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How much leeway does one good week buy Jurgen Klinsmann?

Mar 27, 2013, 11:53 PM EDT

Jurgen Klinsmann AP

Unless you’re deaf to the discussion that surrounds the U.S. men’s national team (and if you are, more power to you), you noticed how Brian Straus’s Sporting News piece was disproportionately embraced by the critics – those who already had doubts about Jurgen Klinsmann. As ‘level-handed’ as Straus tried to be about relaying his insiders’ doubts, the piece was laced with indictments. If you were at all concerned about the national team’s direction, the story become vindication.

Opposing views eventually surfaced, but by then the contingent of detractors had been lured into the open. For them, Straus’s work was ammunition. Philipp Lahm’s criticisms were already emblazoned in their minds, ready to unload in retort whenever the occasion arouse. For them Joachim Löw, not Klinsmann, was always the key to Germany. Take him out of the equation, and all Klinsmann had to his coaching career was his failure at Bayern. This guy may not even be as good as Bradley.

And in the buildup to Costa Rica, those criticisms hit a crescendo only to fe hoisted on their own petard, sent falling to the Dick’s Sporting Goods pitch to be buried frozen under foot. Beneath ankle-deep snow and three World Cup qualifying points, the detractors’ case started to turn cold. Not only had the U.S. won, but the adaptability Klinsmann had been preaching for near-two years was on display, taking full points in a game everybody acknowledged as must win.

After the result at Azteca provided further validation, it’s tempting to think the anxiety of Colorado is in the team’s past, though that would seriously underestimate the strength of the detractor’s beliefs. Just as they crouched in wait for work like the Sporting News’s to shine light on dressing room rumblings, so they’ll wait for the team’s next stumble. If the attack doesn’t come around at Jamaica or at home against Panama and Honduras, expect a humbled but dedicated opposition to ask if the U.S. isn’t just delaying the inevitable. Until Klinsmann fulfills the promises, there will always be doubters.

There’s nothing unfair about holding coaches to standards, but it’s important remember who sets those standards. Or in the case of Klinsmann – a man whose easy demeanor leaves some to read him as arrogant or aloof – it’s important to realize who didn’t set those standards. Klinsmann has never promised to deliver a World Cup, nor has he claimed he’ll be the man to finally make the U.S. a power commensurate with the country’s stature. He’s only come in with a plan to improve U.S. Soccer, something every boss should have in tow. That Klinsmann’s plan is more exhaustive, ambitious, and revolutionary than his predecessors’ doesn’t mean his ultimate goal (progress) is any different.

With the same eye toward success as any coach who would take the U.S.’s reigns, it seems Klinsmann’s only arrogance was deigning to accept a position he was granted, because it was inevitable a man of with his CV would engender high expectations. His main problem is having different, proven, but easily criticized plan to build a program, the scope of which allows critics to bemoan one aspect (tactics) while undervaluing others.

One good week is can neither squelch nor refocus that dissent. The skepticism is too deep-seeded to uproot with five days and four points. That those results came in the face an uncoiled backlash will pierce the pride of the slumbering bully, but he’ll resurface. Only fulfilling contrived promises will smooth Klinsmann’s course.

But Klinsmann has bought himself some time, as well as some credibility. The next bump in the road won’t be met with the same scrutiny, and crisis number two will be evaluating knowing how Klinsmann defused crisis number one.

But until the U.S. becomes Germany – or CONCACAF’s facsimile there of – Klinsmann be seen as a false prophet, and through no fault of his own. With ever word of dissent that leaks from the locker room, people who never wanted Klinsmann hired in the first place will the seeds of a bigger, perhaps non-existent problem. If he stumbles in Panama, fails to win the Gold Cup, or can’t get past the Round of 16 in Brazil, he’ll be no better than Bob, regardless of whether he’s set the underlying course in a new, more versatile direction.

The crisis is over, but the U.S. needs more than a re-centered campaign for Klinsmann to earn any leeway with his doubters.

  1. tigeraintdone - Mar 28, 2013 at 12:34 AM

    Klinsman is not the next coming of some kind of “Christ” like savior of the USMiNT! He was brought in to change the development of our entire program. We should not as fans expect some kind of miracle in 19 months. While I am not saying he is the answer, I think it is a tad to early to be expecting us to be world beaters with pretty much the same talent level Bradley and Arena, for that matter had. Let the haters commence…

  2. nygiantstones - Mar 28, 2013 at 1:38 AM

    Yeah, I don’t really know about his resume being the promise of spectacular future results for US soccer. He had a short run at BM that was good, but not spectacular. I read he quit or was fired for disagreeing with management so we can’t really judge by the short sample size. Fair enough. His record with the German team was a bit longer, two years, and we read in the US media that he was credited with turning around the German soccer infrastructure. However, taking a closer look we see a country that had won a World Cup in 1986 and a European Championship in 96. The Germans went out early in the 98 World Cup and in Euro 2000 and then made the World Cup final in 2002. They then went out early in Euro 2004 and Klinsmann stepped in as coach, taking the Germans to the semifinals in the 2006 World Cup. His assistant was Joachim Low.

    Now, I call out the history there leading up to Klinsmann being hired and his results to give us some perspective. This is a team that had won a World Cup and been to a final in the ten years before Klinsmann took over. We’re talking about a country that has won 3 World Cups and 3 European Championships. When you talk about that kind of success in Europe, you’re talking a powerhouse where one would assume the entire population of youth grow up playing soccer. I think too much credit was given to Klinsmann for turning around the program when in reality the Germans had just had a large part of the team basically retiring around 2000 and in the four years leading up to Klinsmann had made a World Cup final. I would argue that it was inevitable that the German national team was going to rebound, regardless of the Manager. The US doesn’t have anywhere near the pedigree of German soccer, obviously, and I highly doubt Klinsmann is going to change our national program. I think he is taking over at a good time though, a time when MLS is providing opportunities for players to grow and be noticed by European clubs, and he will benefit from that talent if he sticks around long enough but I don’t think he is going to be the savior that many people think he will be. He may end up getting credit for taking the team to the next level but he’s going to have to do better than the 2002 quarterfinals or the 2010 sweet sixteen.

    I would also point out that Klinsmann left the German team after only two years because he was tired of the commute from LA to Germany, or so he said. I think there are a lot of Managers, especially Germans, that would stay in that job until they were fired. In my opinion, I think the guy is too rich to last very long as our manager. This is a guy that flies helicopters and lives in LA. I think part of him being a Manager is the need to be competitive and the need to find something to do with himself in retirement. If he truly bled managing, where was he between 2009 and 2011? Politicing to get Bradley fired so he could take over? Flying helicopters? Getting a tan? Who doesn’t move from LA to coach the German national team? I have serious doubts about him. I don’t think we’re winning a World Cup with him (duh) and I think we will see an experimental phase of a more attacking style mixed in with our conservative style, based on the talent that the US has to offer. He will be fun to watch for a while, and it gives US fans a nice fuzzy feeling to have a World Cup winning player coaching our team. I think he rides the team through to Brazil and quits after that.

    I’ll go along for the ride happily, but color me a skeptic.

  3. tackledummy1505 - Mar 28, 2013 at 1:44 AM

    I’ll be the first hater, Klinnsman has arguably the best talent ever to come through or choose for the USMNT. For us to be thinking we shouldn’t be dominating is just plain arrogant or just one of those fans that cheers and says their coach is great no matter what record we have. With Mexico having such problems of their own we should be cleaning up in the HEX tournament. Instead we’re holding our breath each match just hoping not to lose. For this guy to come in here and say, “I’m just here to improve the training of the team,” is outrageous. Do you think NFL teams hire head coaches to just improve their programs? No, I don’t think so. We shouldn’t just be coming a long, but learning to get out in front and just dominant the game like Spain. Does anyone think we have a chance against Spain? As of right now we won’t even be in the same level as a team like Italy or Germany. So for those of you who want to cheer on this fool go right ahead but from where I’m sitting I’m just waiting for the next coach to come a long so we might be better than its ok

    • goonah4life - Mar 28, 2013 at 11:30 AM

      Are you serious? We should dominate like Spain? It’s Klinnsman’s fault that Germany and Italy are better than us? While I’m not a huge Klinnsman supporter I am well aware of the limitations of US soccer, and a lot of those have nothing to do with the coach.

      Sure an NFL head coach comes in wanting to win, but that is because he can go get new players in the draft and free agency. Klinnsman doesn’t have the option of getting a Mario Ballotelli, a Xavi, an Iniesta, a Mezut Ozil. He has to make do with the players at his disposal. Comparing the two is absurd.

    • boscoesworld - Mar 28, 2013 at 2:56 PM

      I believe you fail to realize that the USNT is light years behind other countries both in tactics and technical skill!! Just because we bulled our way to decent results in a couple of tournaments means nothing. The talent evaluation phase is still ongoing as far as I am concerned. What problems are you talking about with Mexico? Three games? Pay attention please.

  4. dfstell - Mar 28, 2013 at 7:59 AM

    I would say that part of the problem is all the rhetoric that Klinsmann came in with. There was all this babble about changing the culture and stuff like that. That stuff never pans out and we all should have known that. I mean, we all see politicians and business leaders talk about radical change and it never happens there either. Most complex systems like Congress or a large business or a national soccer team have come to some kinda equilibrium based on the forces at work…..and there is only so much that a single individual (even a talented individual) can do to perturb that equilibrium to get a different result.

    But….the problem is that they couldn’t really introduce Klinsmann as a coach either. His resume just isn’t very deep and is trumped by most of the coaches in MLS. I just don’t put much stock in Germany’s performance in a single tournament. We all know how fickle tournament soccer is.

    Last night, there was an article on ESPN about Fabio Capello and how he’s reinventing Russia’s national team. I swung by his Wikipedia page and holy crap….THERE is a coach with a resume! They guy has like 6 Serie A title with multiple clubs, 2 La Liga titles, etc. Of course it benefits to have good players, but you don’t build THAT kind of record of long-term success without knowing what you are doing.

    It makes me wonder how much more we would have to pay to get someone like Capello? Not necessarily HIM, but someone like him.

    • nygiantstones - Mar 28, 2013 at 11:44 AM

      Yes – this is an excellent post…what I was trying to say but more concise. Too much rhetoric and too large of a soccer population in the US with a superficial understanding of the sport and history.

    • wandmdave - Mar 28, 2013 at 6:00 PM

      I completely disagree on most of your points and those of both of nygiantstones’ posts.

      Coming in with the rhetoric of changing the culture is exactly what I’m excited about and exactly what is on Klinsmann’s resume. I don’t think anyone can argue that Die Mannschaft didn’t change styles fairly drastically under Klinsmann. You can say Loew (sorry I’m to lazy to make whatever those two dots are over the o) was the tactical mastermind that allowed that change to succeed and while I don’t necessarily agree completely I definitely can’t prove that wrong. Either way it doesn’t matter. Loew was using the sea change Klinsmann brought about.

      That doesn’t mean an attempt at an equivalent change here in the USA cannot fail or that at a success will come as easily or quickly. German soccer has much more popularity, money, and talent in the pipeline than we can hope to achieve for a long time if ever. However I would vehemently disagree with anyone who says that risk of failure is a reason not to try. Even if we don’t make the WC final this cycle I’d rather have attempted an overhaul designed to lay the groundwork for future growth than stick with our stagnant and boring to watch (even if generally safe and effective for qualifying) style of defend as a team, run hard, and hope to snag a point on the counter. That is a useful and effective style to use in tough matches against stronger opponents but we had no other answers even when playing against equal or lower quality teams. It was pathetic and infuriating to watch, and we aren’t going to improve from being around 30th in the world by sticking to being the Greece of CONCACAF even if it opens the remote possibility we could win the WC one day as a lucky Cinderella like Greece did with the Euros.

      Given that we need someone with the stature and connections to make a culture change but without enough history and success as a couch that he won’t want to take the job or take chances and risk failure. Klinsmann fits those criteria perfectly and the fact that he has a successful culture change on his resume is just a bonus. A significant, awesome bonus. Add to that the fact that he’s lived in the States for a while and is at least somewhat familiar with our system and I don’t think you can find anyone else who would fit better with what US soccer is trying to do here.

      On the stature and connections front he is obviously a famous player who played in many different leagues. He was also the coach of Germany (where he had success regardless of why) and BM. Talk about connections and he hasn’t been shy about using them. He’s been helping our MLS players get their foot in the door in clubs across the pond; he’s been wildly successful bringing talented dual nationals into the pool especially from Germany; and he’s loaded our schedule with friendlies against significant competetion in order to test our players.
      Grade: A+

      On the ability and desire to take risks front I don’t think anyone can question that. Just taking the job was a risk due to the stature of our team and since he hasn’t been shy with bringing in many new players, sitting veteran players (Boca), giving inexperienced players playing time even in big games (Cameron, Gonzo, Besler, Boyd, Shea, etc), and experimenting with lineups and player positioning. He has also generally lined us up in an attacking formation even when he hasn’t had the personnel to do so 100% effectively. That last point invites pragmatic results oriented criticism and rightfully so but I’ll handle that in the next paragraph. Either way changing our style is the primary focus I believe and therefore taking risks like that is more important than safely getting results. And a style change in soccer at the international level is a chicken and egg problem which is going to require taking a leap of faith before our personnel is completely ready fill the formation 100% effectively. NFL coaches do this all the time when they come in and switch systems before they even have a chance to draft or bring in many players and a national team coach doesn’t even have the ability to trade like club coach can.
      Grade: A+

      On the results front there is some room for debate. Our offensive output has come in fairly isolated fits and starts and our inventiveness in the final third is routinely lacking. Our defense is slowly transitioning from the old guard we relied on last cycle but it is rarely rock solid. However all that comes with changing, changing/expanding our player pool, and dealing with injuries. I can easily and rightfully argue any couch would have the same issues under our circumstances. Despite all that we’ve seen consistent progress in committing to keeping the ball on the ground, passing the ball out of the back, and retaining possession. Additionally our record hasn’t dipped despite the ups and downs and we’ve recorded quite a few first ever or almost never type results in a during his short tenure (W @Italy, W @Mexico, tie @Mexico in WCQ). Given we never had reliable offensive output before Klinsmann came along the only thing that has really dipped is the reliability of our defense and thus our confidence in the team being able to shut out lesser competition reliably. Given the aforementioned and inevitable turnover across the entire D line this cycle I don’t see that as surprise or something that can easily be pinned on Klinsmann.
      Grade: A

      As far as Capello is concerned. He was brought into the English team to perform the same tasks being asked of Klinsmann and he failed. Granted a WC final win was the bar for success which probably doomed him to failure, but he also abysmally failed at making even a dent in the culture or style of play of that team. In fact after he left England has retreated into the shell some people here seem to be advocating which is once again pathetic and hard to watch especially for such a proud and talented national team. Capello needed to sit some players with inflated egos and poisoned attitudes and thumb his nose at the press and know-it-all fans in order to do so but he either didn’t have the will or the ability to do so. Why would we think he can do it here? Just because our culture, media, and fan base aren’t as established? I wouldn’t count on it myself.

      • wandmdave - Mar 28, 2013 at 6:07 PM

        Even if Klinsmann ultimately fails by blowing qualifying or not achieving greater results than his predecessors he’s still unquestionably laying the groundwork for the USA’s version of a Loew to sweep in and take advantage of the groundwork that has been laid.

      • wandmdave - Mar 28, 2013 at 6:17 PM

        People may argue that improving both our performance on the field and the overall results are all that matters and all that a coach should be judged on. However, when judged on those criteria I don’t think we could have found a coach in the world that could have succeeded with flying colors in two short years. Few could do any better than Klinsmann and many would have failed far more miserably.

      • nygiantstones - Mar 29, 2013 at 2:19 PM

        Your argument is excellent, I don’t discount your points at all but I think you’re too easy of a grader or at least giving too high grades where an incomplete would be more applicable. I’m not sure what players we can point to moving overseas that we can credit him with. I’m also not sure how relevant friendly results are in the big picture. On taking risks, I really don’t think he’s taking that big of a risk here. We’re good enough to qualify regardless of his influence, and if we don’t go beyond the group stage, it’s not like we’re Germany and he’ll be skinned alive. And it’s not like he is a career manager that will need to find another job if he gets fired. The guy will go back to flying helicopters and tanning in LA with his former model wife. Ha

  5. paxonst - Mar 28, 2013 at 11:54 AM

    If you know anything about team sports, a coach is only as good as the players he puts on the field. What the U.S. did in Mexico is no less than spectacular! The USMNT was missing five starters ( Howard, Williams, Jones, Chandler, and Johnson) and came out with a draw against Mexico’s first 11. In my opinion, the glass is more than half full. Don’t get me wrong, I was highly dissapointed with the Honduras result, but fortunatley for the U.S., the results of the other HEX games worked in their favor. Yes Klinsmann came out with grandeous statements about changing the culture of U.S. soccer, but it needed to be said. We will never become a Spain or Brazil. It’s not in our DNA, but we can become a consistently ranked top 15-20 team in the world.

  6. paxonst - Mar 28, 2013 at 12:05 PM

    dfstell, One of the benefits of hiring Klinsmann is his relationship with the German-American players. Yes, a Capello or similar coach could have recruited them, but Klinsmann being German obviously has an indepth knowledge of the life experiences of these players, and of course can communicate with them in a language they are most comfortable with.

  7. nygiantstones - Mar 28, 2013 at 1:49 PM

    I would also point to the overblown assessment of the Costa Rica match results. I’m very happy with the three points, but anyone pointing to the results of that match as some kind of validation of Klinsmann’s philosophy is nuts. That match was the most ugly match I’ve ever seen and proved/validated nothing regarding the skill set of US players or the advancement of Klinsmann’s philosophy.

    • schmutzdeck - Mar 28, 2013 at 8:29 PM

      “That match was the most ugly match I’ve ever seen and proved/validated nothing regarding the skill set of US players or the advancement of Klinsmann’s philosophy.”


      Actually , the main thing and maybe the only thing about the Costa Rica match is three very valuable points. Three points changes everything at this stage of qualification.

      As for as validating JK’s philosophy, you don’t win a game like that without fighting through adversity, sticking together as a unit, fighting for each other and so on. These are all qualities JK is big on. Of course so is every other decent coach in every sport.

      The team stuck together through a tough situation and fought to win three very valuable points. In doing so they rallied around each other and have something tangible to show for it, something they can now build on.

      Those kinds of intangibles are hard to over value, in a campaign like this. Like you, too many critics are thinking only about the soccer aspects of this and are forgetting about the intangibles of team chemistry and makeup. We could be seeing the beginnings of the formation of a true team identity, the dreaded “us against the world “ mentality. I haven’t seen that before with this group so that is encouraging.

      JK never said the stylish team he wants to field would show up tomorrow and has been pretty clear about it taking a long time. What you are seeing is a team being built and a lot of times it is not pretty.

      The encouraging thing is they are getting results while being built , no easy thing to do.
      Now is no time to panic. You should wait until the US loses its next qualifier, then panic.

      • nygiantstones - Mar 29, 2013 at 2:22 PM

        I see your point for sure. I suppose in light of the Sporting News article, the win (and the Mexico tie) could have tangible benefits in the locker room. No panic on my end, I believe the US will qualify. Just want to see some improved play from the club against the “weaker” teams in the hex. We pulled out a fantastic tie in Mexico, but it was a Bob Bradley style match. Let’s see a nice roll of wins against the likes of Jamaica, Panama, etc., with attacking play and I’ll get excited. Obviously, this entire conversation changes when Donovan is back and we have some speed and attacking ability up front.

  8. Richard Farley - Mar 28, 2013 at 2:48 PM

    @valiantdraws – thanks for the feedback. unfortunately, the site is what it is. we delete any feedback that reaches that tone, but that doesn’t mean the comment wasn’t read, noted, and taken to heart.

  9. unclemosesgreen - Mar 29, 2013 at 7:30 PM

    It should buy a lot of leeway since it radically changed our position in the hex for the better. Grinding out points under difficult circumstances are what it’s all about right now, and that’s what we’re doing. All of that other stuff is just noise.

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