U.S. coach change ushers in new era

To say that it’s been an interesting in the world of soccer would be somewhat of an understatement, don’t you think?

Firstly, the MLS All-Stars, comprising the best the American league has to offer, was thumped by Manchester United 4-0 last Wednesday.

The following day, before anyone really had enough time to dissect the performance and question its relevance, came the news that Bob Bradley had been relieved of his duties as the U.S. men’s coach by the United States Soccer Federation.

U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati introduces his man Jurgen at today's press conference

Before the rumor mill regarding his replacement could build any sort of momentum, California based German Jürgen Klinsmann was announced as the new boss on Friday (a day before his 47th birthday), ushering in a new era in U.S. soccer and finally ending a five year chase for his services.

His first game in charge will be in a friendly against Mexico in Philadelphia on August 10.

It is widely believed that his skill set is more suited to working on the international scene, having turned around an ailing German team to lead it to third in the 2006 World Cup, while only lasting a year – a total 43 games — at club level with Bayern Munich.

And he has ideas not just on coaching a national team and giving it an identity, but on overhauling the U.S. youth system too. He has made it clear in the past, when he was courted for the post in 2006, that he wants control at all levels.

To give you an inkling of what might lie ahead for the game here, pressure was applied to all first and second division teams in the Bundesliga to build academy programs when Klinsmann and his assistant Joachim Löw (now the current coach) took over. This was to ensure talented young players were coming through.

To come up with a playing style, they held workshops with coaches and players. They asked them how they wanted to play, how they wanted to be seen to be playing by the rest of the world, and how they thought the German public wanted to see them playing.

They then announced they wanted to implement a fast-paced, direct style of attacking and proactive soccer, i.e. playing the way they wanted to without being swayed by what opponents might do. A curriculum for German football was also presented to the Bundesliga.

Qualifiers for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil don’t start for the U.S. until next June, so Klinsmann has some time to reshape the national team and come up with a useful blueprint for youth coaches across the nation.

It will have to address, you’d imagine, how players are discovered and the way they are trained. In fact, it will have to look at whether the right players are being picked in the first place.

The best soccer talent, regardless of class, or race, needs to be developed, rather than the best physical talent. (We’re looking for “futbol” players, not football players.)

And they better sure have work ethic by the bucketload, because Klinsmann’s on record as saying American players don’t push themselves hard enough.

Still, it will be a job and a half when the culture is years behind others in the first place. There might be good athletes, but absent are those who can add magical moments like a mesmerizing Messi, a tricky Ronaldo, or an intelligent Iniesta because it’s simply in their blood.

Anyone who watched the recent U17 World Cup in Mexico could see that the United States displayed too often an immaturity against their opponents. One of those just happened to be a more professional and mentally prepared outfit in Germany, who took apart the Americans in the round of 16.

 Coaches here put it down to players in other countries being more survivors, who suffer more earlier in life and as a result mature earlier (south American countries, for example). Or they may be developed at earlier ages (Germany, Spain, Netherlands). Here, a lot pick it up in their teenage years, and they play it for fun.

Right now, the appointment looks like a wise move for United States soccer. Bradley did a good job and should be complimented, winning the 2007 Gold Cup, losing narrowly to Brazil in the 2009 Confederations Cup final after a famous victory against Spain, and getting to the last 16 of the 2010 World Cup (even if it was considered a fantastic opportunity missed to go deeper).

However, his tenure some 12 months into his second four year cycle bared all the hallmarks of a stale stewardship and left many wondering where the game stood stateside following the manner of the Gold Cup defeat to the “Golden Generation” of Mexico (when surrendering a two goal lead), not to mention a sterile group stage defeat to Panama.

Klinsmann has some work to do to get United States soccer moving forward (which starts with selecting the right assistants), but his international pedigree, not to mention his understanding of the American game (having resided here now for 13 years), are positives that should see him go in the right direction.

It is a big gamble by U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati but it signals the intent of the organization to see the men’s team among the world’s elite. An exciting journey begins on all levels.


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