I have no verdict on Klinsmann yet, but I have splashed some thoughts in the comments area. In short, I’m not exactly thrilled and the reasons have nothing to do with score-lines.
What seems to surface time and again, is the notion that the national team player pool “is what it is“. The implication being that the guys in the pool are the ‘best players‘. So of course that’s all Klinsmann has to work with.
Well ‘best players’ for what exactly? That’s really the key.
If you’re looking for a powerful horse that mostly gallops up the wing and serves crosses, then Brek Shea is likely among the best known Americans for that job. But if you want someone that can fit a less vertical and more structured, intelligent buildup, then Brek likely never enters the discussion.
The same applies to every other position.
Not the other way around!
Reader Mike made the following contribution along these lines:
I guess my point really goes back to the old question – do we actually have the players who have the technical ability and Soccer IQ to successfully play the possession-based attacking style we all want to see? Because if those players are out there, then the verdict on Klinsmann so far – in terms of who he has called up to be part of that pool — is not looking very good.
3 possible scenarios
- Those players do exist, and JK has seen them, but he just can’t recognize their quality. This was a reasonable possibility to consider with BB but is exceedingly unlikely with JK, IMO.
- Those players do exist, but JK hasn’t seen them b/c they’ve never been discovered, b/c they’ve never really been given a chance in a system which would showcase their abilities, b/c such systems are few and far between. This is the “Xavi who?” hypothesis: Stick a 12-15 year-old Xavi on the wrong team with a clueless coach and other players who can’t maintain possession of the ball if they tried … and at best all (almost) anybody would see is a short midfielder who makes a few nice passes, but doesn’t really do anything spectacular. On most “elite” youth clubs in the US, he probably doesn’t even make the cut b/c he’s not fast/big/athletic enough, and he doesn’t dribble past 3-4 people routinely so that his abilities would be obvious even to the nearly blind.
- These players do not exist, beyond a few quasi-exceptions (Dempsey), because our youth development has been woefully inadequate at every level (age 5-17). Recent (last 10 years or so) changes have begun to make a difference, although not widespread enough, but the majority of US players between 22-30 were trained by old-school coaches in old-school systems, and the overwhelming majority (almost all) of them did not spend nearly as much time with the ball during their formative years as their international competitors. To quote Klinsmann again: “The foundation is youth. What is really missing compared to the leading soccer nations around the world, … is the amount of time kids play the game. A kid in Mexico might do 20 hours of soccer a week — 4 training and 14 playing around with his buddies in the street. One thing is certain: The American kids need hundreds and even thousands more hours to play. That is a really crucial thing.”
The truth is probably a mix of #2 and #3, and ultimately I agree with your [Gary K’s] last point – I too am rooting for Klinsman because his success can go a long way towards improving both.
At this point I will only add that I wouldn’t give JK an implicit pass on #1.
And in #2 and #3, the same applies at the collegiate and MLS levels. The youth is just half the story. The non-youth setup, with all its personell, is absolutely accountable for the other half.
So, is Jurgen Klinsmann at the mercy of the player pool?
Or, is the player pool at the mercy of Klinsmann?
coach juggles says
I would submit that there is a 4th scenario.
4. Klinsman has seen these players but is too afraid to buck the system and pull them into the national team in larger numbers at all positions. One player in particular I have seen who can play the way I would like to see more of is Torres. The times I have seen him play in the midfield he has done well. He reflects almost exactly what you mentioned in your Xavi hypothesis. Time and again he creates when he has the ball, however, the players around him don’t know that they should be getting the ball to him way more often and their roles are not syncing up with his play. Not that Torres is the answer, however, if Klinsman brought in a lot more players with similar soccer IQ and put them together then we might start to see a shift in style of play. But to my original point, perhaps it would be too risky for Klinsman to completely change over to another player pool with players of different qualities. We have all seen that players in the pool US Soccer likes to dip in are cookie cutter players all out of the same mold. US seems to think that there can be only 1 playmaker/creater on the team. 1 player with a high soccer IQ. I have heard this referred to as the Latin influence. Having only 1 player of “Latin influence” on the field is frustrating to watch and is frustrating to all players. Look back through the years of US soccer. Currently we have Dempsey, we had Claudio Reyna, we had Tab Ramos, we had Hugo Perez. These poor guys, who did they have to play with? Who was on the same wavelength as them? It is like the movie kicking and screeming “Get the ball to the Italians!” 9=10 clueless players on the field and 1-2 who know what is going on.
Just check out this list of players: http://www.ussoccerplayers.com/ussoccerplayers/alumni-1.html
When you look at it, does it make you cringe? I do.
Gary Kleiban says
That could very well be added to the list.
I can argue, however, that if a coach is competent in a style of play, why would he be scared?
Quite the opposite. If your craft is well tuned to a particular philosophy, then you will be most successful deploying precisely that.
Arsenal Fan says
Coach Juggles I believe thar JK is screwed with his current pool, basically he has to go with what the system has groomed for the last 10 to 15 years, If he goes too much outside these lines and fails, which would be the case. ( no way you can change a system in a couple of years), he would be rediculed and we would probably go back to playing our same boring system that gets satisfaction of beating mexico, making the world cup, and getting out of the group stages. Currently at the younger age groups US coaches are picking players with posssision skills and Soccer IQ’s over Big, strong, and fast players that lack soccer skills. Many of the clubs know are pushing these type of skills also, so change might be in the way, but I can’t see it happening for this world cup.
coach juggles says
I can’t fail to mention Preki either. he was a great midfielder. Can you see a trend in who has a high soccer IQ? Most developed in a non-US environment. they didn’t come up through the traditional US Club soccer mold.
I agree with Mike and Gary.Jurgen’s problem with the player pools is a combo of #2 & 3. Jurgen needs more time. My question (concern) does Jurgen have the power to change the system?I don’t see the “special” players being developed in our current Academy and super club system. The names mentioned, Reyna,Ramos, Perez and more recently Dempsey and Donovan, were not developed by any formal Academy or super club program. They all had an inner drive to play and touch the ball every day. They were all guided along in their early days by passionate and for the most part unpaid volunteer coaches.I know we are not going back to that, but we certainly must include in our system room and support for the small local clubs that exist and are still operating with passionate and in many cases, ethnic coaches. Those local clubs must somehow be brought into the fold of our player ID programs.
Gary Kleiban says
The product that is the National Team sets the standard by example.
The type of players that are selected, and the philosophy espoused by the NT coach through his rhetoric and team performances has a very real influence throughout the federation.
I briefly touch on the subject here:
As for the players you mention and how they came to be …
Well, yes. Nobody becomes a true quality player without spending countless hours playing in an informal setting. But a structured and competitive curriculum with quality coaching is also necessary.
Walt: You make an excellent point. Hector Mejia “Junior” Flores – who starred on the U17 national team this past Dec — is a perfect example. If you look at the US Soccer bio on him you’ll see that he comes from McLean Youth Soccer – which is an Academy Club. The reality though is that he grew up playing among other Salvadoran immigrants in Manassas Park (unheard of on the map of “elite” soccer clubs around here), then played a few seasons for another small local club. He only made the jump to McLean right before he was selected for the junior national team.
It is a hugely positive sign that players like him are being found, selected, and made the focal point of our youth national teams, but it also illustrates your point. When it comes to development during the years in which a player’s technical base is formed, the”developmental academy” clubs (at least around here) do precious little of it. Instead, they simply scout and attract the top talent beginning at U14-15, after those players have already been developed on their own and/or by other clubs. Players with the potential to be truly special – like Flores – will make a brief stop there b/f moving on to national team camp or Europe (his parents have already turned down MLS and been in contact w/ B. Dortmund).
Gary Kleiban says
I agree Mike.
That is the trajectory of many talents.
Jim Froehlich says
Gary-another awesome thought starter! I wish that you were able to quit teaching physics and do the blogging full time, but I understand that food on the table does have priority.
In response to your questions, I believe that ultimately JK must be held responsible for the makeup of the national team pool. However, please allow me to pretend that I am JK and explain my(his) plan: “Sunil has given me two simultaneous (conflicting) priorities, number one is to guarantee that the US will make the next World Cup and number two is to shake up the entire development structure so as to expand and improve the player pool. Since identifying and incorporating more skilled players into the MNT at this time is quite problematic, given the short timeframe prior to the start of qualifying, I will keep the disruptions to the current roster to a minimum since they have prove their ability to win at the level necessary to overcome CONCACAF opposition. This will give the coaching changes to the other national teams time to become effective. The type of players being called in by Tab, Claudio, and Caleb is already showing positive signs. Once we have been able to identify any first team prospects, I will make plans to incorporate them as soon as possible. In the meantime, I will try to change the style of the MNT as much as possible given the talent levels of the current pool.”. Okey, Gary, go for it !!!
Gary Kleiban says
Perhaps one day I can make soccer my business instead of teaching. I certainly know a hell of a lot more about this game than physics. 🙂
So I totally appreciate your position on JK. It’s a reason why I’m giving him time. No public verdicts yet … I just want to feed people things to think about.
The U23’s against Mexico, I think that was the best 60 minutes or so of soccer I have ever seen a U.S. team play. I hope Porter gets an MLS gig soon.
Gary Kleiban says
Hopefully I’ll watch the game tonight.
Porter was offered DC United several years back and he turned it down.
I think IF he does a remarkable job with the U23’s, he may get an opportunity outside the US.
Yeah, I agree, they played a nice game of soccer and the emphasis on possession and pressure was blatantly obvious. I thought the 23’s played a better game against the Mexico 23’s than the full team did beating Italy. Even though it was a great result, it was awfully similar to when we beat Spain in CC, grab a goal and survive sitting back on our heels, Howard making save after save, bunkering in, and diving/blocking shots left and right. The 23’s were more impressive with their system of play, possession, pressure, interchanging, craftiness, etc. Gary, you were right about Corona! That guy is pure class, I can’t wait to see him get into the first team!! He was easily the best player on the field, composed, technically gifted, a high level soccer IQ and great speed of though, he’s very dynamic and just creates that yard of space to break pressure and keep possession. He also balances simple possession with bringing out that extra bit of magic when it’s required, really liked what I saw in him!
Gary Kleiban says
Corona has class.
Ken S. says
Rivelino: couldn’t agree more about the u23s! Loved what I saw from them. Everything we’ve been wanting from our national teams was on display there. Footskill, composure, intuition, creativity, IQ, work ethic (high line, winning balls back in opposing third, like a certain team we all love…). Diskerud was a boss, and played box to box which was unexpected for a supposed playmaker (which he excelled at). Corona looked very good, if a little inconsistent still (for me). I thought Adu looked as bright as I’ve ever seen him, and his work ethic was beyond anything I could have imagined. Way more excited about that than the full Nat’s win over Italy. I haven’t been more impressed with a USA performance since the 2002 quarters game against Germany.
Also agree with the other main line of thinking here, namely that JK has realized his limitations with respect to the pool at the full Nat level and has tweaked his expectations and approach. He’ll get more out of those boys that Bob did, we’ll still qualify, but more importantly it will set the stage for the big changes coming just behind with the U23s. The win in Italy was important, but for me the main value is as a “marketing success” for JKs sell job (even if we really didn’t quite play the way he has promised just yet) and as a feather in the cap that buys him more time.
Gary Kleiban says
I have several disagreements Ken.
* Diskerud did his job well, but there is no class there (he is not special). I know you didn’t claim he was … I just want it to be clear.
* Corona had an ok game (I agree with you on a couple mishaps). He just oozes class though. That is a player with legitimate ‘upside’ (nothing to do with age).
* Adu has the tactical depth of a puddle (in this game too). He exists for that 1 in a 100 possibility of a magical moment. We’ll see how far Porter can bring him.
On JK …
Playing against the class of Italy (who want to boss the game), in Italy, I certainly do not expect the team at this point to play dominant futbol. But playing against B-level teams I do expect that. The only limitation is his coaching capacity, not our player pool.
All your other thoughts, I agree with.
It was Edmund Burke who said (and I paraphrase) that you can’t expect people to succeed at what their past experience has not prepared them for. You can’t expect players who haven’t been trained to play like Barcelona to suddenly start playing like Barcelona. I remember seeing the USMNT play in the 80s when they literally played two speeds slower than CONCACAF opponents. So I agree with Ken about JK and the significance of the Italy game. Even people who don’t understand soccer understand beating a four-time world champ (or breaking Spain’s unbeaten streak). And let’s remember JK has almost never had Dempsey and Donovan together at the same time–in fact, he’s won two away games in a row in Europe without Donovan. Surely that must count for something. Or, to put it a bit differently, imagine the Italy line-up but with Donovan and Corona instead of Shea and Williams (and maybe a healthy Gooch for Goodson). JK will likely start integrating Porter’s best U-23s into the MNT once the Olympics are over. Hopefully one or more will break out in 2014 like Donovan and Beasley did in 2002.
And can we add John O’Brien to the list of top US CMs?
As for Porter’s future, I wonder if it wouldn’t be best for him to stay where he is for at least another 3-5 years, attracting the players who want to play his style and steadily churning out intelligent, skillful players for MLS and the Nats year after year while continuing to help coach the US program after the Olympics. He’s got a good thing going at Akron. He might not want to trust the patience/soccer IQ of MLS owners and might not want to uproot a young family to go abroad. He can afford to be choosey.
To close with another historical reference, it was Mao Zedong, I believe, who when asked about the significance of the French Revolution answered that it was too soon to say. IOW, imagine when Porter’s guys become coaches and then their players become coaches.
Gary Kleiban says
Excellent contribution dave! But there is a point of contention here.
To be clear, I don’t expect our NT to play like Barcelona.
1) Tactical sophistication.
2) An identity (a.k.a. a clear philosophy, a.k.a. a clear style)
More specifically on the 2nd point …
outside the top 8 teams in the world, we should exhibit possession-centered domination. Not like Barcelona (nobody at this point can do that), but in that image.
It’s only the first game, but Porter has already proved that it could be done (with Mexico no less).
AND AND AND far more important for people to realize …
He did it with players who weren’t trained in the Barca way.
That flies in the face of the notion that it can’t be done with the players we have.
4 scouts? Really, that’s it? OMG!
NoVa Mike says
Some additional thoughts now that the WC cycle has come to an end.
I am more convinced that scenario #1 is not to blame. Dempsey is a good player – especially playing just behind a target striker. Bradley is a very good holding mid. That’s it. Throughout the cycle, Klinsman gave a lot of players a chance to show what they could do, but the truth is that none of them really shone. So in the end he went with 3 midfielders who were all big, strong and physical rather than technical and creative – much like most youth coaches do. “Control the midfield” means put ball winners in there, not creators. I know there are those who will argue that players like Torres, Corona, Gil, maybe Feilhaber … should have been part of the team, but the reality is that it is not just Klinsman who is passing them over. The world soccer market agrees with him. It is not like they (or anyone else) is exactly tearing it up at club level, with high level clubs fighting over them in the transfer market. Of the generation currently in their prime, of course there is no US version of Xavi, Iniesta, Sneider, Robbin, Ronaldo, Messi, Suarez, etc…, We knew that all along. But also among the generation who will hit their prime in 2018 (currently 20-24) there is no US version of DeBruyne, James Rodriguez, Cuadrado, Oscar, Sterling, Hazard …. the list could go on and on. We have no one even remotely close to this caliber.
Our best hope is that the next generation – currently 16-20 – will produce better quality, but I only see this happening if players get out of the US system and move abroad during their teenage years. Yes, there have been some incremental steps in the right general direction over the last couple of years – particularly with the DA clubs – but from a global perspective it hardly looks like we are even serious.
Pro soccer needs a complete overhaul – with promotion relegation and club (not league) ownership of player rights and the ability to profit from transfer fees; and we need to implement the Solidarity/Training Compensation payments. (excellent artilce on that here: http://www.jetlaw.org/2014/06/20/guest-post-are-u-s-youth-clubs-leaving-money-on-the-table/).
Those are the changes US Soccer would implement if we were truly serious about winning the World Cup – rather than content to remain the perennially over-achieving underdogs. As Christian Vieri put it in his commentary on BeIn – all the strength and running and heart is great, but if you actually want to win the thing you need to have players with quality, and our current system is surely not producing them.
If we had those players, would Klinsman have been brave enough to use them? Or would he still have gone with big/fast/strong ball winners? The truth is that this World Cup didn’t really provide the answer to this, and I don’t think 2018 will either.
NoVa MIke — “As Christian Vieri put it in his commentary on BeIn – all the strength and running and heart is great, but if you actually want to win the thing you need to have players with quality, and our current system is surely not producing them.”
I agree with above sentiment. Like others have already posted, the DA club we are at (well known SoCal club) promotes lads who can dribbly by 3 – 4 opponents with heart, strength, and over aggressiveness — but they are far from being quality technically and tactically.
I don’t think our hope likes in the 16-20 age group as you mention. Our system is still flawed and I belive it will be another generation or two. Kids not even born yet.