Klinsmann clears the air

One of the sillier -- and more dishonest -- arguments put forward by the proponents of maintaining the status quo -- in American soccer is this: challenging their adversaries -- i.e. those who want to see a much greater importance given to Latin-American talent, a group to which I certainly belong -- they demand to see, immediately, “all these great Latino players, the ones that Bruce Arena and Bob Bradley apparently overlooked. Where are they?”  

Because, the argument goes, if they can’t be revealed at once, then the case for using Latino talent collapses ... because the players just aren’t there.

It is the classic straw man, a deliberate misrepresentation of the opponent’s position, distorting it into a weak argument that can then be easily demolished. The idea that there exists, right now, a large group of Hispanic players who are good enough for the national team is a nonsense, it is a position that no thinking person maintains -- as those who push it forward must know, hence my insistence that it is a deeply dishonest assertion.

To clarify matters. There is not a pool of Latino players ready to step into the national team. No one is saying that there is. The argument is a rather different: namely that, at this point in the development of the American game, there ought to exist such a pool.

The fact that it doesn’t exist is the result of neglect -- some would say deliberate neglect, others, more kindly, would allege simply a lack of awareness. If, over the past decade or so, Hispanic players had been granted the same care, attention and encouragement as the anglo- and black players -- then the pool of national-team-ready Latino talent would probably exist. I say "probably" because there is never any certainty in soccer.

But, thanks to Jurgen Klinsmann, we can now change that "probably" into "certainly." By starting three Latin-Americans against Mexico, Klinsmann dramatically cleared the air. The first thing to notice is that all three players are with Mexican clubs. Not, that is, with MLS clubs. An embarrassing point for MLS -- but maybe one that can be tempered with the observation that things are, at last changing, and that another of the promising Latinos used by Klinsmann, the youngest -- Juan Agudelo -- is an MLS player with the Red Bulls (where, in the cause of protecting him, Coach Hans Backe has him spending most of his time on the bench).

So -- three Latinos who found that their talents were appreciated only south of the border. How did they do for the USA?  A mixed bag. Edgar Castillo had a dreadful first half at left back (long a problem area for the USA). He improved considerably in the second half, without ever impressing. In defense, Michael Orozco proved a solid centerback, not without errors, but with positives to compensate. Jose Torres -- particularly in the second half, after a positional switch -- looked the most accomplished of the three.

No, truth be told, not Castillo nor Orozco nor Torres could be judged, on this showing, as an automatic choice. But Klinsmann stayed with them -- even allowing the desperately struggling Castillo to play the full 90 minutes -- so that he, and we, were able to get a fuller picture of their talent.

What was proved here was this: that Castillo, Orozco and Torres are all genuine contenders for national team places. Not by any means the finished product, but in that sense, no worse than most other prospects. They are not ready to simply walk onto the team a command a place. But then, as I have pointed out, no one has been claiming that such players are ready. The fact that three -- presumably the cream of the current Latino crop -- have managed to come close is pretty remarkable. But the awkward truth that they had to go to Mexico to develop their game is something that should be of major concern to the folks at MLS and the USSF.

So Klinsmann has proved that there are young Hispanics with considerable talent and great promise for the future -- maybe even for the immediate future if they are given strong encouragement. It is that encouragement, that faith in their potential, that has been so crucially lacking in the past.

In showing that, despite that lack of interest, a few top Hispanic players have surfaced, Klinsmann has gone a long way to proving the point about the USA’s pool of Hispanic talent. The next step is to show that Castillo, Orozco and Torres are not just one-offs, and that there is more to come, that they represent the tip of the iceberg.

By putting three Mexico-based players on the field -- and keeping all three of them there for virtually the whole game (Torres was subbed in the 84th minute) -- Klinsmann has started his new job with a remarkably strong indication of what -- I’m hoping -- will be his future modus operandi: bringing in new players with an emphasis on superior ball skills. This would mark a shift from what has far too frequently been the case in the past, when athletic prowess has evidently been rated the most valued asset.
A midfield that consistently creates rather than merely runs hard, beckons. The combination of Landon Donovan and Torres worked well in the second half against Mexico, and it is surely on the skills of Donovan that Klinsmann should build his team.

Which makes it regrettable that it was Donovan who struck the only sour note of an encouraging evening when, in a post-game interview with ESPN’s Rob Stone, he found it necessary to slur the Mexicans with a charge we’ve heard before, that they buckle when the going gets rough: “When they’re under pressure, they don’t do well, they don’t like it.”

Unfortunate comments from the man who had been, as so often before, the best player in the game. But they should not be allowed to tarnish what was, all in all, a highly satisfactory debut for coach Klinsmann.

32 comments about "Klinsmann clears the air".
  1. gary at k, August 13, 2011 at 12:35 a.m.

    Paul, you're a badass! I'm very thankful there is someone of your profile who understands and helps to cut through the ocean of ignorance.

  2. Tyler Dennis, August 13, 2011 at 1:20 a.m.

    Problem is that there are tons of coaches from Britain coaching our youth at the club level, and at the ODP level. Do you really think they value/appreciate the slightly built hispanic player? Maybe Chicharrito will help change their outlook, but I'm doubtful. The brilliance of Barcelona hasn't even changed their approach. I'm not sure it could, because it would take a herculean effort to change their entrenched world view - it also takes a lot of time and may lose them some games at the younger ages. oops!

  3. Tom Enone, August 13, 2011 at 1:26 a.m.

    First of all, Paul, you need to tell us who it is that is so against Latino players on USMNT. You don't, which makes you the creator of a straw man. Secondly, is that what Donovan was saying, really? A more reasonable interpretation is that the Mexicans were less happy when they were not dictating the game. There is nothing sinister about that.

  4. David Huff, August 13, 2011 at 2:54 a.m.

    Brits out, Latins and Germans in! Ein Volk, Ein USA, Ein Klinsmann!! Viva El Aleman!!

  5. Daniel Dextre, August 13, 2011 at 7:50 a.m.

    First of all, we got a true coach, a coach that played the game at high levels and face many of the worlds talents.
    Second, it will take a while to develop this latino talent, they will bring they high skill level once the develop the confidence of being regulars on the national Team.
    Is obvious that the last 20 years we've tried to imited the european style, run fast, run hard, maybe we overcome the other team and win, rather than encourage the natural talent of our players (all of them) and let them play. Some players are not coachable, because even them, don't know what will be their next move. Can you coach Messi, or Maradona or George Best? Heck not!, them coach the rest of the team to support these players. Only one touch of ther feet or mind can change the whole game. Give this players time and confidence, just like this new coach did, keep them thru the whole game (some of them) and see if they really have what it takes to be a great player, I think we are in the ric=ght path to be better.

  6. David Mont, August 13, 2011 at 8:13 a.m.

    I really don't understand Paul's obsession with Latino players. It appears to be based on the belief that Latino players are superior because...well, they're Latino. Certainly, the USSF needs to develop players in every community; however, where is any proof that Latino players will prove to be superior? If you look at soccer crazy Mexico -- huge population base, everyone plays the game, it is by far sport #1 -- how many world class players have they produced over the years? Hugo Sanchez, possibly Rafa Marquez, maybe one day Chicharito... That's about it. Has Latin Central America ever produced world class players? Even South America -- outside Brazil and Argentina, you can count world class players produced there over the last quarter of a century on the fingers of one hand.

  7. Gak Foodsource, August 13, 2011 at 8:55 a.m.

    David - Paul values the Latino players because they are technical. They have the capacity to play the game at an extremely high level. Or even more fundamentally, they have the ability to pass, drible, and receive the ball. How do you work with players that cannot consistently do that? How limited is your upside if you cant consistently do that?Our focus here in the states for the past 10-20 years has been athleticism - size and speed - severely limiting our potential to play the game with better skilled opponents. And with respect to the relative absence of central and south american stars ( I'm including South America because countries like Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Uruguay havent produced as many as they theoretically should - they have had incredibly talented players for decades) from international stardom, there are so many factors that go into developing players and having them turn into international stars. One of the problems that has prevented players in Central and South America from recognizing international fame is the transition from extreme poverty to wealth - the excesses that come with suddenly being rich have brought down hundreds of talented players. Another is the domestic leagues that most of these players come from. The systems played in these leagues, the styles advocated in these leagues, do not always export well to the EPL, for example. I wish I knew why these kids never make it big because my travels in South America revealed the best players I have ever played with in my life. But their absence from international stardom is not a sufficient reason to reject what they are doing with the ball. South America gave us passing, fluid soccer, which was then adopted by Cruyff and Barcelona. Looking to Latin America is absolutely the right course of action for our USSF.

  8. Bill Ford, August 13, 2011 at 9:30 a.m.

    Maybe we should call it the "Latin style" instead of focusing on the ethnic origin of the player. I believe we currently have suburban youth players who play with the " Latin style" but have been overlooked for years given most of these kids are smaller ( but more technical) and not your typical American HS soccer player. Perhaps these kids will finally get noticed for their skill and soccer IQ.

  9. ckg beautiful game, August 13, 2011 at 9:37 a.m.

    This was an article you could tell Gardner had been dying to write. Although clearly the 3 Americans of Latin heritage are center of attention they are a small part of the overall story, which Donovan summed up clearly; the very best Americans will be brought in and must earn the shirt. As far as Donovan's remarks about pressure on the Mexicans, well it's true, teams don't like done to them what they do!
    Did anyone see early in the match the ball played into the box that Jones made a mess of? I can't help but believe Dempsey would have got on the end of that.

  10. Dave Oyer, August 13, 2011 at 11:05 a.m.

    actually a great article.....right up until the very end. Are you really that clueless to think the comment Donovan made was "slur to the Mexicans"?? The statement was a clear, concise and accurate assessment of a pretty darn good half of soccer. It had absolutely nothing to do with race and everything to do with what it takes to compete and do all that you can to disrupt the opponents rythym an consistency. And the result for the Americans was one "un-called" PK away from a win....simple as that!

  11. cony konstin, August 13, 2011 at 11:11 a.m.

    Soccer in America is a hobby and not a way of life. Our Mantra should be, Soccer in the King of sports and Futsal is the Queen of sports. This should be our mantra so that one day white people, black people, brown people, and yellow people will hold hands while finally getting to the top of the mountain and finally say, brothers and sisters we can finally control the ball, pass the ball, dribble the ball, heck we are free at last. God almighty we are free at last. Meanwhile we will continue to buy $250 soccer shoes, play on beautiful soccer complexes when we are told to, buy more training dvd's, create more soccer curriculm, create more baby sitting firms/soccer clubs and go shopping as GW told us that we should. REVOLUTION!!!! is what we need and not more rhetoric.

  12. Vic Flegel, August 13, 2011 at 11:31 a.m.

    I believe the 3 players in question,play in Mexico, because the pay is better.Also, Bradley did value technically skilled players.Look how often he called on Freddy Adu.He also Gave Torres many chances.At this stage,if we relied mainly on the available latin players,we would be in the same class as the other central american teams.

  13. Philippe Fontanelli, August 13, 2011 at 11:57 a.m.

    Gentlemen; Donovan didn't mean anything negative about the opposition he just stated the way he saw it through his professional eyes. And to suprise you guys Donovan is half Latino (thru his mother) and he speaks the lingo fluently.
    And Dear Mr. Flegel: When are you going to stop idolizing Bradley? Torres was called up twice and I don't believe Adu any more than that.

  14. Karl Ortmertl, August 13, 2011 at 12:28 p.m.

    I don't think Landon's comment was any kind of a slur. He's had many tough matches against the Mexican TEAM and clearly doesn't like them. Good for him! As far as who was not using Latinos? Bradley, obviously. Torres you can explain away by him being a better player at the same position as Bradley's son. Pure nepotism there. Orozco and Castillo - not so easy to explain. The US defense sucked under Bradley and he needed all the help he could get, yet didn't look towards two obvious choices. As far as Latino soccer development in the US. Latinos mostly live in inner cities in the US. There is no commitment to creating spaces where inner city kids can play soccer. It's all suburbia and soccer moms. It'll be hard for Klinsmann to fix that one.

  15. Scott O'Connor, August 13, 2011 at 1:47 p.m.

    Nice article. If you look at our youth national teams, they are a much higher percentage of latin players. Now we aren't exactly knocking them dead at the youth level but that can't be blamed on a few good players. We have some nice latin talent coming up from the youth ranks. The midfielder of the U-17s was particularly talented (he scored a golazo against Czech Republic if anyone watched that). Just like our black/african community has provided our best basketball talent (however globally unimportant), our latin community will likely provide the face of successful soccer in the future (which more of the world cares about).

  16. Paul Lorinczi, August 13, 2011 at 1:53 p.m.

    LD comments are kind of true. The greatest challenge I have with my kids is challenging them to mentally be stronger. I love their technical abilities and creativity with the ball. Their biggest challenge is mental strength. It is not an excuse to not work with the Latino kid. On the contrary, coaches need to learn how to get the best of them. So, if you are concerned about nurturing Latino talent, US Youth Soccer needs to establish inner city ODP programs, so these kids can get trained.

  17. Scott O'Connor, August 13, 2011 at 1:57 p.m.

    Oh yeah, the players: Paco Torres when put in the right spot (not left mid?) is a game changer. He was a revelation in the middle. A huge improvement from Michael Bradley in the same position (and I'm not a Mike B bashe, he just needs to play the holding role in front of the defense (not more forward as JK started him). Castillo, while not having a good performance, was actually a nice surprise to me. I'd never seen him play. His confidence on the ball and ability to dribble out of trouble will become a major weapon if he can learn to pick his spots better and be a bit more solid as a defender. A huge improvement over Jonathan Bornstein (who hopefully had his last cap ever in the Gold Cup final that he was most instrumental in - heck if it wasn't for him, we might still be in the Bradley era, so that loss may actually be a win in the long run). Orozco was the least noticed of the 3. He struggles with distribution out of the back. However, I didn't see any glaring mistakes in coverage and getting schooled by off-the-ball runs that Mexico was killing us on in the GC final (although Hernandez might have made life harder for him had he been on the pitch).

  18. Scott O'Connor, August 13, 2011 at 2:03 p.m.

    Total aside comment. Klinsmann looked more enthralled at the playing of our national anthem than any of his American players. What's with our guys not singing the song of the nation they represent? It's like they're too cool to have some national pride.... The Mexican team gives a full-throated effort whenever they are presented with their anthem. Having some passion to play for your country I think would translate to some extra effort and hustle and a burning desire to win that the team doesn't seem to communicate. Maybe they're just responding to their relative obscurity amongst the population they represent, "If you don't care, then I won't care". Just my personal soapbox.

  19. Erik Perez, August 13, 2011 at 2:28 p.m.

    The Mexicans certainly didn't buckle under pressure when they were down 2-0 during the Gold Cup final. Maybe the interviewer should have reminded Donovan of that well-known fact.

  20. P Van, August 13, 2011 at 4:33 p.m.

    First off, I agree completely with Paul--and I often don't, at least not entirely. It was extremely encouraging from Klinsmann to start the 3 Mexican Americans, and stick with them through the end. I think it says as much as Paul suggests perhaps, but at least, yes, that Klinsmann values the greater technical abilities and ball control, patient style of much of the Latino-soccer world. As for who didn't in the US program ascribe to this philosophy previously? Certainly no one at the helm of the men's program!
    As for LD's comment, I think Paul is probably right there too about Landon's intentions. Landon often irritates with petty comments and unnecessarily needles opponents, refs. He comes off often as a petulant player. I'd say his lack of disciplined, positive responses is a big reason why even though he is along with Dempsey the only real US game changer, why he has not been chosen as the captain of the team (and why Bradley sat him, brought him off the bench in the GC). As much as I admire Donovan's soccer at times; I am often annoyed by his ungracious, petty commentary. His comment may have been true to a degree, but no one benefits for his pointing it out. It will only fuel Mexicans disdain for him.

  21. Philippe Fontanelli, August 13, 2011 at 4:45 p.m.

    Hey Scott, Due to ESPN2 fiasco I didn't see National Anthem presentation so thanks for telling us. I have noticed with several players previously of their non-chalance of NA especially Robbie Findley. It was during the WC that's when I have lost all respect for him. But BB wasn't a good US morale motivator subsequently the players acted accordingly. On the bright side look at the enthousiasm JK had when we scored the goal, who have shown more of a patriotism that BB has ever shown. Furthermore the way JK complimented his players were unheard of before. If for nothing else, I have a tremendous respect for the man.

  22. Jose Coyt, August 13, 2011 at 4:49 p.m.

    This "revolution" will only work when we get rid of all the "British" coaching. If you look at every team in the EPL, you will notice that the truly talented players and not from England. The Big, Fast and Dirty....yes they are the national product.

  23. Mj Lee, August 13, 2011 at 4:52 p.m.

    This is so true: "actually a great article.....right up until the very end." Why try to portray Landon as slightly racist? He grew up in SoCal playing with hispanics, that's one of the reasons he can speak Spanish. And Ridge almost implies Landon was referring to his teammates. Landon's comment was no different than what ESPN commentators say about African teams (undisciplined), or Asian teams (terrific work rate). Give the guy some slack, or criticize ALL of them.

  24. Andres Yturralde, August 13, 2011 at 5:05 p.m.

    Gak Foodsource, you are my tall glass of water! Keep it coming, baby! Cony Konstin, I love your fire, my man! But I’m thinking maybe we don't need revolution. Maybe we need relaxation! Settle down, clear the mind, take it one brick at a time. As I said yesterday, this USA-Mexico game was good for everyone involved. It now sets the stage for some very beautiful soccer down the line. Everyone on the USMNT better buckle up and stay focused. The pressure’s on— man on hard! I remember JK (the player) was rather sloppy during his day, but he usually found a way to get the job done. So it looks to me like JK (the coach) will keep mixing and testing until he gets the right team on. And from the looks of it, he’s already on the right track. Whether the USMNT should have more or less Latinos, I don’t know. I say just pick a dude— any dude— and test him out, then let him in or let him out. But first throw out all pre-conceived notions. That’s pretty much the only way to grow. Me, I can honestly thank Latin America for its touch and creativity, the USA for its never-say-die attitude, and Europe for its strength and pace. I have a lot to learn from the rest of the world, so there's still a long way to go. But that's what the future’s for. Que viva el futbol!

  25. James Froehlich, August 13, 2011 at 8:33 p.m.

    GAK -- great comments. The issue of "latin players" has little to do with ethnicity. It's really all about soccer culture. Latin players and fans value technical skill above pure athleticism. US fans want winners above all else and at the youth level that can usually be best achieved by the biggest and fastest players. While Latin fans want to win too--they're not crazy-- they prefer not to win ugly. Just listen to the Real Madrid or Barca fans when their teams are not playing skillfully!!! Soooooo, the US soccer culture chooses to generally overlook the young, small, skillful player (especially when he can't afford to attend soccer camps, pay to be on travel teams, or pay to compete in ODP. It's not overt or even intentional but the result is the same--Hispanic and other ethnic minorities are excluded from the MNT selection process. We can argue about the impact of the many British coaches and their influence but the key to overcoming the current lack of skilled players is to make the effort to look where the skill is most likely to exist. Just like the old Dillinger story: when asked why he robbed banks, he said, "Because that's where the money is!". In this case, the "money" is in the Latin and ethnic communities. It's great to see that JK appears to understand that.

  26. James Madison, August 13, 2011 at 8:33 p.m.

    Developing Latin players in Estados Unidos de Norteamerica for the US National teams may be a project well worth placing increased emphasis on. However, in case there are any out there with abbreviated memories, leave us not suppose that mssrs Castillo, et al, are the first Latino players to earn US caps. I go back as far as Tab Ramos, and he may not have been the first.

  27. Joe Hosack, August 14, 2011 at 11:27 a.m.

    Landon's comments to Rob Stone were and remain SPOT ON. The game changed as soon as we subbed in some offensively minded players who put Mexico under immediate pressure. What is regettable is that you have to write that way to solicit our comments. I cetainly don't like it when my team is put under pressure.......I deal with it......
    Yellow card to Paul.

  28. Daniel Clifton, August 14, 2011 at 2:05 p.m.

    Donovan's comments were directed at the Mexican National Team, not the guys of Mexican ancestry on the USMNT. I don't agree with Paul's take on Donovan's comment. Otherwise I agree with what he is saying. I also agree with the commentor(s) who talked about English coaches in the US who don't care for Hispanic kids. That has to be changed. I have seen it in my area. A big part of the problem at the youth level is that many hispanic parents cannot afford the Suburban based competitive youth soccer clubs who require thousands of dollars a year for one child to play. That has to change. As someone above pointed out it applies to other ethnic minorities also (and I include African-Americans). I think Torres and Orosco have real potential at the USMNT level, and I am not ruling out Castillo. He looked better as the game progressed.

  29. Erik Perez, August 14, 2011 at 7:04 p.m.

    This was nothing more than a friendly that meant more to USA than to Mexico. How soon USMNT fans forget the beat down that Mexico gave to USA at the Gold Cup final less than two months ago. There is no "new sheriff in town". The sheriff continues to be Mexico when it comes to CONCACAF, at the national team and at the youth levels. USA had the edge over Mexico over the past decade, but they couldn't develop their youth system and now it will come back to haunt them. The thing I like most about Klinsmann is the respect he shows to Mexico, maybe his players will someday do the same. Klinsmann called Mexico a top 10 team before the match, and did so again after the match. I don't think LD's comments are misrepresented at all by Paul. LD will take every opportunity he can to insult the Mexican national team. Just look at his "chicken dance" celebration after scoring a goal in the Gold Cup, which was directed at the suspended Mexican players. In the end, Mexico got the last laugh when they chicken danced all over the USA players in Pasadena.

  30. Steve Greene, August 15, 2011 at 4:07 p.m.

    The larger issue is identification. Be it whatever race or ethnic group, it is very difficult to believe that in a country this large those are the very best 20+ male soccer players available.

    The identification process starts early but its all skewed to club soccer, and now even higher levels of self proclaimed "elite" soccer (development academy, ECNL, RPL, SRPL . . .). This is pay to play and while the top ODP teams are certainly good, and there is good talent that is identified, the structure leaves out huge numbers by its design.

    Pay to play in the ridiculous amounts clubs charge, needless travel, new gear required all the time, etc again limits many people from participating and I haven't even mentioned politics (which will be a factor regardless).

    This is more economics or financially based "bias" and by the numbers ends up affected some groups far more than others. I wonder how many great players never get a look at all due only to the cost of playing at the "elite" level?

  31. Gak Foodsource, August 15, 2011 at 6:35 p.m.

    i respectfully disagree Steve. On paper it makes sense - the US is huge, we have too many uneducated coaches throughout the system, and no successful way of moving talent from A to B. And I tend to think lots of players COULD play at a higher level and don't for the primary reason that there are too many talented players out there. This is the Worlds game, afterall. Daniel Karbassiyoon is a great example. But truth be told, there are thousands of him, in the US, in South Korea, in Chile, etc. We don't need more coaches carrying clipboards telling our youth who can and cannot play at a higher level. (They have no idea.) We need to develop our players. They need technical skills, and they need a coaching system that will encourage and reward them for it.

  32. P Van, August 16, 2011 at 5:58 p.m.

    Again, I think ALL Paul is saying with the LD line is that Donovan's comment was unnecessary and not smart, if for no other reason than potential locker room motivator for the Mexicans. They are clearly the strongest side in CONCACAF and their program is an emerging world power. They do not fear the US team or their "pressure." Landon should let his soccer do the talking--whining to ref's, demeaning opponents with silly barbs (even, and perhaps especially if true). One doesn't come across as a truth teller, but as a bit of a spiteful jerk. Like the kid on the playground who finds it necessary to taunt his opponent to get under his skin because he is/has been consistently outplayed on it. Klinsmann is much smarter in this regard, for example, which makes HIM a good leader as well as an honest one. It's a delicate art, managing one's words and social interactions. Remember the Donovan-Beckham drama? Again, why Landon won't be captain anytime soon, if ever...

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