Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Five Thoughts on Klinsmann's Three Years

Three years ago today, U.S. Soccer's Sunil Gulati announced the hiring of Jurgen Klinsmann to replace Bob Bradley as the coach of the U.S. Men's National Team. In commemoration of Klinsmann's and Gulati's leather anniversary, here's a quick look at some positives and negatives of Klinsmann's three-year tenure so far:


* The U.S. qualified out of the 2014 World Cup's "Group of Death"

Since 1990, the U.S. has played in seven World Cups and has now survived the tournament's group stage in four of those competitions. The team's 2014 advancement to the knockout round marked the first time the U.S. has advanced from the group stage in consecutive World Cups, and Klinsmann deserves credit for overcoming the tournament's most laborious travel itinerary to qualify out of the group instantly dubbed the tourney's "Group of Death." Legitimate points can be made about the U.S. team's underwhelming style of play (see below), but surviving the group

* An overall record of 32-13-9, including an impressive 21-4-6 record in 2012 and 2013 competitions.

For some context, Klinsmann's winning percentage of 59% is slightly higher than the winning percentages belonging to his predecessors Bob Bradley (54%) and Bruce Arena (58%). And his positive result percentage (wins + ties/games played) is 76%, which is lower than Bradley's (85%) and Arena's (78%).

* Historic results, including the Americans' first-ever win over Italy and the Yanks' first-ever win in Mexico's Estadio Azteca.

Sure, both wins over Italy and Mexico were friendlies. But the win over Italy snapped a 10-game winless streak dating back to 1934, and the win in the notoriously hostile Estadio Azteca was remarkable enough to inspire a bloodthirsty cover on a soccer magazine's inaugural issue.


* Despite talk of adopting an attacking and technical style of play, the Yanks' style of play can still be described as "try hard, run fast."

Since his hiring three years ago, Klinsmann emphasized his desire for the U.S. to play a more proactive, attacking, and technically-astute brand of soccer. And even though Klinsmann continues to pay lip service to that style of play--and the U.S. has occasionally displayed the ability to actually walk that talk--its performance in the 2014 World Cup was reactive, defensive-minded, and conservative.

Here's a Dallas News article highlighting the Americans' impotent attack and reactionary approach in the World Cup before they relied on a record-setting performance by goalkeeper Tim Howard to be competitive with Belgium in Round of 16. At the risk of stretching a metaphor, we're still roping-and-doping, despite aspirations to be floaters and stingers.

* Landon Donovan

I didn't like the omission of Donovan from the World Cup roster when it was first announced, and I don't think I can ever be convinced it was a soccer-based decision. Worst of all, it's tough to not ridicule the inclusion of Chris Wondolowski and Brad Davis on the team, despite the fact that I respect both players' contributions to Major League Soccer.

- John C.L. Morgan

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