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Digging into the “Why?” over concerns about Jurgen Klinsmann

Mar 21, 2013, 4:50 PM EDT

Jurgen Klinsmann AP

DENVER — Where did this perception of a Jurgen Klinsmann spiral come from?

Let’s dive into the “Why?” on this sudden, raging unease and unrest over the U.S. manager.

Why, for some fans, media and supporters, was he the darling of our U.S. Soccer establishment one day, a prized innovator ready to get this team off its plateau, then something very different the next? Why was he suddenly a bumbling know-nothing (at least in some eyes), a man who is risking our World Cup and needs bailing out worse than the banking system of 2008?

It really comes down to five perceived problems. Let’s look at them:

Treatment of Carlos Bocanegra

I distinctly remember watching Carlos Bocanegra, the once stately U.S. captain, during a couple of sequences in semifinal qualifying. He was caught out of position and just did not have the foot speed to recover. I recall thinking, “Hmmmm. This is a problem.”

Players do get older. The quickness and mobility slips away. Some can make positional adjustments and “think” their way into a slightly more prolonged career. But only a precious few can keep their game at international level into their mid 30s, and Bocanegra turns 34 in May.

We all wrote two years ago about the inevitability of it, about how Bocanegra would struggle to be effective as a 35-year-old during the 2014 World Cup. Guys like Omar Gonzalez and Geoff Cameron were always going to pick up the baton at some point.

Is this really so shocking?

VERDICT: Not guilty 

Grand designs abandoned, grand promises not kept

What about that higher defensive line, the sharper passing out of the back, the more attack-minded philosophy as represented through consistently aggressive tactical approach?

Klinsmann did arrive with visions of something better, something more stylistic, something attack-minded that U.S. supporters could really get behind (although the highly pragmatic approach under Bob Bradley doesn’t look so doggone bad anymore, now does it?)

On this one, Klinsmann has made little or no progress. His best results have arrived via matches that highly resembled Bradley’s blueprint, which was about tightly organized lines of defense, and then offense through counter-punch and set piece magic.

Here, Klinsmann’s hands have been tied. His most dynamic man, Landon Donovan, has been scarcely available. His options for wingers and playmakers? Meh.

I know everyone wants to see more – but honestly, you really think Jose Torres is all that? Klinsmann did himself no favors through over-promise. Otherwise …

VERDICT: hung jury 

A semifinal round that didn’t go swimmingly

In the end Klinsmann’s team finished atop its semifinal round group, earning 13 points to match the team’s second-highest total in a semifinal round in the last five World Cup cycles.

But style points were lacking (see above) and it did come down to the final match day, which is probably too close for comfort for either Mexico or the United States, the region’s powers.

 VERDICT: hung jury 

Perceptions of player mistreatment (mostly Jozy Altidore)


Criticism of Klinsmann on this is rather silly.

The coach upset a bunch of folks by not calling Altidore for two qualifiers last fall, never mind that he was scoring regularly for AZ in the Netherlands.

Klinsmann simply didn’t think Altidore was working hard enough – especially as a guy like Terrence Boyd set the example for how to seriously get after it during practices.

I said all along, this was never about Altidore in qualifying; the United States had enough muscle to reach the final round.  This was about building the best Altidore for the long haul – and what manager wouldn’t want that?

Klinsmann sent a message. Altidore heard it. The young striker is better off.

VERDICT: not guilty 

Inclusion of multiple German Americans

This is one where Klinsmann has over-reached. Yes, Fabian Johnson, Timothy Chandler, Danny Williams, Jermaine Jones and Boyd are either bright young stars in the making or talented figures who offer the team something more concrete right now. (Jones and Chandler, by the way, were brought into the system under former manager Bob Bradley.)

But there was surely a point of diminishing return here, where Klinsmann began running a risk of doing harm to the domestic coaching establishment, and potentially to his locker room, too.

He is absolutely correct that Chandler, Johnson, etc., are “Americans,” and they are 100 percent eligible to play for the national team. He made the point again at Thursday’s news conference.

Still, perhaps a little more discretion here, a little more judicious use of this card, would be helpful. In terms of mitigating locker room cliques and ensuring that development here remains a valued cornerstone of the U.S. Soccer organization – rather than just picking off the “passport players” developed in other lands – he’s probably got enough players in the pool now who didn’t grow up in the United States.

VERDICT: guilty 

  1. mkbryant3 - Mar 21, 2013 at 4:59 PM

    So, what’s the sentence? Parole and some community service?

    • joeyt360 - Mar 21, 2013 at 5:30 PM

      Yeah, I think the point was he’s guilty of more misdemeanors than felonies.

  2. dfstell - Mar 21, 2013 at 5:15 PM

    What you’re saying about the German-American guys reminds me of an experience I had in graduate school. The school actively sought out international students. The idea was that the cultural exchange was good for all of us and I always thought it was fascinating to talk to those students and learn about life in Kenya or India or Bulgarian or Brazil. But, the class ended up being ~10% Chinese and that was enough to reach a critical mass. It was easier in the short-term for those students to just socialize with each other and there were enough of them that they could make a full social group. Of course, the end result was bad: The American students learned next to nothing about China (despite having more Chinese students in the class than anything else) and the Chinese students didn’t learn much English or much about America.

    It’s the kind of thing that is very predictable in hindsight, but probably not very obvious at the outset. I wonder if the same thing goes on with the USMNT.

    MAYBE this article makes someone like Jermaine Jones (who they say is the leader) to say, “Whoa…..I never meant for it to be like this. We need to make an extra effort to interact and not form cliques.”

  3. geojock - Mar 21, 2013 at 6:24 PM

    I don’t think it’s the overall treatment of Bocanegra everyone is concerned about. It is the fact that he didn’t start in a game where we needed, above all, leadership and experience. Its a question of tactics and European naivety. Which leads to the bigger picture of preparing this team.
    Everyone has been on board with JK challenging the teams mentality and playing around with things in preparation for WC. Bocanegra wont be playing in finals.. but neither Cameron or Gonzales if we don’t get there first.
    The is no more time to play around. A coach doesn’t exhaust a team physically before the big game so why is JK still exhausting the team mentally?
    -Grand designs
    Essentially you are saying JK has failed but it’s not his fault because he does have the players. Part of a coach is to deal with what you have. Don’t design something you don’t have the resources to pull off. It would be like FIFA having the world cup in a desert in the summer.. wait.
    Also it is not surprising Donovan was exhausted considering all I read about JKs techniques. Playing year round, flying all over the world, the one thing you want in the 5 days a month you happen to play for your country is a little consistency and stability.

    I think we still have a chance to be great under JK, but he needs seriously look into his game day tactics and tone it down about in the mental training of the players and give them consistency. JK talks so much about learning and such… why doesnt he look back at the USMNT successes in the past and actually apply some of those things instead of assuming they are all wrong.

  4. tylerbetts - Mar 21, 2013 at 6:32 PM

    Steve, I think there’s one other factor that probably gets lumped into your “Grand designs abandoned, grand promises not kept” category, goes along with over promising, and probably points that just towards being “guilty”.

    And that is Klinsmann’s salary. And the giant lead in Salary USSF took between Klinsmann and Bradley.

    With that kind of money, and that kind of salary jump, you simply have to come through on those promises. You have to.

    Is that fair? Probably not. But if I were to convince my boss’s boss to fire my boss, replace him with me, pay me a lot more money than my boss was making, all because I promise to put together a much more pleasing product that will take our company to the next level? You better believe that if we remain at the same level we were at under the other boss, I’d be in serious hot water.

    • Steve Davis - Mar 21, 2013 at 8:05 PM

      I think that’s quite fair. I think even Klinsmann would say so. He’s getting big boy money, and that comes with big boy responsibility.

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