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.
Robert Kleemaier says
A well-written synopsis of the situation. Now if only Canada could get its act together…
I agree 110%, the problem is at the top! Gulati and Garber and Jurgen seem to be inbreeding among themselves to protect themselves from scrutiny. And we all know what inbreeding produces …. mongoloids!
Gary thanks for bringing out the truth… you are fearless… can’t say the same with the media. Or maybe they just don’t comprehend true soccer or they’re in the pay to write business. More power to you Gary and Brian!
My knee jerk reaction to Landon Donovan’s comments was…we all know he is biting a sour apple when it comes to Jurgen Klinsman…but I can’t say I disagree with him either. Course not more than a day or so later and this very astute article outlines in detail why Landon is indeed incorrect.
There are many many levels of necessary improvement with our game stateside and I for one, as a dad with young soccer playing children, am inclined to focus on our youth travel system as the closest point of reference. I long for the day when a local club’s website pictures a young boy or girl shaking the hand of a local professional youth academy director instead of the photos of a team of 9 year olds hoisting another needless trophy as an indicator of club quality.
This is a good post and I generally agree with everything that you’ve said, but I do have to take issue with this.
“Despite a player pool and youth pipeline chock-full of mediocrity, Jurgen has the highest winning percentage of USMNT coaches.”
1) Ignoring friendlies, JK’s winning percentage is 64% vs. Bradley (63%) and Arena (59%) in all competitive matches. From my vantage point, those differences are within the margin of error.
2) Am I missing something or did Arena and Bradley both have either a similar or even worse youth pipeline to work with than Klinsmann? Plus, our professional player pool for international play was much smaller during previous regimes so I really don’t understand why Klinsmann should be lauded for delivering essentially the same results that we’ve seen in the past.
Its not that Arena and Bradley didn’t also have to deal with a poor pipeline. But people seem to actually think our pipeline is producing world class talent, and therefor use it as an excuse against him; the same way people used excuses against Bradley, and compared him to Arena. Instead of saying, “Bradley has more USMNT players playing in Europe than ever before, therefor he should be performing better than Arena, who only had a handful.” they’ve switched to, “Klinsmann has actual MLS academies and Homegrown players like Zardes and Yedlin, so we should have a better, younger, more skilled team.”
Whichever way we parse the numbers, it is factually accurate to say that JK has a higher winning percentage than Bradley and Arena. To the extent that the winning percentages of these three coaches are close, and the pipeline remains fundamentally the same, then perhaps the appropriate solution is not to get another coach, but rather to fix the structural problems with the pipeline. The real question is whether Gulati and Garber are the right people to transform our system. If not, they need to be replaced by others who have leadership qualities.
Carey Baird says
‘Preferred style of play’? Please, for heaven’s sake NO! Objectivity please, not ‘this week’s fad way of playing’.
It doesn’t matter how you play – possession, counter, or direct – they’re just tools for winning the game and ALL developing players need to learn ALL three in order to be effective in the match.
You need objectivity in your coaching, otherwise soccer quickly degenerates into opinion vs opinion, and you know what they say about opinions!
You cannot have subjectivity as the basis for moving the game forward, and comments like ‘preferred style of play’ (i.e. nationally-sanctioned) have no place in player development.
To clarify; you MAY have a preferred style of play – that is your right, (I certainly do) but it’s just your opinion as well, and as such, cannot form the basis of coaching. The game is played and based upon objective principles – unchanging principles without which soccer would cease to be soccer.
Coach those principles, and the kids will understand how to win when it matters – in the national and international arena.
First, was surprised to see my post here as an article. Gee, thanks Gary . . . I guess.
Regarding style of play, I don’t see that as a fad. Totally agree there are different styles. No style of play is better in my book. Just down to how it’s executed, how steadfast the coach keeps to philosophy, and the players playing it.
What is USMNT identity? It’s style? After 5-years, I can’t answer the question. They [USMNT] looks like a hodgepodge of players. No choreography. No world-class players. Inconsistency. Merry go round of call-ups but not finding the ideal. Why? Why is the pool so shallow? Why is it devoid of more and better international quality?
Does the feeder system from youth to U23 optimize player ID and development to fit a certain identity? Is it related to problems the senior USMNT has?
There is no coordination across the levels. Are USSDA, college, MLS synchronized for needs of USMNT pool? Or are they independent entities with no incentive to do so?
There are examples of coordination at the macro level. For example — Spain, Germany, Chile, France, Belgium clearly conjure up an identifiable style. A player preference. Coordination from top to bottom. Purposeful youth development based on a philosophy at all levels.
After back to back losses to Costa Rica and Mexico and failure in U17, is it not time for USSF and MLS leadership to wake up? Or do we need another generation or two AND Gulati and Garber to retire?
The coming weeks will be telling. Silence from Garber, Gulati, Ramos, Klinsmann speaks loud. Will any of them step up and be angry, call for change? Or is this a blip for U17s? Or is the belief that after four years of college, the U17 pool will be ready to challenge Chile? Serioiusly!
In other countries, heads would have rolled. The media would have hatchet pieces running 24/7. That cauldron of pressure is called accountability. Incentive. Incentive to do something. Is Sunil, Garber, Ramos, Jurgen looking in rear view mirror or waking up to coffee, toast, eggs, and a leisurely read of sports section in daily paper?
Steven Anthony says
We seem to be a nation of decent players, thrown together in a blender mixed with heart and character and told to go win, which in a Disney flick would be the ideal situation told, but for pragmatic purposes on an international, it doesn’t fit the bill.
Jurgen Klinnsmann gets a lot of flack from the fans for “failures” but who else has challenged the status who so vehemently? Arena? Bradley? They’ve simply walked in and taken what they’ve had and made due. Ask either of them to flip upside down the pay-to-play pyramid system in this country and the picture suddenly gets clearer.
Klinnsmann may take a lot of heat for his losses, but he’s getting the best out of not just the players, but the fans. In other words, he want you to get angry. He wants you to show you give a damn. He wants you and former stars to tweet about his resignation or sacking. This is what is needed and is missing in this country and if takes a couple of losses to rile folks up and bring that identity out, then so be it.
At least we know what we are now.
Might not be perfect, but it’s a start.
It’s funny you use hatchet- it is a good image… I for one commend JK for calling ‘us’ out or individuals, particularly in regards to Fabian Johnson after Mexico game, not so much because it was right or wrong — more likely in the murky middle. Why I liked it is because it got people talking..with strong opinion in mulitple different directions. Keeping Landon Donovan off team did the same… at first I thought it was ludicrous but on further relfection and in light of the more Johnson issue…maybe Klinsman was spot on. that said…I’m pretty sure Landon was still a top 20 player even with questions of match fitness or ‘heart for the game.’
My guess is…Jurgen Klinsman knew with certainty what he was/is doing and why… and for that matter continues staking a claim that it is crap or as Brian says in the video to most recent article… “a culture of soft.”
I applaude the National team manager for trying to blow the doors open so we can all see what is healthy, what is carrion and what needs to go. He is for sure telling us this softness needs to go. We can all question his in game management and interesting player choices and lack of finding his set team – but my guess is when this is all over we will thank him for being instumental in changing our thinking and actions with the game the world calls football and we call soccer. They are indeed not the same game– he knows it, ‘you’ know it – now for the rest of the country.