- Ben McCormick

Juergen Klinsmann came to the US National Team with some big ideas. He preached patience, saying he was going to need time to experiment with several different kinds of lineups, formations and tactics. If given time, he justified, he would find the right combination of players to play an attacking style of soccer that was uniquely American.

Then what’s all this “we don’t want to shake up the core structure of the team too much” crap?

Three matches into his USMNT managerial tenure, Klinsi has already found the core of his squad. Through five matches, Klinsmann has capped a total of 26 players with only Danny Williams earning his first ever cap for the US national team. Bob Bradley capped 37 different players in just his first four matches.

For someone who seemed to be preaching sweeping changes, a lot seems to be staying the same. While we continue to see many of the same old faces, young guns like Mix Diskerud, and Josh Gatt can’t even get a sniff of camp.

Logically, all three fit the Klinsmann call-up criteria: starting every week for their clubs at a respectable level. Josh Gatt is first XI for the soon-to-be Norwegian champions and Diskerud has amassed 75 appearances for Stabek in Norway since his first team career started in 2008, becoming one of Stabek’s most important cogs. Diskerud and Gatt also are rumored to have clubs in the very best European leagues after them

So what gives, Juergen? These players play at positions with anything but certainty when it comes to the USMNT, so why aren’t they getting their chance?

At first instinct, you might say Klinsmann doesn’t value youth. Not true. To the contrary, Klinsmann loves youth in his squads. 11 of Klinsmann’s German 23 man roster for the 2006  World Cup were age 25 or younger.  Also, on his scouting trip to Germany last month, he took time out to observe and talk to Joe Gyau and Charles Renken, two American youth players at Hoffenheim. Simply, he certainly does not shy away from young players.

When Klisnmann was hired, he said he would establish a new soccer culture. He’s European-ized things about the national team like assigning the starters numbers 1-11 or putting his initials on his coaching clothing. Aside from the fashion changes, though, the biggest change Klinsmann is trying to hard wire into the new American soccer culture is the vitality of the youth national team system.

It’s no secret Klinsmann spearheaded the effort to streamline and invest in the German youth national teams during his time as the German manager. Such efforts on his part resulted in players like Thomas Muller making near-seamless transitions into the full national team. Based on these successes, I pose he’s making a similar effort in the United States.

Skeptical? Wondering why he would spend so much time on the youth teams when the senior team is reeling? You’re in good company. Here’s my best attempt at justifying investing in youth.

The obvious first question to ask is, “why is investing in the youth system important to the full national team?” Let’s take Spain for example. Within 14 months, Spain won the World Cup, the U-21 EURO and U-19 EURO tournaments.  Needless to say, they’re a shining example of what a youth program should be about.

Having said all that, try and guess how many members of Spain’s World Cup winning squad never made an appearance for a youth national team. Go on, guess.

I give up. Zero. Not a single member of their World Cup winning squad went without making an appearance for a youth national team. In fact, the average number of youth national team levels represented by a player on Spain’s World Cup team was 3.5.  Andres Iniesta represented a team-high seven levels followed by Iker Casillas and Fernando Torres with six. Gerard Pique, Xavi Hernandez, Juan Mata and David Silva follow up with 5 and three others have represented four levels.

What’s the largest number of levels a 2010 US World Cup player represented? Three. Landon Donovan, DaMarcus Beasley, Jonathan Spector and Jozy Altidore played at the U-17, U-20 and U-23 levels. A quarter of the US roster never appeared for any youth national team. Putting that in perspective, only a quarter of Spain’s World Cup roster appeared at less than three youth levels. Four players represented one level and two represented two levels.

There are many excuses for this disparity. The size of the United States makes identifying top talent at the U-15 and U-17 levels extremely difficult. Additionally, Spain has eight total youth levels players can represent whereas the US only has five. It’s unreasonable to expect Klinsmann to establish new youth national team levels, but he can do our YNT system a big favor by synchronizing those levels. This means, ideally, once a player ages out of or becomes too talented for one level, they can transfer into the next level seamlessly.

All of Spain’s youth teams play a similar style, making that transition easier for players. This concept is severely lacking in the US. Since Bob Bradley was hired as national team manger (and arguably before that during the Bruce Arena era), the United States have played a defensive 4-4-2 style with the full national team, attempted Dutch total football at the U-20 level and played a Latin-American 4-3-3 style at the U-17 level, all at the same time.

Given Klinsmann’s sweeping changes to the playing style of the full national team, it’s easy to understand the attraction of calling up a young player who has already gone through the growing pains his new system rather than bringing in a new player who is entirely unfamiliar with it, making a synchronized youth system all the more alluring.

On that same note, the common denominator between the 2010 Spain and US World Cup rosters is the players who represented the most YNT levels appear to be among the best the national team has to offer. Sure, some players are late bloomers (Maurice Edu) or come out of nowhere (Jay DeMerit). Heck, David Villa played at just one level of the Spanish YNT system, but the point remains largely the same, exposure to the same system from an early age produces the best players. Remember, Iker Casillas, Fernando Torres and Andres Iniesta lead Spain in levels represented and Landon Donovan, Jozy Altidore and DaMarcus Beasley lead the US.

With the rumors of Caleb Porter’s hiring as the U-23 manager and Tab Ramos as the U-20 manager with a possible U-18 appointment still on the way, Klinsmann appears to be starting the process of synchronizing the US Soccer system. Like Klinsmann, Ramos and Porter favor attacking styles with emphasis on possession.

Guys like Diskerud and Gatt may not be snubbed by Klinsmann at the full national team level because of lack of skill or whatever other excuse there is, but rather he wants talent at his youth levels. Give Gatt and Diskerud two or three camps at the U-23 level and watch them transition into the full national team like they’d been there the entire time.

With the full national team, Klinsmann is trying to teach an old dog new tricks, and he knows it. Trying to get players already in their mid-20s or early 30s to play a style unfamiliar to them is like pulling teeth. Where Klinsmann is likely to leave his indelible mark on US Soccer is in introducing the new system to players as early as possible in their careers through the youth national teams.

So instead of lumping Gatt and Diskerud in with the old guard, Klinsmann may well be saving them to learn the new system along with the other young, promising and talented Americans. Don’t be surprised to see guys like Juan Agudelo or in some cases Tim Chandler, Jozy Altidore and Brek Shea go to U-23 camps when there is a full national team camp going on. This way, he can bring the youth through all at once after the Olympics, all entrenched in the system and ready to contribute to his style.

All of this requires a tremendous amount of the patience Klinsmann asked for when he was named manager of the USMNT. Given the track record of success for those countries who commit to the youth national team system, I’ll grant him that patience.


- Jason Davis

The world is abuzz this morning with the shocking revelation that "foreign" English Premier League owners would like to see an end to relegation. Among the league's foreign ownership are several Americans, most notably the Glazers at United, Randy Lerner at Aston Villa, and Fenway Sports Group at Liverpool.

I used the word "shocking" - as in its meaning of "surprising" - facetiously, of course, because rich businessmen acting as rich businessmen do proposing to do away with risk is perhaps the least shocking thing you'll hear about this day/week/month/year/decade/century/millennium/whatever is after millennium.

Once we accept that a push for the end of promotion/relegation will always be bandied about by people risking millions of dollars on a soccer club, the better we'll sleep at night. That's not a defense of the owners, or an indication that my personal opinion is that pro/rel should go away in England; quite the opposite, actually. The movement between divisions in English (European) soccer is one of the things that makes English soccer attractive. An end to pro/rel would be tantamount to throwing more than a century of history into the garbage, without regard for how the upward and downward mobility of clubs shaped not only the English game and the biggest clubs of the present day, but the way the sport is played and administrated the world over. Promotion and relegation are as much a part of English soccer as chronically rain-soaked fields, the Boxing Day schedule, or the FA Cup. Taking it away would be a crime.

Ownership in any sport is a risky proposition that is rarely a money-making endeavor. Buyers have an obligation to understand what it is they are buying, and the rules and limitations that will dictate their level of risk. When it comes to soccer in England, acknowledged acceptance that promotion and relegation are a part of the sport - and not just a rule to be changed because it is inconvenient - should be at the top of the fit and proper persons test. Pro/rel is and always will be more important than anyone who controls a club. Ownership is temporary.

The issue of the Premier League and the potential abolition of pro/rel affects me as an American soccer-first American in a couple of ways.

First, reconciling my strong disgust with this "news" (again, it's not shocking as in "surprising", but it is shocking as in "troubling") with the fact that Major League Soccer doesn't have pro/rel, probably won't have pro/rel, and - in my opinion - doesn't need pro/rel, at least not for the foreseeable future. What's good for the goose is not good for the gander, not because pro/rel isn't inherently fascinating and enthralling, but because the environments in which the two leagues operate is so different. That aforementioned history doesn't save English teams from dissolution, but it does allow the country to support more professional clubs in a nation of 50 million than the United States could ever hope to prop up, even ephemerally. Culturally speaking, soccer's footing in England is so solid that while the market may be saturated (to the detriment of small and non-League clubs), possible relegation is a fact of life, a storm to be navigated, and in some cases, an integral part of the character of certain clubs. Man City of 2011 has a different feel if they weren't in the Championship ten years ago. MLS has none of the safety nets, does not have character tied to a system built before communication changed the complexion of the sport globally, and exists in a country that has none of the ingrained sensibilities necessary to supporting pro/rel as a reality. If you're American and you love pro/rel, and you're convinced it wouldn't affect your interest in your club or the level of your support, you're the exception, not the rule.

England should have pro/rel, and America should not. That's a pragmatic determination, and does not mean that I would not want pro/rel in the US and Canada if conditions were different.

Second, the inevitable saddling of Americans with the leadership of the movement towards eliminating relegation from the Premier League, and the reflective shame that engenders in me. Yes, I'm the type that will see screeds against American ownership and their evil plans and feel the burn of flushed cheeks, simply because I happen to share a nationality with the men being castigated for their greed. It doesn't matter that I have more in common with the average English football fan than I do with the Henrys and Lerners of the world. Somehow, I'll still feel some minuscule inkling of responsibility, with the requisite knot in my gut reminding me that they villains in all of this are my countrymen. "Americanization" is a dirty word, and as I'm American, it refers to me.

Of course, it's not just Americans who would benefit from an end to the specter of relegation. Several clubs are owned by Asian concerns who could very easily be at the forefront of the push to change the rules. That won't sway most of the English-soccer loving public, English and American alike, from pinning blame on Yank owners. Fingers are being pointed this way. We've got franchises, Americans owners would no doubt love the business-first aspects of the franchise system to take hold in England, so the whole thing is an American plot to undermine proper football. Americans suck, don't know shit about soccer, and should just go back to their pointyball game.

Look at my straw man. Isn't it beautiful?

The grain of truth in all of that insanity is that Americans will be blamed, in large measure, if the Premier League locks down. I'm not positive how likely such a thing is in the near future, and I wonder about the fairness of which bottom-half teams gets a spot and who gets left out (will it be based simply on who is in the Prem at the time, or will there be some metric applied to deciding who gets a spot?), but it seems inevitable that the issue will remain in play as long as businessman are businessman, regardless of where they originate. The problem with the free market is that people without the proper respect for institutions like pro/rel are free to buy clubs.

From the AP story on today's shocking revelation is this from League Managers' Association chief executive Richard Bevan:

“If you look at sports all around the world and you lot at sports owners trying to work out how to invest to make money, you will find that most of them like the idea of franchises,” Bevan said. “If you take particularly American owners, without doubt, there have been a number of them looking at having more of a franchise situation and that would mean no promotion or relegation."

Talk of the end of promotion and relegation is enough to panic millions, and it comes in an American accent. I'm not too proud to admit this causes me distress, even as I believe the Premier League might have been headed in the same direction without any American influence.


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Podcast: Free on a Bosman V

Sunday, October 02, 2011 | View Comments
- Jason Davis

The last one. Number five. Jared and I close out the buildup to the debut of The Best Soccer Show on the North American Soccer Network with talk about the USMNT roster and MLS. The debut of TBSS comes with giveways, sweet ones, so make sure you listen to learn how to get your chance at a copy of EA's FIFA 12 and Bumpy Pitch gear.

The new show has a Twitter feed @bestsoccershow and a Facebook page, so be sure to follow and like respectively - details for the contests are on the Facebook page.

Please share this link until you just can't share it anymore. The Best Soccer Show debuts at 8:30 PM EDT on Saturday, October 8th.

Available through the old MFUSA iTunes feed.

Download directly here.


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