Klinsmann for 2014!!!

Wednesday, July 14, 2010 | View Comments
Jurgen Klinsmann celebrates goal

With the end of the World Cup cycle for the US, the prospect of a managerial change looms large. A lot of people seem to be asking the questions “who is the best tactical manager for the US talent pool” or “who is the manager who will play the style I want the US to play”.

For me, it’s all about timing. The end of the Bradley era may be upon us. I’m throwing my support behind Klinsmann for 2014. But that doesn’t mean what you probably think it means...

There are a ton of things that need to be done in the system for the US to truly be competitive on the world stage. Some of these things will take 12 or more years before they are truly effective, some can be done in two. Let’s run down a quick list of things that I view as needing to happen and my best guess as to the approximate time it will take changes to effect the national team:

1) Build a functional youth system (12 years)
2) Increase the quality of MLS to that of second tier European leagues (12 years)
3) Gut and rebuild USSF (8 years)
4) Change the tactics of the national team (2 years)

In hiring Claudio Reyna to be Youth Technical Director, USSF has taken the first step toward achieving goal number one. The recent CBA moves MLS closer to achieving goal number two. Hiring Klinsmann, if he is given the freedom to do as he pleases, begins the process of blowing up the USSF and rebuilding it, and he would change the tactics of the team, moving the US forward on all accounts.

And I’m all for that…

Just not next cycle.

It is well established that USSF is interested in Klinsmann and Klinsmann is interested in the job. We also know that Klinsmann retooled die Mannschaft while he was in charge in Germany. Rumor is that wanted to do the same at Bayern but didn’t have the freedom and that he isn’t the current USMNT boss this cycle because of disagreement over control. In Germany, he wanted to Americanize the system, adding fitness coaches and sports psychologists. In all likelihood, behind the scenes here he would Germanize the American system. But what does that mean?

German success, as evident in this World Cup, has come from their youth development system. Club academies form the basis, with weekly two-hour “tutoring” sessions for about 14,000 youth players by German Football Federation appointed coaches. The players graduate up the line to receive playing time at club “II” teams situated in the German third and fourth flights before moving on to the top flight which is competitive enough to provide world class competition but not so competitive as to deprive younger developing players an opportunity in favor of the newest hot transfer that’s been brought in. For example, Mesut Oezil had 18 Bundesliga appearances for Schalke 04 in the 06-07 season when he was 18 years old and 59 league appearance for Werder Bremen in the last two years.

But, as a national team coach, Klinsmann’s highest priority cannot be establishing a functional youth system. However, I have faith in Klinsmann to do two things as national team coach, 1) fighting USSF to make changes that will help now and later and 2) overseeing a tactically cunning team. The US will be a better position to do both of those things in four years time.

Improving the youth system is an enormous problem and should be the highest priority of USSF. However, it will not show results until the 2022 World Cup at the earliest. There has been some movement on this front with the hiring of Reyna and the diversity of the players recently called into U-20 camp by Rongen. These changes provide a necessary first step, but give USSF cover; excuses to resist the structural changes that Klinsmann would lobby for. Changes led by Reyna and time to determine what is and what is not working in the development academy network would give Klinsmann a stronger foundation to lobby for the next level of changes that will be necessary, those at the USSF level. Because of this, I think Klinsmann will be more effective in making these changes beginning in 2014.

The tactics that can be implemented with a team are determined by the talent on hand. The majority of USMNT players have received some, if not all, of their training in MLS, a league that represents the average American player; long on physical skill and potential, short on technical skill. Even the strength of Donovan’s game is rooted in speed and stamina. Bob Bradley’s tactics squeezed out just about everything possible out of a team whose physicality so severely outweighed its technical ability.

I’d be shocked to find a fan who doesn’t want to the USMNT to play a more technical brand of soccer, whether it’s the tight possession game of Spain or the precise counterattack of Germany. But, while the level of technical skill in MLS has grown and will continue to grow with the league, it currently cannot cultivate a large quantity of technically adept players in each position for reasons that have been well documented, including the talent pool, referee style, and salary caps. Because of these limitations, MLS will not be able to cultivate these types of players in large numbers in the next four years.

That means to raise the technical proficiency of the US national team game, predominately US players in foreign leagues will be the ones that will be counted on. With around 30 players in foreign top flights of various quality, the US lacks options. Like the last four years, the next for years should continue to increase these options, yeilding maybe 50 such players by 2014. Most of whom will still have spent a decent chunk of time in MLS. In all likelihood, the distribution of these players will mean that there will be positions without a player whose technical ability is adequate to run a technically demanding system. Because of this, a physical-technical hybrid strategy will likely be the US’ best strategy in 2014. Something that I’m not sure if Klinsmann is well-equipped to coach.

The US is just now at the point where it is producing more than a small handful of players talented enough to play in the top ten leagues in Europe. But a lack of pipeline from MLS to Europe mean that for at least the next cycle, the USMNT coach will have to do more player development than possibly any other national team coach is asked to do. An open pipeline is critical for the US in developing the depth of talent that is necessary to become a contender. And an open pipeline will take time. Bradley did about as much as he could in opening this pipeline.

Trending out another four year sees more players in Europe and gives Klinsmann a talent pool that is workable instead of developable. To me moving top MLS players to Europe and players in small European leagues into better situations should be the goal of this next cycle. I trust Bob Bradley or a successful MLS coach like Dominic Kinnear with that goal much more than I trust Klinsmann.

Klinsmann has a lot to offer the USMNT, and I would be disappointed if he is never the coach. But with his ties to America, and his age (45), it seems unlikely to me that this is the last opportunity. With a three cycle coach almost unheard of, hiring Klinsmann now means that he will likely be gone when the US begins to approach being competitive on the world stage.

So, Klinsmann for 2014? Absolutely. But in my eyes, that’s a start date.
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