Making The Case For Jurgen Klinsmann and the USMNT

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Photo Credit: USA Today Sports

If Jurgen Klinsmann stays, which is still the likely future for this upcoming year, (there are currently sources that report Klinsmann and England have mutual interest) this is where we are.

The pursuit for American dominance in U.S. soccer grew with the signing of our 35th head coach, Jurgen Klinsmann. In 2011, it was time to end our cycle with Bob Bradley and lay the groundwork for the future, and with Klinsmann coming in, his goals matched our dreams to perfection.

That was a problem, not just on Klinsmann’s part, but on the American soccer fans as well.

When Klinsmann arrived, he made the assurance that the U.S. would be am eventual top-five team in the world. False hope seems like a good term to use here, at least for now, but the future for U.S. soccer looks promising. The problem here is the quixotic goal set by Klinsmann and the fact that U.S. fans were too naive to believe the hype. However, to Klinsmann’s credit, he has done a sound job so far of the development of the younger players, but with some of these young players, it will take time for them to reach their peak. Take Christian Pulisic for example, his prime won’t hit for another 8-10 years and U.S. fans continue to beg that he should be our star now. Development takes time, players like Pulisic require time to grow, regardless of how good they are now. The kid is 17, and no 17 year-old kid needs the pressure of an entire nation behind him. Sometimes, as fans, we get caught up in the hype surrounding these young stars. The USMNT has the opportunity to develop talent on our roster, but the goal of being a top five team in the close future is ludicrous. We simply don’t have the talent to be at that level right now, Argentina and Columbia made that clear.

The U.S. Mens National Team’s biggest obstacle, is not Klinsmann. He can’t control the lack of natural talent the U.S. has compared to the world’s best teams. To put it in perspective, we don’t expect an average team in the NBA (like the Charlotte Hornets) to compete with top competition for a title, or be a top-five team soon (also, the NBA has fewer teams to compete with compared to International soccer).

We have to have the talent. In fact, some of our best players would rarely ever see the field for the world’s best. When other teams are filled with stars in top leagues, we can’t compete with players who sit the bench for those same teams, or play in inferior leagues. For those who say we can win with MLS talent, they’re fueling the American Outlaw fire with blasphemy. We CAN’T consistently win without top talent and that is a brutal truth. At the end of the day, at the professional level, you must have talent to win on a consistent basis, in meaningful games.

Something Klinsmann can provide are his connections overseas, which can bring the USMNT talent from other countries and get our American players in the top leagues. Whether Americans like it or not, foreign soccer is at a higher level than the U.S. right now and the more promising players we can get and give to foreign countries, the better. For instance, notice how all of our brightest young players go overseas and to foreign countries to play.

At Copa America, in our match against Argentina, we tried to take them on with six offensive players who were all from the MLS. We got 0 shots. For the U.S., our defense is our strength and guess where they all play, overseas. I am not trying to say that just because these players are from a foreign country that the player is necessarily better, but that their leagues are better and if we have American talent, then give Klinsmann the power to use his connections to get our players in the best leagues. Yedlin, Johnson, Brooks, Pulisic, Nagbe, along with more young players don’t play in the U.S.. It’s simple, get our players in the best leagues. Klinsmann has that ability.

Now, while Klinsmann has a pass on the talent aspect, he doesn’t when it comes to some of his tactics. Klinsmann’s formation has been unvalued amongst the fans and on this, I can’t defend Klinsmann. The situation in our midfield is essentially three players who are more defensive and not effective in our offensive third. Look at a player like Darlington Nagbe (a potential candidate for a starting position), he can distribute the ball very well, string together dangerous and productive passes, and he is a threat. What we have in Bradley, Jones, and Bedoya are three midfielders who like to string a few meaningful passes around and then commit a lot of turnovers trying to force the play forward.

I am speaking in terms of big games as well, not the meaningless victories where everyone looks good and we thrash Bolivia.

Next, Zardes is in the wrong spot for his strength. He is not a 1v1 player that wants the ball in space, like a winger should. Look at Belgium, Zardes is more of a Lukaku-type player where he tries to use his body and athleticism to his advantage (don’t get me wrong, Lukaku is a lot better than Zardes), but Belgium got it right in putting Lukaku up front. Lukaku’s job is not to beat defenders in iso situations on the wing, or pick out passes in stride for defenders, he is on the receiving end using his body to set up goal scoring opportunities. Where Zardes is positioned is similar to Hazard. Hazard is successful because of his ability to use his skill in space and get past defenders to create dangerous opportunities. I hate to say it, but Zardes has little to no skill. The only way he can get past defenders is his speed and athleticism, and against top talent, that doesn’t happen. Drogba, Lukaku, Benteke, Aubameyang are all players with similar features to Zardes (but with more skill), they all play CF. To fix this, I would like to see Dempsey in an attacking midfield role (gives more offense to our middle three) and move Zardes into the “9”. This creates an open spot for a winger like Pulisic or Zusi, who are better in that role than Zardes. This also gives Jones and Bradley a more defensive role in a triangular midfield.

-No, I don’t even want to bring up the question of why we started Chris Wondolowski against Argentina. Sorry Jurgen, you’re on your own for that one.

Messing with player positioning has been a criticism of Klinsmann’s and this is where an American coach can benefit us. However, if U.S. Soccer did want to ditch Klinsmann, the big question is, could we find a better replacement?

Two contending options that have been mentioned are bringing back Bruce Arenas, or giving the nod to the young U.S. assistant and New York City F.C. head coach, Jason Kreis.

To start, Bruce Arena’s has already had success with the USMNT. He coached one of the country’s most successful World Cup runs and created a lot of success throughout his time as the head skipper. However, he is 64. Is that really a good move for our future, or now? Again, as of right now, we don’t have the talent to compete consistently against the top countries. The other option we could go with is 43 year-old, Jason Kreis. Kries is a current assistant under Klinsmann and has some experience at that level. He is also young and has the potential to be in the mix for the long run, which is beneficial. Kries is also a manager of New York City F.C., who is a rising team in the MLS with superstar names on it’s roster. These two coaches provide a unique attribute that Klinsmann doesn’t have and can be an intriguing idea for a replacement.

Yes, an American coach benefits us in ways Klinsmann can’t, but that isn’t a necessity for the future of American soccer. The understanding of soccer in America and the relationships an American coach can bring are assets Klinsmann can’t compete with, but again, just because Klinsmann isn’t American is not a reason to get rid of him.

However, the inconsistency and the poor performances is on the head coach. Guatemala, Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, Panama (x2), and Costa Rica are all on the list of inferior teams to steal points from the U.S.. That’s the big concern, however, the U.S. have been on the other spectrum with past wins against Germany, Spain, and Italy. That’s the game of soccer, unique to every other sport, many times the better team doesn’t win. With that being said, if the USMNT only has 10 or so games a year, we should not fall to some of the countries that we have in the past. That is a concern that must be fixed if Klinsmann wants to keep his role.

To defend Klinsmann once again:

As American sports fans, we tend to value performances more if they are in the postseason, or in tournaments. Not only are those performances are more meaningful to us, but also to the USMNT. That makes sense, so if that’s the case, how can we be too upset with Klinsmann? In group play of the 2014 World Cup, we defeated Ghana, were minutes away from beating Portugal (who is a top 10 team), and only fell to the world champs 1-0. Then in the quarterfinals, we took Belgium (another team loaded with talent) to extra time. In all three games we were picked to lose, we played very well, and Klinsmann seemed to get all he could out of his very average roster (from a talent perspective).

To conclude, I can’t blame our egotistic American attitude toward sports, but just because we aren’t winning and don’t have an American coach, doesn’t give reason to replace him. We don’t have the talent to win, so we can’t judge Klinsmann for our losses as much as we do. For example, if you have a teacher trying to teach a class of average to below average students, don’t expect them to ace every test or compare their scores to other, smarter classes consistently. Klinsmann can only do so much with what he has and if we were to replace him, would his successor really be that much more successful? Again, Klinsmann got about as much as he could out of the USMNT in the 2014 World Cup. I realize we are impatient and don’t want to watch our country develop for many years, but that’s the cruel reality of where we are. The youth of American soccer has never looked better and it’s time to realize that we might  have to wait 5-8 years to make real strides in competing with top competition. However, that is subject to change based on our results and play at the 2018 World Cup.

 

My Take: Slow down, keep Klinsmann. Give Kries and other potential successor’s bigger roles and see how they handle it for future replacements, if needed. Let Klinsmann continue to develop players and use his foreign connections to better our players. Let his work at Copa and the World Cup speak for itself (met expectations at both tournaments). Klinsmann’s methods and use of foreign leagues and players is not a bad thing. Let’s give him a chance to implement his system and continue to develop in a vision that doesn’t change with a new coach every time something doesn’t go the way we want it.


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