Klinsmann at last for U.S. Soccer

Posted: August 02, 2011

SAYING THAT yesterday's media event introducing Juergen Klinsmann as the U.S. men's national-team soccer coach should have happened 4 1/2 years ago doesn't matter now.

It would just be re-emphasizing what I wrote should have happened immediately after the 2006 World Cup.

And patting ourselves on the back is such bad form.

But I did write last September that U.S. Soccer Federation president Sunil Gulati was selling fool's gold when he rehired Bob Bradley after the 2010 World Cup. I said Bradley was stale and had no new ideas to move U.S. soccer forward. I mentioned that Klinsmann would have been a better choice.

So, yes, as a fan of U.S. soccer, I'm excited that Klinsmann, the German World Cup striker and coach turned Southern California dude, is finally the coach, following Bradley's firing last week.

Not, however, as excited as I would have been 4 1/2 years ago.

Had he gotten the job in 2006, we'd already know if the formula Klinsmann used to revamp Germany for the 2006 World Cup would work here. With a group of players in their prime, Klinsmann's fresh ideas might have been all that was needed to vault the U.S. team forward.

In 2011, Klinsmann takes over an aging roster that has been mentally beaten down from trying to match high expectations and disheartened by being recently kicked off the top perch in CONCACAF by archrival Mexico.

It's not too late, but the challenge has certainly gotten tougher. With the U.S. team starting qualification for the 2014 World Cup against Jamaica next June, Klinsmann has less than a year to sort out, revamp and pull things together before it gets serious.

"I kind of know already most of the players from watching them," said Klinsmann, who will make his national-team debut next Wednesday in a friendly against Mexico at Lincoln Financial Field. "I don't think there's anything wrong with the team.

"They lost a Gold Cup final against a very good Mexican team that over the last couple of years became one of the top 10 teams in the world. I think when you come into a situation like this, you analyze each individual player, you analyze the team, you analyze the program. You build basically on what was built before. And if you look back on the last 20 years in this country, a lot has been built."

Klinsmann is the perfect hybrid coach: an international with awareness of America.

"I'm not going to come in and play 'the European guy,' because I have lived here for 13 years," he said. "I know about certain issues around here. Having lived and played abroad, Italy, England, France, obviously Germany, I have my own ideas of how to move the program forward. I will step-by-step introduce some ideas that I have, but always double-check if it suits the American game."

Whatever the American style evolves into under Klinsmann, one can only hope that it finally embraces and exploits this country's greatest strength: our ethnic diversity.

While Bradley was often taken to task about the lack of usage of players of Hispanic descent, it was not exclusive to his tenure.

U.S. Soccer is making strides, but more has to be done to identify and acquire talent from our Latino communities, where soccer is still the No. 1 sport.

Having a national-team coach who understands and appreciates that could do wonders for improving the U.S. talent pool.

"There's so much influence coming from the Latin environment over the last 10, 15, 20 years that also has to be reflected in the U.S. national team," Klinsmann said. "Soccer in a way reflects the culture of a country. One of my challenges, because you have such a melting pot, will be to find out how a U.S. team should represent its country, what should the style of play be - is it more of a proactive, forward-thinking style of play or is it more of a reacting style of play."

As a rule, the United States plays reactive against superior opponents and proactive against lesser foes. But some of its greatest accomplishments have come when it has stepped outside the box.

As host of the 1994 World Cup, Team USA refused to be the passive underdog and surprisingly fought its way to the knockout phase.

At the 2002 World Cup, coach Bruce Arena had his team play with an arrogance that pushed the USA past more talented teams and into the quarterfinals.

Even the rare time Bradley broke out of his rigid form and let his team play free and with creativity, the United States shocked top-ranked Spain and then pushed mighty Brazil to the limit before losing in the finals of the 2009 FIFA Confederations Cup.

Having made his mark as a world-class striker, you'd like to think the United States will try to play with a bit more flair under Klinsmann. Still, he isn't a miracle worker, and we don't know for sure that his ideas will work.

But in 2006 we knew that whatever U.S. Soccer was doing wasn't good enough to move to the next level internationally.

Klinsmann represented something different.

It has taken nearly 5 years, but U.S. Soccer has finally decided to find out if change will be good.

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