Can Klinsmann redefine the program?

We were about to blog about how the Women’s World Cup had almost conveniently deflected the limited American soccer spotlight away from Sunil Gulati and Bob Bradley and the stagnant and troubling recent performances of the Men’s team.  Then…  Bam!  Coach Stoneface is gone, and enter Ze German.

  As one soccer blogger put it, “it’s one of the greatest days for the umlaut in modern America.”

Ze German is, of course, Jürgen Klinsmann:  a former great player, an articulate motivator, and a coach with some good and some bad on his resume.  You can read his about his full CV here.

In brief, after a successful career as a striker in the 80s and 90s, he took the Germans to the 3rd place game in the 2006 World Cup, revitalizing their approach and strategy to the game and building a system still in use and envied by many.  At the same time he reorganized their youth development system, which is now arguably the best in the world.  On the other hand, when he went to Bayern Munich, Germany’s most famous and successful club, he bickered with their board, got uneven results, and didn’t even make it the full season before resigning/getting fired.

More recently, the US Soccer Federation under Sunil Gulati has attempted to hire him twice in the last five years as National Team manager but could not come to an agreement.  Conventional wisdom was Jürgen wanted more control over youth development, scheduling,  and the program in general than the USSF was willing to give.  Some have opined that salary may have also been an issue.

So what has changed?  Did Klinsmann finally get all he wanted, or, having not coached for several years, did he concede to the USSF terms?  We note the official press release described the position as “head coach of the Men’s National Team”, which would seem to indicate the latter.  Several in the soccer blogosphere have stated Jürgen might be better suited as a youth development guru and reorganization guy based on actual coaching results, but we will reserve judgement (obviously) on that.  We can only hope he has a successful run with the team, followed by the eventual chance to move into USSF management – as a technical developer or even in Gulati’s position.

That’s all for future speculation.  What will Klinsmann do now, and what will be his immediate changes and objectives for redefining and re-energizing the team?  Certain players who were automatic selections under Bradley will have to earn it again.  Additional players will get their chance – but that always happens with a coaching change.  The new coach was a forward in his playing days and has always espoused “attacking football”.  That’s akin to the new basketball coach saying we’re going to fastbreak, or the new gridiron coach saying we’re going to air it out.  The fans like to hear it, but it may not be the most effective strategy for the team.  All you have to do is look back to Team America’s most recent defensive collapse against Mexico to know it’s the D that needs the most work.

Under Klinsmann, Germany employed fast, athletic types in a quick-transition counterattacking style.  Usually a 4-4-2 with two deeper center mids (the same formation favored by Bradley).  This won’t be too different from the traditional US approach.  So the tactics might not seem all that different.  Where our new German will differ from Bradley will be in psychology and motivation, as well as in stature internationally.  Everyone who knows soccer, knows about California Klinsi.  The team’s international profile just got a bump.

We’ll be hoping this translates to results on the field – something Bob Bradley certainly achieved by getting to the Confederations Cup Final, winning the Hexagonal in World Cup Qualifying, and winning the group at the World Cup last summer.  Klinsmann will immediately get the chance to show what’s changed as he will be selecting a team next week to take on the old enemy Mexico on August 10.  Some key players likely won’t be available for that match (Dempsey, Altidore, Cherundolo, etc.) due to the start of the European club season, and the stadium will be heavily pro-Mexico.

Welcome to US Soccer, Jürgen.


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