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Klinsmann’s late announcement: You are not entitled to anything (but controversy)

Feb 2, 2013, 11:26 AM EDT

Head coach of the U.S. national soccer team Klinsmann of Germany looks at his players during a practice session at the Azteca stadium in Mexico City

Earlier this week, Honduras named their team that will face the U.S. Wednesday in the opening match of CONCACAF’s final round of World Cup Qualifying. In contrast, Jurgen Klinsmann will wait until Monday to name his, taking the weekend to see if any injuries force changes to the team he’s likely to recall.

That’s important to note. People have expressed concerns about Klinsmann failing to make his team public, but he’s already been in touch with the players and their teams. He’s had to. National teams have to notify clubs well in advance in order to obtain a player’s release for an international break. Those players have to be “reserved.” You may not know who Klinsmann’s taking to Honduras, and I may not know, but everybody who needs the information has been kept in the loop. If there’s a possibility you’re getting called in, you probably already know.

This morning the Washington Post’s Steven Goff gave his feelings on the controversy. Under a headline calling Klinsmann’s decision puzzling, Goff notes U.S. coaches have a history of similar shenanigans while claiming a more open policy “fuels healthy debate about who should play and what combinations would be most effective” while quelling undo speculation:

Waiting to go public also feeds the rumor machine (aka Twitter):

“My cousin’s ex says Boyd boarding flight in Frankfurt!”

“Just saw Beasley on SoBe. Well, looked like him”

“Deuce tweetin about eatin fish n chips. Shouldn’t he be in Honduras by now??? WTF”

There’s no competitive disadvantage in “a roster announcement, revealing between 22 and 25 players,” Goff says, while Honduras already “have a pretty good idea who is traveling.” Withholding the roster until the last-minute creates uncertainty where there’s no need for doubt. It also “puts the players in a difficult position” of having to hold their tongues.

I have trouble buying any of these arguments.

  • In the past, roster announcements have usually led to one day of debate (interest-building) before people settle into interest stories and preview analysis. That will happen on Monday.
  • The speculation that Goff sites in his piece are all Twitter hypotheticals that would happen regardless of when the roster was announced. If U.S. Soccer said it’d release a list on Friday, Thursday would see people speculating whether Sacha Kljestan’s getting called in.
  • And players always have to withhold information. Klinsmann’s decision to delay just extends that period for a few meaningless days.

And as Goff says, Honduras basically knows who’s most likely to travel. So do we. If withholding the names of the players does little to keep the information from the Catrachos, why are we in the dark? If anything, our proximity to the situation should allow us greater knowledge of the probable roster. Why are we complaining about the secrecy of a list when most of the names are no secret at all?

The only drawback to holding the roster back is risking the scorn of writers and fans, yet it’s unclear why media and supporters feel entitled to this information. As Goff notes, this is not a new situation. Bruce Arena and Bob Bradley were also slow to make their selections public. Isn’t this something we should be used to?

There are, however, a couple of possible benefits. Klinsmann gets more time to decide which of the players he’s “reserved” for possible travel will actually go to Honduras. He avoids the potential scrutiny of selecting a player only not to take him, thereby causing a small amount of public embarrassment to the player. And there’s the original reasoning: Wanting to wait to see how people come through the weekend before naming his traveling squad.

There’s nothing wrong with the way Honduras has done it — name your team early — but is there anything wrong with how Klinsmann’s gone about his business? Only if you feel entitled to information you were never guaranteed in the first place. At what point did we, as a soccer culture, feel we deserved this information? Because as Goff notes, it hadn’t always been available in the past.

I can’t help but think we’re becoming caricatures of ourselves. We’re always finding new things to fuss about. Our anguish must always be palpable. The difference between getting and not getting a preliminary roster has no effect on the game, how we perceive it, or the debate that precedes the match, but if there is an alternate universe in which we could have this information, then why aren’t we on that timeline? Why can’t we deal with the realities of that world instead of the possibilities of our own?

Klinsmann isn’t making life easier for journalists easier, but that isn’t his job. Nor is it his job to subvert what he thinks is best in order to appease hardcore fans. While some may see this as Klinsmann coming “across, fairly or unfairly, as paranoid, dark — and maybe a little nervous,” as Goff puts it, it’s more likely this is just a guy doing what he thinks is best.

If Klinsmann is paranoid or nervous, that’d be a first. We might want to consider other possibilities. We may want to see consider whether any of this really matters.

We’ll get the names soon enough, and we’ll have plenty of time to drive every debate into the ground. No dead horse will be left unbeaten. If we have to put off the ceremonial hand-wringing and second-guessing for a day, so be it. It doesn’t hurt anything but our sense of entitlement.

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