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Evaluating Jurgen Klinsmann? Not yet … his work is just getting started

Sep 11, 2013, 5:01 PM EDT

DaMarcus Beasley (L) was part of the team that made the 2002 World Cup quarterfinals. He and Landon Donovan, both 20-year-olds in Japan/South Korea, are hoping to make their fourth World Cups. DaMarcus Beasley (L) was part of the team that made the 2002 World Cup quarterfinals. He and Landon Donovan, both 20-year-olds in Japan/South Korea, are hoping to make their fourth World Cups.

Jurgen Klinsmann showed up Wednesday morning at the Columbus Airport a bit frazzled, affable as always but late for a flight due to some last minute media obligations, part and parcel of the big qualifying achievement from mere hours before.

So he was in a bit of a hurry. That seems appropriate in the bigger picture, too, since the man still has so much to do.

Believe it: Klinsmann’s work in his high-profile, game-changer role with the United States national team is just getting started.

As the euphoria settles over his team booking its spot for Brazil 2014, temptation will be fierce to commence conversations about the big U.S. Soccer picture. That means talking about Klinsmann and his ability to drive the program forward, something we all (fans and the chattering class, that is) have been hammering away at since Klinsmann’s summer 2011 hiring.

But it was always premature, all the rush-rush of banging on, assessing, conversing, etc. For when it comes to assessing Klinsmann and his ability to deliver value on the big money and bigger expectations that came with his ballyhooed arrival, it was never about qualifying.

Qualifying for a World Cup was just the starting point for Klinsmann, who won a World Cup as a German player in 1990 and came close as a manager for his homeland back in 2006.

Qualifying for a World Cup, if we’re being honest, was never in question — no matter what the Nervous  Nellies and the anti-Klinsmann barkers said along the way.

(MORE: Five key moments that shaped the U.S. qualifying campaign)

Plenty of managers could have driven the bus for a talented bunch like the Unites States, shuttling the team into a World Cup through our nominally threatening region. Heck, Steve Sampson did that back in 1998, and he had far, far less talent at his disposal. Team captain Clint Dempsey said it’s great and all that his country has qualified once again, that the team is brimming with confidence and well being, but …

“It doesn’t really matter how things are now, to be honest with you,” Dempsey said. “It’s one thing to qualify for a World Cup, but we’ll be talking about something different if we don’t advance out of our group.”

source: Getty ImagesFor Klinsmann, his job was always about getting the team further in a World Cup, about pushing the program past its quadrennial sticking point, a tenuous hold on second round appearances.

Some of this is literally down to luck of the draw (as 32 World Cup qualifiers are grouped in FIFA’s December draw). But the bottom line looks like this:

If the United States gets to the World Cup quarterfinals next sumer in Brazil, looking lime a confident and sensible sort in doing so, then stamp ‘Mission Accomplished’ on Klinsmann’s time in charge.

Or, if the team pushes forcefully into the second round and then loses to a strong opponent, looking competent, aggressive and assured along the way, then we’ve wandered into a gray area. Anything short of that and his time may not be a total bust, depending on the draw and how the team passes the eye test, but it certainly will not be a back-slapping moment of success for U.S. Soccer.

Since the day he was hired, I have consistently said that all Klinsmann evaluation must wait for the Summer of 2014. That was never something anybody wanted to hear, but it was ever thus. (Obviously, that would have changed if the qualifying campaign had unraveled spectacularly along the way … Right, Mexico?)

So not a thing has changed now. We know more about Klinsmann and how he is shaping this big home improvement project for U.S. Soccer, but we still await the lab results, so to speak.

  1. braxtonrob - Sep 11, 2013 at 5:25 PM

    I’m a big Klinsmann fan, but I was a big fan of Bob Bradley and Bruce Arena, too.

    It comes down to naming our Starting 11. If you make one mistake (like a Ricardo Clark), or one of your obvious choices backfires (like an Oguchi Onyewu), then your tournament is cut very short (relatively to expectations that is), and you’ll be judged as a mediocre coach.

    Klinsmann may have more slack to work with (than his predecessors) if he doesn’t lead us out of group play. I don’t think he’ll be fired necessarily before the 2018 WC, either way. (And, I think he may deserve that extended chance to do something astronomical for US Soccer.)

    • fischy - Sep 12, 2013 at 9:55 AM

      Very insightful comment, particularly in noting the thin line between success and failure for the US. One thing I might say is that Klinsmann is picking from a deeper pool, in part to his deliberateness in efforts to expand the pool. I’m sure he’s bad that idea in mind as it might help in 2014, but I think he’s also been aiming to include people who need the experience to get ready for 2018. The US will depend on a lot of World Cup veterans, especially if Cherundolo is ready, but Klinsi has done a good job of including youngsters who may not seem ready, but will be vital in 2018. I’d rather see Boca and maybe even Goodson as our CBs now, but Klinsi is grooming the future.

  2. talgrath - Sep 11, 2013 at 5:25 PM

    Klinsmann’s evaluation will not be this World Cup, barring spectacular results (either bad or good); the evaluation is the next World Cup. Klinsmann is a man with a knack for developing young talent, which is exactly what the US needs as its stars begin to age. Donovan, Dempsey and Howard will all be in their mid 30’s during the next World Cup, that’s just about the time you become a super sub ,a back up or off the team altogether (Howard, being a goalie, probably has a longer shelf life, but he will be 39 when the next World Cup rolls around). What this means is that Klinsmann must develop the younger players or the US will slink back down into mediocrity. Guys like MIxx Diskerud, Joe Corona, Aron Johansson and Brad Guzan are the future of this team, if Klinsmann can’t get them up to speed, then he will have failed.

    • Steve Davis - Sep 11, 2013 at 5:39 PM

      You may be correct; you make some decent points. But let me say this:

      I have done my darndest to hold back the evaluation talk for two years now … I simply CANNOT hold ‘em off another four! Not even gonna try.

      • braxtonrob - Sep 11, 2013 at 9:57 PM

        LOL, okay okay, evaluate if you must (lol)
        At least we don’t have to hear any USA fans chant ‘Are we there yet?’ anymore.

      • talgrath - Sep 12, 2013 at 3:00 PM

        Fair enough, the long cycle of international soccer can be a bit maddening.

    • justandrews - Sep 12, 2013 at 7:35 AM

      Spot on… This is the measuring stick I will be using as well. A premature end to the klinsmann era would have detestation impacts on us soccer for decades to come. We are establishing a system designed to continually produced world class players. We need time to foster the program before we can realize results and usher in a new generation of us soccer. Klinsmann has us on the right track regardless of any results at the 2014 wc.

  3. hildezero - Sep 11, 2013 at 6:46 PM

    Yeah, you can. Don’t worry, we got your back, Steve Davis!

  4. lyleoross - Sep 12, 2013 at 11:53 AM

    I disagree with Steve. By my mind the evaluation of Klinsmann should already of happened. JK represents a different path for the U.S. It is the English path vs the South American path. Presumably, JK would pursue the German version of the SA path, tight control, combined with an ability to expand mistakes made by your opponent, instead of waiting for them to unfold like the Spanish seem to do.

    If your measure is only results, you are likely to be dissatisfied. We’ve known for some time that the pursuit of wins in youth soccer in the U.S. leads to several strategies. High levels of physical play, long ball play hoping for a breakaway, and panic play in the bottom third with low ability to develop into the middle. With an inexperienced opponent, such strategies work really well. However, against knowledgeable and calm opponents such tactics fail woefully.

    Up until JK appeared, you could see the strong influence of these tactics all the way up to the national team, just go look at the film. JK went down the alternate pathway. Such things take time. As a youth coach who directs his players away from the big three techniques, I can tell you that it always takes at least one season for tight control to settle in and for the players to get comfortable. But oh what a second season.

    This is exactly what you’ve seen with JK. Over the past two years the U.S. has moved from a primarily long ball team to one that develops over the length of the field. That is the ultimate path to success in this sport (at least that is the path that the most successful countries have taken). So, by that measure, JK has been highly successful.

    It is an unfortunate truth that citizens of the U.S. are impatient. We are only interested in wins. That measure has led to a lousy developmental program, driven by parent coaches who only value wins, not great players. JK is fighting that. For his style to be affective, it will have to percolate down through our youth programs. Anyone who thinks that is going to happen in four years is “living the lie.” Even eight years is a reach.

    In JK’s favor, there have always been exceptions to the physical, long ball player. By my measure, JK appears to be hunting and pecking to find those players. My feeling is that he’s been pretty successful at that, and has put them in a setting where they can shine.

  5. dyd4 - Sep 13, 2013 at 5:03 AM

    hi guys,
    im from france, city of Nantes, we welcomed Alejandro Bedoya in our roster and we are very happy of his debuts!

    can you tell us what do you think about him in the US?

    we’ve seen that he made good games with US MNT!

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