Jul 02

Final thoughts on the USMNT

John Brooks scored the game winner against Ghana. Julian Green scored the only goal against Belgium. The nation was united in their support of the USMNT producing the highest rated soccer matches in US TV history.

Hope and belief were present all across social media. The outrage over Landon Donovan being left off the team seems a long forgotten argument. A wound long scabbed over and healed. It would appear to be very difficult for me to stand behind my statement that Jurgen Klinsmann be relieved of his duties.

In fact, it is difficult. I have always been fond of Klinsmann’s talents and I think he is a remarkable coach. However, I still believe that he should be let go. Not because of the team’s performance or because of any decisions he made in Brazil but because I still believe his decision to leave Landon Donovan off the roster is a sign that he is not the best man for this job.

If the job of coaching the USMNT was just about on the field X’s and O’s then I would not hold this view. But I believe this job is about more than just that. I believe being a member of the USMNT, as a player or a coach, carries with it a responsibility to help grow the sport across the USA. I think the best example I can give in support of this is to compare ourselves to England.

England was eliminated after just two games to the utter disappointment of the country, but nobody doubts that England can produce world class players. Or play beautiful soccer. Or become a powerhouse again. England needs a coach like Klinsmann. Someone who can make the tough roster decisions and bring along the next wave of players.

The USMNT, in contrast, is always under scrutiny for how they play. What did they look like on the field? Did they hold enough possession? Can the United States produce world class strikers? These are the types of questions that follow around the US squad, and frankly, they are fair questions to ask.

Soccer is played differently in the United States and it produces different types of players. Klinsmann’s insistence on elevating European football leagues over the domestic MLS diminishes the home product, therefore damaging the talent development in this country.

Yes, it is wonderful to see foreign nationals like Jermaine Jones, Fabian Johnson, Julian Green and others wear the USA kits with pride and there should absolutely always be a place for them but a reliance on foreign nationals and foreign leagues to build and develop the team does not help with the development of future players here in the USA. If the USMNT is ever going to win the World Cup or just make a deep run beyond the knockout stage there must be an increased effort in the domestic development of players and it cannot be undermined by the head coach of the national team.

Example: I find it very unlikely that you could convince me that Mix Diskerud, who saw zero minutes in the World Cup, on the bench for the USMNT was more valuable than having Landon Donovan on the squad. Donovan has been the face of USA soccer for years now and his omission from the team was a big deal. This was not a “passing of the torch” moment. This was a genuine soccer star, one of the few in America, being unceremoniously told to go home. It did not sit well with me then. It does not sit well with me now.

There is also the story of Brek Shea, young MLS/National team star in the making, taking off for the EPL only to be demoted to a second tier club and disappear. Yet, Klinsmann supported that move. The MLS lost a star. Young Americans lost a potential influence and Shea lost his place on the National team.

The landscape of US sports, whether we like it or not, is as much star driven as it is results driven. Without big name players to look up to and watch (in US time zones) there will always be a struggle to produce the next wave of world class players. Sure it is great that Tim Howard is awesome enough to play in the EPL but unless you are already a soccer fan, it is unlikely that you are getting up at six o’clock in the morning to watch him play for Everton.

Clint Dempsey is in Seattle, his game is on in prime time. Dempsey has the bigger influence on the next generation. How big of a star would Jozy Altidore be if he returned to MLS instead of riding the bench in Sunderland? How many kids would be inspired by him and his story?

You may disagree and think that none of this is the head coach’s concern and maybe you are right. Maybe it is not. I just cannot help but think that until you are at the top, you have to keep striving to get there. The USMNT is not one of the best in the world, yet. They could be but it takes time and development.

If that development does not come from the US National Team, then were does it come from? Klinsmann is a very good coach with an excellent mind for the game but I have not seen any interest in this responsibility from him.

Since the firing of Bob Bradley I have always wondered what this team would look like under the leadership of Jason Kreis. While with Real Salt Lake, Kreis showed an ability to run a system that allows players to maximize their potential within the structure of the system. This allowed the team to be greater than the sum of its parts. Something that I think would suit the USMNT very well as the United States continues to grow as a soccer nation.

In the end I will continue to support the team regardless of the head coach, this is just my thoughts on what would be best for the future of American soccer.

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