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Chaos in Camp Klinsmann?

Mar 19, 2013, 1:22 PM EDT

US national football team head coach, Ge

Brian Straus of the Sporting News went and dropped a bomb on the United States soccer community with a story that reveals growing discontent among the player with Jurgen Klinsmann and the direction of the program.

The key takeaways, which Straus helpfully highlighted in his piece:

  • Klinsmann and chief assistant Martin Vasquez either lack the tactical acumen and game-day chops to successfully lead the team or fail to communicate their wishes effectively.
  • Too much time and too many resources are spent on initiatives that don’t translate to the field.
  • Constant lineup changes and building resentment over the perceived importance and attitude of the German-born players are harming team chemistry.

    So yeah, that’s… not good. Although I do think that if you’ve been paying attention, this piece shouldn’t comes as a huge surprise. The bubbles have been popping up for a few months now.

    To me, there are really two separate issues at work here: 1) Klinsmann’s inability — perceived or otherwise — to coach the team and 2) growing division within the squad itself.

    I actually think the second one is more concerning. The first issue — not being ready for individual games and/or not being given a game plan — is a problem because the U.S. needs to win and it needs to win now (or Friday, more specifically). But that’s the type of thing that can pretty easily be rectified pretty simply in a number of different ways.

    The second one, however, is a much bigger, systemic problem. I tackled the issue of building community on a diverse team, and one of the major takeaways was that once resentment seeps in, it’s incredibly hard to eliminate. Divisions on the national team aren’t going to go away with a simple coaching change if it does get to that point. (Mr. Arena, you listening?) It will take months and perhaps years of hard work to undo that damage. If Klinsmann’s goal is to build a strong national team for the future, this doesn’t seem like the best way to go about accomplishing that task.

    Of course, take this all with a grain of salt. Straus, for all the impressive reporting he did, remains an outsider. He has plenty of sources, but he doesn’t have all the sources. The sky is falling, but the end is not nigh. Not quite yet anyway. Let’s talk again around midnight on Friday.

    Anyhow, enough of me. Go read Straus’ excellent piece.

    1. mkbryant3 - Mar 19, 2013 at 2:08 PM

      Wow. Man, I love the Hex. Should be quite the ride.

    2. tylerbetts - Mar 19, 2013 at 2:39 PM

      Good read. Thanks for linking to it, Noah.

      A couple of thoughts.

      First – this is an issue we see in MLS a lot. A manager has a great background, a strong pedigree, and lots of success elsewhere. But not a real grasp on how MLS works and what it takes to be succesful in MLS. And they fail. We see this in a lot of places, but Toronto and New York come to mind as obvious examples.

      Can this be a similar situation? Can it be that Klinsmann, for all the good he can bring, simply doesn’t have the grasp on what it takes to be successful as a regional power in CONCACAF? It’s certainly much different than it is being a power in Europe. Most European national teams aren’t collecting their best talents from 3 different continents and a dozen timezones. Most of them play in similar leagues with similar styles, and so connecting as a national team isn’t as much of a challenge. But the US? It’s way different. You have to collect your players from Mexico, the US, South America, Italy, Spain, Netherlands, Germany, England, etc. For the quick turnaround of the Honduras game, especially, it was painful to watch a patchwork team with no chemistry. That’s a huge challenge that I’m not sure Klinsmann fully understands.

      And that doesn’t go into the economic and political ramifications of being the United States in the CONCACAF regions. How often, prior to the US job, did Klinsmann play or coach a team in a land where they literally despised the team/country and took the greatest pleasure of the year in defeating them?

      It certainly seems plausible that this is a right man / wrong job type situation.

      Second point – and maybe I’m dreaming here. And a way less serious/involved point that the first one. That last little bit about finding another assistant coach who understands US soccer and can be a better tactical coach. Didn’t a certain ‘Keeper who plays for Spurs just get his coaching license?

      • philneezy - Mar 19, 2013 at 3:20 PM

        “First – this is an issue we see in MLS a lot. A manager has a great background, a strong pedigree, and lots of success elsewhere. But not a real grasp on how MLS works and what it takes to be succesful in MLS. And they fail. We see this in a lot of places, but Toronto and New York come to mind as obvious examples.”

        Here’s the issue, tylerbetts. Jurgen doesn’t have “a great backround, a strong pedigree, and lots of success elsewhere”.

    3. earthsportsnews - Mar 19, 2013 at 2:51 PM

      Reblogged this on Earth Sports News and commented:
      Thoughts on this one coming soon

    4. dfstell - Mar 19, 2013 at 2:52 PM

      Ugh….Thanks for sharing that link.

      The thing that disturbs me about this is that Klinsmann’s answer to everything is basically, “You can’t make an omelette without breaking a few eggs.” While that is very true, it is also true that breaking eggs does not necessarily generate an omelette. Unless the eggs are broken with skill and a plan, you just have a mess.

      It’s obvious what Klinsmann is doing. He’s basically saying that qualifying for every World Cup and trading regional dominance with Mexico isn’t good enough. We can be complacent and do that forever and always be ranked ~30th in the FIFA rankings. What he’s doing is saying that he’s willing to destroy this safe model for a chance to be something better. His attitude is that he doesn’t give a damn if certain players are made uncomfortable by his policies. In fact, his policies are probably designed precisely to cause discomfort because he wants to see what players can overcome and thrive. If they can’t take it….I’m sure his attitude is that it’s players like that who limit the US’s ultimate ambitions.

      The bad thing is that it does threaten the safe path of qualifying for the World Cup and being “pretty good” in world soccer. Plus, just because Klinsmann is great at causing chaos doesn’t mean that he has the skill or vision to remold the survivors into the final product he wants.

      I guess we’ll see. I don’t have a good feeling about it though and i wish Klinsmann were experimenting with someone else. Like Mexico!

    5. wesbadia - Mar 19, 2013 at 3:45 PM

      The trouble with being a US soccer fan during the Klinsmann Era is that we’re told that we need to find our style, our pizzazz, our way of performing the beautiful game… yet thus far JK himself has yet to give any hints about what this potential style may be. He’s spent almost two years with an organization centered around the same pool of ~35 players during that time and does not at all seem interested in discussing this point further.

      It leaves questions for fans. Beyond the recurring main question of “what is our style?”, I ask how JK has been going about trying to find that style, either inductively or deductively. I also ask how a country as diverse as ours can have a set style of play, or, more importantly, can choose any one style and have a pool of players able to play that one style at the highest level possible and be successful at it. Additionally, and more fundamentally, I ask what traits and characteristics American culture/society has instilled in its soccer players which are exhibited in the beautiful game.

      Is it the physical play of the MLS? If so, does that doom us to a similar status to England (whom is the father of the game, yet is relegated to poor international performances for eternity)? Or is it a youth movement built on technical proficiency? Which means that the upcoming U-20’s and younger will need to lead the way, while the current players and fans sit miserably by and watch as another WC or two drift off into the sunset. Or maybe it’s a model built on the cross section of American society and empire that is in the same vein as Bradley and Klinsmann has been leading us down? If so, we’re essentially back to square one, pondering how we equip a 23-man roster with the pertinent talent and personalities needed to be successful while potentially compromising any kind of style or character we may have.

      My personal fear is that the state of US Soccer will remain a nebulous mass of non-soccer for decades to come, always a few steps behind where the real world soccer powers contemporarily are, only to be left lacking when it comes to world tournaments and prestige. When you boil it down, the US has not and does not succeed in either of the two qualifications of victory in soccer: it is not effective (pragmatic) nor is it aesthetically pleasing (style). It just… is. If we continue down this same path (which can be done in perpetuity), we will be condemned to repeating past failures like Project 2010.

      I can only hope US soccer fans are patient enough with whatever path is chosen to actually stick with the program. Either that or they’re discontent enough to call for the total ousting of USSF heads and demand a new and better way.

    6. arjanroghanchi - Mar 19, 2013 at 3:50 PM

      no one ever talks about the failure of Sunil Gulati, which is total.

      • wesbadia - Mar 19, 2013 at 4:22 PM

        +1 to that. I would’ve given you a +10 if you had mentioned Claudio Reyna as well…

        • danielofthedale - Mar 19, 2013 at 4:30 PM

          Wesbabia, what did Claudio do? I think what he did with the youth development could been seen as a good thing if you look at the style of play the U-20 showed last moth down in Mexico. Its a team with the players to play the way Jurgen wants. I think it was been a decent success so far. That said I could be off base on this one totally.

        • wesbadia - Mar 20, 2013 at 9:09 AM

          I’ll be very succinct: Reyna’s amended guidelines for youth development (the USSF coaching manual) was designed to teach a specific formation across all US national teams — the 4-3-3. This is a failure because it prescribes a set formation prior to any coach at any level even knowing what the US talent pool contains. Cart in front of horse. Personally, I attribute this flaw in youth development directly as the cause of why our U-23 Olympic team failed to qualify last year; Porter took the guidelines hook, line, sinker… and he showed all of us what happens when a formation is the driver instead of talent.

          Reyna designed the manual and all of its drills and philosophies to the 4-3-3, and so all that has been taught over the last three years since its implementation has been railroading our youth talent down a very tight path. This is backwards. And it’s doomed to fail.

          Re: the recent U-20s; Is their success due to Reyna’s youth model, or is it due to the raw talent of the players combined with the coaching talent of Ramos? Most of these youths were developed by their club teams (look at Luis Gil, or many of the Mexi-mericans), NOT the USSF. Ramos identified the individual talent and brought them in to work in a system that he thought fit their skill sets. And it’s proven successful. So I’d be pressed to argue that Reyna’s model wasn’t even at work here.

          The long-term danger I see here is that there could be whole generations growing up (from rec leagues through club leagues through ODP squads) that are taught ONLY to play the 4-3-3. This will lead to very narrow capabilities by our upcoming players, and it could very well lead to a lack of innovation in the sport in this country. If we say that a set formation is what we intend to play and we gear ourselves for it, what happens if there is a game-changing innovation made by another club or country that negates the 4-3-3? Our inflexibility dooms us to failure. And, indeed, I think that both Barcelona and the Spanish NT has proven that a 4-2-3-1 can best most squads or formations in world football right now. Already Reyna’s model is antiquated, prescribing a formula based on mid-2000’s philosophies about the game.

          All this to say, Reyna was given the reigns to write what the youth model should be, and, in my opinion, he has failed us. There is no identifying talent or even a style (which I’ve mentioned in my other comment here). And those are two things that JK has been talking incessantly about finding himself. That alone means that Reyna’s model is not necessarily equipping players to perform under JK’s senior team. So, in the end, if we’re to get rid of Gulati (and I think it’s almost high time for that depending on what happens in the Hex), then Reyna should be axed right with him.

    7. teamperkins11 - Mar 19, 2013 at 3:59 PM

      This US team was always going to be a team in transition this cycle. It seems that there are a number of issues about that, combined with Klinsmann’s bigger goals of remaking the US into a bigger power. The feathers are certainly ruffled any way you cut it. I will say that it is nice to get a non fluff piece on the national team.

      The real development of US talent is actually underway in the youth system as the academy model is expanding rapidly around the country. (Would make for a nice article for those who do not follow the youth system closely) In my opinion the next breakthrough will happen when these generations have the opportunity to come together at the national level. Until then it may be a bumpy ride. So the real question is until then are you ok with the status quo or do you want to shake things up in the hope of making quicker advancements?

    8. danielofthedale - Mar 19, 2013 at 4:24 PM

      The problem is Jurgen is a long view kind of guy, and by long view I don’t mean four year world cup cycle but a 10-20 cultural shift that goes all the way to youth development. If you look at the quality of young players coming up in the Germany and Bayern systems you can see that what he does bares fruit. However, he neglects the short term or just does not have the skills to work in it. Lowe is widely seen as the tactical brain behind the German team in the ’06 World Cup and not Jurgen. Jurgen was something of a disappointment at Bayern in terms of results and a few of the players said that the team would do all the tactically work since Jurgen seemed interested in other areas.

      Now the same short comings are coming out in this piece as well. People point out the wins over Slovenia, Italy, and Mexico as what he can do with this team. The problem with that is that we played a 4-4-2 I believe in each of those games. The US plays better in the 4-4-2, it complements our strengths and hides our weakness and suits our best players better. But against the teams that Jurgen probably has lesser respect for, our foes from Central America and the Caribbean, he wants to play a 4-3-3/4-5-1 that we just don’t fit in. He knows how to go get results in Europe which is all well and good, but he does not seem to know how to get the results in CONCACAF road games which is where our bread is really buttered.

      Then even more troubling is his total laissez faire approach to team chemistry. Now its true teams don’t need to have great chemistry to be a success, but if they don’t really can make things much for difficult. I mean Spain for years could not get on the same page and when they finally did look at what they are doing. The Dutch are another team that seems to implode due to chemistry issues and there have been reports out of Belgium that say chemistry problems have been the main reason that results have not matched the talent the last few years with this current generation of younger players. If the team is not harmonious and that lack of chemistry is negatively effecting the team that is one of the biggest things coach needs to work to fix.

      Then there is the whole not telling the team who will be starting till right before the game. Its a very stark example of how Jurgen can not see the forest through the trees. He stated he wants the players pushing for starting spots up till the last moment and whats them to all train as if they are not in the the XI. Hey, I think that is a great way to go about it. But if its 7 or 8 the night before the game what is left for the guys to prove? Let them know the starting lineup that way the players can start putting the final touches on the game plane. The back line can talk about their assignments and how they want to deal with runners, the midfield can talk about how they want to handle it when one player floats inside or out side. The wide mids and outside backs can talk about how they want to partner up going forward or defending getting and how they want to play if a cretin player is on the field. And yes most of this should be done before the night before, but if you have been training with the second team all week and then you are thrown in at the last minute its hard to make up for that time you were not planning with your partner.

      • wesbadia - Mar 20, 2013 at 9:21 AM

        All of what you say is dead on. And I think what’s revealing is your statement about “What Jurgen does bears fruit… just not in the short-term”, to paraphrase. This is exactly right, and this is the very reason why JK should not be the head coach of the USMNT, but instead the head of USSF. His vision for development and identity and style is being misapplied. Gulati had such a hard-on for JK for so long that he was looking for every possible excuse to oust Bradley and get JK to head the NT. Bradley was not the problem. In fact, I would argue that with JK as head of USSF and Bradley as MNT manager, that there would probably be almost-immediate results, combined with long-term stability for future generations and cycles.

        The best news I’ve heard so far in 2013 concerning USSF is that Gulati will be running for the CONCACAF position. I pray it’s a job that requires him to leave his current post. And I pray the personalities left in his stead have the foresight to realize what I just mentioned above — move JK the USSF head, find a better short-term manager to lead the team first hand.

    9. kans0002 - Mar 19, 2013 at 4:59 PM

      I think we are in trouble for the upcoming qualifiers. I hope I’m wrong, but I don’t have a good feeling about this…

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