Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome back into the Happy Hour. My apologies for missing last week’s gathering. I was home in Rochester, New York, land where USWNT stars are born, to celebrate my old man’s 60th birthday. As you turn 60 once in a lifetime, unless of course you are the Dali Lama or Highlander, events like those should not be missed if circumstances allow. I have to say, trading in some time working on the flux capacitor for a few rounds of golf with my pop was a fine way to round out the summer. That said– it is onto more pressing matters. like say…the future of the USMNT.
First and foremost, CONCACAF has announced the third round groups for qualification to the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. The draw left the United States with an exceptionally easy path to the hexagonal round. The USMNT will be in a group with Jamaica and the winners of Groups E and F from the Second Round. These teams will most likely be Grenada and Haiti, but do not sleep on Guatemala. On the other side of the coin,Mexico has a more difficult path to the final round drawing Costa Rica and the winners of Groups A and B from the Second Round. Expect the group to be rounded out by El Salvador and Trinidad and Tobago. The final grouping contains Honduras and Cuba along with the Second Round winners of Groups C and D. The good money is on Canada and Panama making moving through to join the group. Just for the hell of it, I am going to make some way to early predictions; the US, Mexico and Honduras qualify outright for the 2014 World Cup, while Jamaica attempts to play their way in during a playoff with New Zealand. Don’t sleep on Panama though—they seemed to be very-well coached.
After months, or even a years in some cases, of bitching and complaining– bloggers, analysts, and casual fans finally got what they wanted last week when Bob Bradley was removed as head coach of the USMNT and replaced by your friendly neighborhood German, Jurgen Klinsmann. A majority of fans all over the country have been wishing, in fact begging Sunil Gulati and the rest of the suits inChicagoto make this move. A change seemed all but assured after a loss in the Gold Cup toPanama, and a devastating collapse at the hands of arch rivalMexicoin the final was the last straw. As the USWNT began to capture the hearts and minds of the nation during their march to a runner up finish in Germany, US Soccer did the right thing by delaying their announcement to allow the women’s game the recognition and respect it deserves—but it was clear they had made up their minds long before, especially given how quickly they timed each announcement.
Before I move onto what I think this change means for US Soccer, I can’t help but think how Steve Cherundolo’s ankle injury will go down in history as a major factor in Bob Bradley’s release. If the “Mayor of Hannover” does not go down before the 15 minute mark, I am totally confident the USMNT manages to win that game 2-1, or at least get to penalties and give Howard a chance to be brilliant. No injury means Bornstein remains on the bench, and let’s face it—the Hero of Honduras played a part in at least 3 of the Mexican goals. Losing our trusted right back helped cement the long held belief among many TYAC staffers that Steve Cherundolo has been the most underrated, undervalued, and underappreciated USMNT member over the last decade and perhaps ever. If you don’t agree, you are entitled to your own opinion, but you are also wrong.
After the Panamamatch, I implored USMNT fans to be careful what the wish for in regards to a coaching change simply because there did not seem to be any obvious upgrades waiting in the wings. Apparently Gulati and the rest of the suits in Chicago think that Klinsmann is a huge upgrade from Bradley. As one of the resident Bradley defenders on TYAC, I can’t really understand why, to be honest. If Klinsmann was such an obvious choice in the first place, why did Sunil decide to extend Bradley’s contract through 2014 instead of Klinsmann after South Africa 2010? By now we are all familiar with the control issue that seemed to be the major point of contention preventing a deal from getting done, but was there anything beyond that? The press conference this week didn’t really provide any answers to that question. What was most troubling was how Klinsmann decided to publicly bitch about the situation after Bradley was extended instead of keeping his mouth shut like a respectable gentlemen should. He acted like an egomaniac, and I for one don’t know if I want an egomaniac coaching the USMNT.
It is more important to consider Klinsmann’s coaching resume. At this point, someone will usually talk about what a great player Klinsmann was and how that can translate to coaching. That, in a word, is bullshit. If you want a lesson on how being a great player does not entitle you to being a great coach—please try and have lunch with Isaiah Thomas, or a key bump with Diego Maradona. I am pretty sure they would both love to chat. Actually, I know they would—both are like four year olds in that their favorite sound is that of their own voice.
Back to Klinsy. During his first coaching stint, Klinsmann took a young German team to a third place finish in the 2006 World Cup. Three important facts need to be looked at to fully judge his performance as the head coach of Germany. First and foremost, the 2006 WC was hosted by Germany, so the squad had no need to qualify, and the shaky German friendly performances in the build-up were overlooked nearly everywhere (outside of Germany). Moreover, playing a World Cup on home soil with a promising squad should at least win you one game you have no business winning. (Argentina—and by the way—keeping that in mind—how much more impressive is Bob’s win over Spain thousands of miles from home??) Simply put, Home field advantage in a World Cup or any international tournament (see this summer’s COPA) is a huge deal. Secondly, being the host nation, Germany was drawn into one of the easiest groups in the field containing Coast Rica, Ecuador, and Poland. After winning the group, they beat a weak Swedish side in the round of 16, and squeaked by Argentina (the one win they shouldn’t have had) in penalties before being sent packing by Italy. Finally, Klinsmann (to his credit, really) has always admitted that he was not the tactical genius of the 2006 German squad. He considered himself more of a motivator and manager than tactical expert. That job was left to his assistant coach, and now current German manager, Joachim Löw. After taking the job at Bayren Munich, and leaving Low behind, Klinsmann struggled to find the best ways to tactically utilize the enormous amount of talent (Champions League Finalists a year after his departure) at his disposal. All this begs the questions, how much credit does Klinsmann deserve and how much of the German success has really been due to Low?
At the same time, it is important for allUSsoccer fans, including myself, to realize that Klinsmann did not get hired because he was a tactical genius. The Zen Master/Xs and Os boy genius types like Phil Jackson come along once in a blue moon. Klinsmann was hired because he was the exact opposite personality as Bob Bradley. While Bradley’s calm, calculating demeanor helped steer the ship during tough times, he was about as camera friendly as Richard Nixon during the 1960 Presidential Debate. (For those young people with no knowledge of American History…Google it) Klinsmann is a personality, andUSsoccer hopes to use this charismatic figure to both motivate the player pool, as well as sellUSsoccer to a much larger audience. I have to admit it is a bold move, but at this point we have no idea where we will end up. Who Klinsmann surrounds himself with, and how much he utilizes another strength (his understanding of the shortcomings of the current US Soccer culture) could be the most important decision for the near future ofUSsoccer.
The greatest strength Klinsmann possesses is simultaneously his greatest weakness. Klinsmann wants to develop an attacking style of play that will be drilled into the USMNT player pool from the U17 division all the way to the senior team. A focus on tactical development will replace an overly early emphasis on winning and results. Ideally, this will create more fluidity— as players retire from international duty, the younger generation will be tactically prepared when called on to replace aging stars. Klinsmann also wants to incorporate the “melting pot” mentality of the United States (which goes back to understanding the culture) encouraging players with Latin dissent to join the US system at a young age. (My boy JFT is back baby!) On the surface, this all sounds wonderful. However, it is critical to remember this is going to take time. Not just one World Cup cycle time, but several. TheUSsoccer system for identifying and training talent is not going to change overnight and there will undoubtedly be some flaws. The energy that Klinsmann brings is refreshing, but the real question is whether USMNT fans will be willing to wait the necessary time it takes to see on the pitch results. Adding an attacking coach does not change the fact that our striking options include a couple plucky MLS forwards, an erratic 20 something who can’t find playing time at the club level, a teenager, and a guy still recovering from a near fatal car wreck. Let’s not forget about the giant holes at wing back, or the aging center of defense—But hey– don’t pick up that bottle of Old Crow yet–at least our midfield looks promising!! USMNT fans finally got their wish, and Klinsmann will get his chance. Problem is, getting your wish doesn’t always work out like you expected.
PUCK’S FREE ADVICE
College Football Season is nearly upon us. You all know by now that we at TYAC care deeply for that sport. Why wouldn’t you love something that involves babes and barbeque? As such- we offer this word of warning… If any of our loyal readers are in the south over the next few months, and happen upon “The Paul Finebaum Show”, please don’t listen to long, and if you do, just understand that the callers on that show aren’t a wholesale representation of the good people down south. While the Auburn-Alabama rivalry may be a culture war on par with Republicans vs. Democrats, and while Florida and Georgia really do hate each other in the clean, old-fashioned sense of the word— we’re mostly good-hearted folks that do normal things like…. read, and write, etc… Time to go crack open a PBR or twelve….
I leave you with the Speedwagon. Keep Pushing, and sorry for partying.
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