Old guard can bring new life to U.S. national team

[MY VIEW] The big meetings regarding the future of the U.S. national team are done and dusted; Sunil Gulati is back in the limelight, Bob Bradley is back in charge, and Juergen Klinsmann is back in limbo (though there's scant evidence he'd been encouraged to emerge in the first place).

In the next few weeks and months there will be more meetings. Bradley will meet with U.S. U-20 coach Thomas Rongen, U-17 coach Wilmer Cabrera, and other staff coaches to plot the path forward. Yet getting outside his close circle of colleagues, and thus thinking outside the box, is one method by which Bradley can push the programs forward. There should be discussions with the players who have attained the most, those who have brought their unique qualities to the national team, players capable at critical moments of, in Bradley’s terse terms, “making plays.”

How this can be done is something U.S. Soccer President Gulati and Bradley must discuss in the coming months. Numerous former internationals – Mike Lapper, John Harkes, etc. – have worked with the U-20s as assistants, but perhaps Tab Ramos and Eric Wynalda and Brian McBride and Joe-Max Moore and Marcelo Balboa and Kasey Keller and Eddie Pope, et al, can counsel and advise and help train players at some phase of their development. Their input and thoughts are valuable, of course, what is sorely needed is their presence alongside their successors.

If Jose Francisco Torres is to become the next Tab Ramos, as is certainly possible, who best to learn from? Nobody on the national team, not even Landon Donovan, can slash and swoop up the left flank and get in behind defenses a la Wynalda. McBride owes much of his success to a strength of will that can’t be taught, but there were also countless hours of trapping, shooting, jumping, heading, and cutting on the training field. Moore was far from the most technical player ever to pull on the U.S. shirt, yet he knew his way around a crowded goalmouth and struck a mean free kick.

Wynalda as a full-time national team assistant coach is a foreboding thought, and aside from a short-term stint as an assistant with the U-20s, he’s out of the U.S. Soccer loop. It would be unfortunate if upon McBride’s retirement at the end of the MLS season, he would disappear from the sport, spotted only occasionally with his wife, Dina, and their three children at Fire and U.S. national team games. Many former national team players are involved at the game at various levels but their presence within U.S. Soccer is negligible in most cases.

Men like them must be given opportunities to impart their experience and expertise to the players who follow them, for in their play they brought elements and nuances and characteristics not many other players could. Wynalda and McBride are the No. 2 and No. 3 goalscorers, respectively, in U.S. history. Moore carried himself with a swagger not borne of arrogance, but an unshakeable confidence that no matter how dire the circumstance or difficult the opponent, he could scrape or conjure up a chance for a teammate or himself. Ramos is not among the all-time statistical leaders yet is still mentioned as perhaps the all-time best at unbalancing defenders and outfoxing back lines.

There could be conflicts. Donovan has referred on a few occasions to the “jealousy issues” plaguing Wynalda’s assessments of his play. There might not be much that Moore can teach Clint Dempsey. Bradley would function as a technical director, choosing the methods and means to utilize what the former players have to offer.

Younger national team players, and those coming up through the U-17 and U-20 ranks, can certainly benefit from the targeted messages and specialized training from players who have been there and not only done it, but done it well.



10 comments about "Old guard can bring new life to U.S. national team".
  1. Paul Lorinczi, September 10, 2010 at 10:36 a.m.

    The biggest challenge most of the former players have to overcome is themselves. They have to get beyond being former players and learn how to become effective coaches.

    Listen to Harkes commentary on games. You would think he can still compete on the field at a higher level than the players today. Yet, watch old tape and he can't hold a match to what some of the players are doing today.

    Since leaving ESPN, I think Wynalda has actually matured a little. He seems to be moving from former player status to something more. He is becoming a student of the game. Not in the, "I am a former player and know it all way." He is probably ready to coach at some level now.

    I agree that the torch needs to be passed. One former player that should be up for consideration is Jason Kreis. Incredible the job he and his staff have done when he was thrown into the deep end by Checketts.

  2. I w Nowozeniuk, September 10, 2010 at 12:38 p.m.

    Harkes is a loser as a commentator...his analysis and knowledge of the game should exclude any offers from the USMNT. Balboa? Mr. know it all as an asset to the USMNT?; get serious. Start with the problems in youth soccer and the problem will be solved. Counseling players is a waste of time when they lack fundamental qualities and restricted coaching.

  3. Raveen Rama, September 10, 2010 at 2:36 p.m.

    Having been a good or a great player does not necessarily mean that one can coach! Playing and coaching are two different things. Of course, having had the experience of playing will definitely help you in your coaching, you still have to know how to coach.
    Just look at the examples of beasketball greats Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, and Larry Bird - I don't think their coaching stints could be called anything near to a success.

  4. Walt Pericciuoli, September 10, 2010 at 2:55 p.m.

    Fantastic job. Now that US Soccer have the same team of coaches lined up again, we can all look forward to squeaking through the qualifiers and maybe again getting to the round of 16 at the WC. Except for Ramos, Reyna and Wynalda, I don't see what any of these ex players have to offer different than what we already have, mediocrity.

  5. Bret Newman, September 10, 2010 at 5:56 p.m.

    Ridge, if your reading this, you can't teach greatness. Not that these former players are necessarily great, but they did have special skills. It's like Raveen pointed out about Magic, Jordan, and Bird. Usually very good, or great players never make good coaches. How good was Bob Bradley or Bruce Arena in soccer. And I know you can point out Klinnsman or Maradona, but the bood is still out on them. And those players can't really convert their skills to a player, they can only teach a mental approach to the game, and what to expect. They have other coaches and trainers that do the rest. How are they going to teach instincts? How are they going to teach timing? When Maradona made that great run through several defenders he probably couldn't even tell you how he did it. It's difficult to teach creativity. It's difficult to teach when to head the ball just right, so it goes in the net, where the goalie can't get it. You can only teach so much, and it's up to the rest of the players to take it too another level. You can prepare your child to take a test at school, but you can't take the test for him.

  6. Kevin Leahy, September 10, 2010 at 8:55 p.m.

    Ridge, you can't be serious! Most of those guys would not be able to stand the politics of the federation. I can't believe Arena ever made it through eight years. I believe that Ramos would have the most to offer, but he probably does not suffer fools easily. You can have all the meetings you want, but you must have someone that knows how to start a program from top to bottom. The state associations are full of politics, which can result in poor player selection. The skilled players should come first and you take flyers on players that have a knack for something special. Most of our most experienced players are not coaching the nine or ten year olds unless it is one of their own. The players need to be nourished at younger ages.

  7. Mj Lee, September 11, 2010 at 12:49 a.m.

    Pathetic idea. Kick Bob Bradley upstairs so that USSoccer can bring in a former top USMNT player? I agree we need former top players in the USMNT coaching ranks. But kick Bradley upstairs? Just kick him out!

    And for players as coaches, I vote for guys like Claudio Reyna or Christopher Sullivan, i.e., guys who have been doing a lot of coaching since their USMNT days.

  8. I w Nowozeniuk, September 11, 2010 at 10:04 p.m.

    MjLee, u nominate Christopher Sullivan to replace Bradley!!???? Are u serious...the guy is delusional with his rambling and suffocating match commentary...according to Sullivan's observations 80% of the MLS players are quality...IMHO, Sullivan is full of hot air and no substance. Let's get real people, a USMNT coach has to think and plan out of the box because the quality players are not there. They have lots of athleticism, but only a couple of them are effective futballers.

  9. David Huff, September 13, 2010 at 12:52 p.m.

    The AFA had the good sense to dismiss Maradona, Aguirre did the honorable thing in resigning before the FMF was forced into the decision to dismiss him, however the USSF decides that "four more years" of MLS Bob are needed so that mediocrity can continue to rule the US pitch. Four more wasted years to look forward to, not a lot of hope for the fanbase. :(

  10. Dan Phillips, September 14, 2010 at 3:08 p.m.

    Forget it. Nothing will move forward under Bradley. Soccer America may not realaize the bitterness in the rehiring of boring Bob. The hardcore soccer fans do support Bradley or Gulati. We will not go away or forget. There will be fans (those that still go to the games) that will be holding up signs "fire Brdley" and "fire Gulati". You can count on it. USSF should have hired Klinsmann. That is what the fans wanted. USSF is dumb, arrogant organization that needs to be revamped completely!

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