Friday, December 30, 2011
No. 3: Meet the new boss
By Scott French
|Jurgen Klinsmann has taken over the U.S. national team and introduced a fresh approach.|
Counting down the 11 biggest 2011 stories in Southern California soccer ...
U.S. Soccer twice before had made runs at Jurgen Klinsmann, following the 2006 and 2010 World Cups, but the German legend wouldn't bite. The issue was power, and he wasn't going to be the national team's head coach unless he had the power required to do the job.
Mexico's emphatic triumph over the U.S. in the June 25 CONCACAF Gold Cup final -- and, more so, what the magnitude of that romp suggested -- snaked a path toward common ground, and by the end of July, one era in American soccer was over and a new one had begun.
Where it will lead is anybody's guess.
The hope is that Klinsmann, 47, provided the power he needs and a $2.5 million salary, will shepherd the U.S. program through the next step or two in its evolution to genuine global power, a role the Yanks hope to be playing within another generation or three.
He's got the pedigree, certainly, as one of the finest strikers ever to play the game -- he represented West Germany and Germany in three World Cups, winning the title in 1990 -- and did remarkable work guiding the home-team Germans, unexpectedly, to the 2006 World Cup semifinals.
But there's tremendous work to be done. Bradley, who took charge after Klinsmann turned down an opportunity to succeed Bruce Arena in fall 2006, at first on an interim basis, built an infrastructure and installed a culture within the national team that prized respect and accountability. He had a number of successes -- the biggest having to do with the evolution, rather than any particular competition -- and left the program in a much better place than when he arrived.
But the national team was aging, especially at the back, and lacked the depth of talent and dynamism, Landon Donovan and Clint Dempsey aside, to play the kind of attractive, attacking soccer supporters demand.
The U.S. is a grinder in the international game. It can battle and fight with anyone and compete admirably with most teams around the world. But against the best, the Yanks are overmatched technically and tactically.
That might be the greatest mission Klinsmann faces, the raise the level of the Americans' game so that when they face Brazil or Spain, Argentina or the Netherlands -- any of the real powers -- they can do more than try to survive.
To do so, he's looking for players comfortable with the ball -- that's behind a lot of the more questionable call-ups the past five months, especially on the backline -- and he doesn't care where they come from. He's doubled the German-born contingent in the pool, to six, and continues to search for players with American roots in foreign countries.
It's going to take time and patience. Already, there are fans unhappy that the U.S. has won just twice in seven friendlies under Klinsmann, getting shutout four times and scoring just once on two more occasions. But the games don't count until the Americans' World Cup qualifying campaign begins in June, and it shouldn't require a finished product to get to Brazil in 2014.
How the Americans fare at the next World Cup, whether there's a real verve to their game, will say plenty about Klinsmann's impact on American soccer. It may take another decade to really sink in.