Landon Donovan is painfully shallow and naïve calling for Jurgen Klinsmann’s firing if USMNT loses to Mexico in upcoming CONCACAF matchup. Firing Jurgen is akin to cutting off your nose to spite your face.
Despite a player pool and youth pipeline chock-full of mediocrity, Jurgen has the highest winning percentage of USMNT coaches.
If the feeder USMNT pool/pipeline (MLS, college, and USSDA) is serious about success, it must genuinely look within to fix the problem and not symptoms, or to quiet dissent from the USMNT coach.
It’s without question the USMNT is an average team at the stronger World Cup international level, while dominant at the regional CONCACAF level against the likes of Trinidad and Tobago, Cuba, El Salvador, et al.
If Jurgen were shown the door and a new coach unveiled, there would have to be a corresponding seismic change in how we approach youth development, USSDA, college, and professional soccer.
Any change in coaching absent this would be in name alone. The underlying structure would be untouched as it has been since Sampson, Arena, and Bradley were at the helm of the USMNT.
To seriously have a chance to compete with the world’s elite in a generation or two, the men in charge (Gulati at USSF and Garber at USSF) must immediately lay the groundwork and scrap the historically ineffective system. A total bottoms-up revamp is required. No sacred cows. No gatekeeper status quo yes men to redesign it. Look for fresh ideas, benchmarks from European and South American gold standards.
Find alternatives to pay-to-play, rethink college soccer, reassess USSDA, implement pro/rel, find ways to expand the pyramid, establish a preferred style of play and supporting player ID and development philosophy and the coaching to execute it. Decentralize MLS and turn it into a club-oriented league. Synchronize with the international league calendar.
Drastic times call for drastic action. Think of how Germany and Spain fundamentally reinvented itself.
We need leaders in USSF and MLS to be uncompromisingly stubborn and steadfast in implementing a new vision.
We can’t worry about disruption. That is inevitable when implementing change. American soccer will not implode on itself. Those Doubting Thomases would have stifled Spain and German rebirth. And they (Gulati and Garber) are stifling the American birth. We were not born the right way. We have to be re-born: the right way!
Implementing USSDA was the single best change USSF has made in last 25-years. However, why create artificial hoops and the inevitable politics to be an official USSDA club/team? Whatever happened to earning first-tier league status through performance. That is incentive enough.
But gatekeepers at USSF (like their MLS brethren) find ways to limit the market.
Obtaining the USSDA seal of approval ≠ quality or something like a European Academy. What is the incentive once you get there? Moving up or down based on performance, is serious incentive. Barcelona ”B” and the La Masia youth teams can move up or down. That’s serious incentive. If it’s good enough for places like Spain, Argentina, Germany, Chile – why is it not good enough for USA?
Pro/rel is a true competitive open-market. Survival of fittest, not a perpetual free-pass devoid of true incentives. From bottom to top, USA soccer lacks the carrot and stick incentive of pro/rel. And don’t tell me about it’s not fair for a 9-year old in this environment. No one is forcing that on you. Put him in AYSO, rec, or pay-to-pay pretend competitive clubs. And honestly, if the kid doesn’t have that competitive streak, then he doesn’t belong in that environment. It works for places like Spain, Argentina, Germany, Chile – why is it not good enough for USA?
Making professional soccer isn’t a cake walk. Mommy and daddy can’t buy it. There’s pain, suffering, sacrifice, ups and downs. The gauntlet of professional soccer weeds out the weak. That’s how it is and how it should be.
These subtle differences are key components separating world-class from average. Having it won’t necessarily make you world-class, there’s more to it than that. But without it, you will surely be average.
Along with this clear vision of the future, there must be accountability.
No longer can leaders like Gulati and Garber remain unaccountable for the system’s long-lived failures. They – not Jurgen or any USMNT coach — control the underlying mechanisms, hiring of staff and coaches, the decision making that turns the wheels of American soccer.
Once the vision is in place, those executing it must perform. Be faithful to the vision. Be held accountable. Hire the right people. Provide the right leadership.
As important, we need an independent, intelligent soccer media to perform a check and balance. Like it is elsewhere, Gulati and Garber should be fearful of the media. Fearful the media is smarter than they are and will call them out, hold them accountable. Look to Marca, BBC Sports, and AS as examples.
The American sports media is not doing their job! They must hold Gulati, Garber, and yes – Jurgen accountable. But Jurgen isn’t the main orchestrator. Gulati as head of USSF is. Garber is head of soccer’s first division. As such, he has culpability equal to Gulati. Jurgen is the recipient of what USSF and MLS provide him as raw material. So the blame game is more weighted on Gulati and Garber.
Whether USMNT wins or loses against Mexico is ephemeral. The bigger question is: what is the plan to improve? Any new coach will be stuck with the same underlying structural problems.
Real leadership at USSF and MLS must have a passionate vision. A long-term strategic and tactical plan to improve. It requires flexibility, openness, accepting setbacks as a learning tool, and surrounding yourself with and listening to people smarter than you. Accepting that you made mistakes. Accepting there are other proven benchmarks and a gold standard. Accepting we are not at those levels.
Admitting any of this takes guts, but is REAL leadership.
I have no doubt USA could get there. The only thing stopping us is lack of leadership with deep footballing passionate desire to improve. Gulati and Garber have proven they prefer the status quo. Prefer to deflect and obfuscate. Pretend and claim we are not ready to change. That IS NOT leadership.
So when I ask Mr. Gulati and Garber, will we be ready for change? When will we be ready to kick some ass and change things? When will we ready to say “hey, let’s do this”?
I don’t know Gary Kleiban personally, but we need attitudes and passion like his at highest levels to call bullshit on our system. Call bullshit on the media. Call bullshit on college soccer. Call bullshit on youth development. Call bullshit on MLS closed franchise system. Call bullshit on Gulati and Garber. Stop pretending, stop hoping, stop wishing for better.
What would be the strategy, goal, intent, and desired outcome for firing Jurgen? Silencing a critic of the current system or fundamental change? You decide.