, Goal in FA Cup, etc..Point is, looking at midfielder options, at least Williams is doing something…in a league overseas that in my mind is much better than MLS (and more fun to watch when you can catch it on Bein). Plus he’s plays with fire…not some lazy slob like Jozy. Mix is the worst. Jones is over the hill. More Danny!

  10. Jimmy

    October 13, 2015 at 9:08 am

    Remember when JK brought on Wondolowski for a goal against Belgium? I do. Funny how that turned out…

  11. VicBklyn

    October 12, 2015 at 10:16 pm

    We are not good enough or even as good as Europe. Great clubs measure coaches on development. Most of us Americans don’t even realize international football has managers who sit the whole game quietly managing the game. Mexico after their last failures made an unusual decision to send more players to Europe while our players ran home to a lower MLS for more money. MLS teams aren’t beating in season European teams. My 6 year old son’s rec. Coach screams aggressiveness and positioning. I just watch because my son still does not know what he wants to play and i don’t mind. He watches games with me of all sports. Our culture needs to change and sensitive people in US soccer like #Lalas#Donovan feelings are being hurt. We give people like Donovan a platform knowing he is a scorned ex. He retired, loss his passion, but came back because he felt, he was entitled to go to another World Cup. In no other country will a player feel that entitled and get that much support, his mother would correct him

    • Tim

      October 13, 2015 at 8:42 am

      This was just a ramble and made no sense…This has everything to do with Klinsi and Gulati and no leagues.

  12. Joe

    October 12, 2015 at 9:56 pm

    This really holds no weight at all but…There are around 10 people who come over from Germany within my company. When JK was hired i was explaining to them how i was excited and they all laughed at me basically saying how all of Germany thought he was a joke of a coach. I disregarded their ignorance but it looks like they knew all along. What did he really do? He failed at Bayern. Brought Germany to third place in the 06 world cup(any jackwagon commenting soccer expertise on this site could do that). I am just not seeing where he ever had the credentials to be a head coach. The fact the people think he is going to “reform” US soccer is not only laughable but makes you look crazy. What a mess.

  13. beatrizpaladin

    October 12, 2015 at 8:06 pm

    JK should take a look at Jill Ellis’ playbook

  14. dr.k

    October 12, 2015 at 3:48 pm

    To bemoan the fact that USA players could have better technique is a waste of time. A good coach (not JK ) must evaluate what he has, strengths and weaknessses at that moment, and adapt his tactics to give the players the sense that they can achieve something. The shocking thing about Klinsman is that he NEVER takes responsibility, he always in an offhanded way blames the players, the ref , the youth system etc. He did not want Donovan because Donovan could not be controlled, he was the only threat. The Germans would keep their mouths shut, The remaining Americans have no force of personality to lead or make a stand. So where we had some guts and toughness, we now play afraid of the coach ,afraid to end up like Donovan. This will not change. JK is a master manipulator and politician. He has Gulati and the Press bamboozled.

  15. Smokey Bacon

    October 12, 2015 at 2:47 pm

    In my nearly 20 years of watching the USMNT, the most impressive thing about them was the togetherness, spirit and never say die attitude in every game, regardless of their ability or that of the opposition. It made a nice change from watching England. Apart from the 98 World Cup it’s always been there until Klinsmann took over. The team now reflects his leadership – no passion, confused and lacking any source of direction. The constant tinkering, the alienation of key players has taken its toll. It’s been five years and not one sign of progress. Klinsmanns vision must be that of a desert with no end in sight. The players might not be the best but a different and less arrogant coach might at least instil some self belief that is so obviously lacking. We’re on a road to nowhere under the current regime.

  16. Te Mack

    October 12, 2015 at 2:19 pm

    Klinnsman main problem is his divisiness. His lack of repect for players undermines both the team’s and fan’s support. Wrt Dempsey hes old now. Mls isnt the issue he was never going to remain productive in the epl with his physique at his age.

    The issue is more the inconsistency and frankly lack of emotional self control of Bradley. He chases until he drops and then becomes a non factor for weeks. And Beckerman’s lack of emotional maturity was also apparent in that asine caution.

    The lack of dicipline comes about from a lack of trust betweeen players and manager, both in terms of mutual respect tactics player selewction amd over training The players arent playing for the shirt their playing for the media circus that results in a payday.

    Its also apparent klinnsman doesnt watch club teams to scout his own players. Evans has been a shell of himself since thew gold cup in terms of lewague play this year. Johnson doesnt play back anymore so ive heard. One clumsy sub for another playing for a tie and bringing in nick rimamdo for kicks is indicative of much this guy has lost the plot.

    He and sunil should hold hands and sail off into thew sunset together. Today.

  17. Tony

    October 12, 2015 at 12:04 pm

    Fundamentally the US doesn’t have the players that can hold possession, make good passes and attack good competition on a consistent basis. This was a problem under Bradley. Klinnsman was supposed to fix it but has failed so far. In fact we seem to have fewer of these players now than we did years ago. I’m not sure who is to blame for that. I think it is a combination of

    1) The few players that can compete in Europe not seeking out adequate opportunities or getting the proper looks. Altidore, Bradley, Dempsey should be playing in Europe right now.
    2) MLS not being popular enough in the US to draw a broader set of young players into the game. Its painful to see so many football and baskebtall stars say “I played soccer growing up, but…”
    3) Klinnsman’s over-reliance on foreign born players (we need these players, but they are more stop gaps than anything else)

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