Calling Jurgen Klinsmann

[USA-EL SALVADOR, THE AFTERMATH] If the USA's shocking elimination from Olympic qualifying doesn't put into question everything Jurgen Klinsmann has put in place in the last eight months, he better step forward and take responsibility for the direction of the national team program. He has certainly laid out lofty goals for U.S. soccer, and more power to him. He'll need, though, to assure everyone that this is a long-term process and there is no turning back.

The cornerstone of the Klinsmann regime has been the development of an attacking style with a 4-3-3 formation emphasized on the age-group teams throughout the national team program. But as we discovered in Nashville, the U-23s didn't have the players to play that way, and it was suicide.

Forget the problems with the goalkeeping, the two center backs were shaky, and the central midfielders could not hold the ball, destroying the USA's possession game and making it vulnerable to counterattacks. The 4-3-3 puts a lot of emphasis on wing play, but the outside backs were unwilling or unable to attack, and the wing play from the team's two most senior players, Freddy Adu and Brek Shea, wasn't good enough.

Four years ago, the USA beat Canada, 3-0, in Nashville to earn its ticket to the Beijing Olympics. That victory came after the USA eked out 1-0 wins over Panama and Honduras after tying Cuba, 1-1, in group play. Performances hardly worth remembering.

The irony, of course, is that Klinsmann has taken a more cautious approach to how he deploys the senior national team in the eight months since he took charge. His surrogate, Caleb Porter, had only five days and no chance to put on the brakes.

More thoughts on USA-El Salvador and its aftermath ...

AGONY OF DEFEAT. Even a day later, the USA's exit is hard to swallow. Not that the USA is out -- the signs of trouble, big trouble, were there from about the 25-minute mark of the Canada game -- but how it all went down. Every time you watch the replay of Jaime Alas' tying goal it gets worse. Moses could not have parted the Red Sea any better than the USA allowed Alas to break free and launch the shot -- "the shot didn't have much power," his coach, Mauricio Alfaro, said -- that beat Sean Johnson. The hardest scene to watch is Johnson walking off the field, Bill Hamid, the goalie he had replaced, limping alongside him. The agony of defeat encapsulated in an instant.

HOME-FIELD DISADVANTAGE. For about the 827th time, playing on home soil was not an advantage to the USA. All you had to do was listen to the crowd for the decisive USA-El Salvador game on Monday night. La Selecta supporters might not have outnumbered U.S. fans, but they certainly made their presence felt. How could so many Salvadorans find their way to Nashville? The same way Tico fans descended on tiny El Camino College Stadium near Los Angeles for Costa Rica's 1-0 win that knocked the USA out of the 1986 World Cup. (Talk about the Dark Ages!). Or how Honduran fans filled 50,000-seat RFK Stadium in Washington to watch the Catrachos beat the USA, 3-2, in 2002 World Cup qualifying 10 days before the 9/11 attacks.

One of the great stories from the early days of the national team program as we know it concerns a 1990 World Cup qualifier between the USA and Guatemala played in New Britain, Conn. National team games weren't a big operation in those days. No more than a few thousand fans were initially expected, so ticket sales were handled by the local soccer association, whose secretary was startled one Saturday morning to discover that her front lawn was filled with Guatemalans. They had somehow gotten her address and driven from across the Northeast in search of tickets. The lesson then is the lesson now: Never assume a Concacaf match will be a home game for the USA.

FULL CIRCLE. With its ouster to Canada and El Salvador, the U.S. national team program has come full circle. It was 25 years ago that the national team program took off with wins over Canada and El Salvador in 1988 Olympic qualifying. Canada was coming off its first (and only) appearance at the World Cup and took a 2-0 lead to St. Louis for the second leg of the semifinal round of Olympic qualifying, but Lothar Osiander's boys rallied to win 3-0. This was a year before the USA was awarded the 1994 World Cup, and the national team program, little that it was, might have been disbanded if the USA had not rallied at the Soccer Park.

The USA moved into the final round of qualifying, where it faced El Salvador in its first game on the road. Hugo Perez had two goals, Brent Goulet and Frank Klopas each had a goal, and the USA won, 4-2. Soccer America reported of players returning home to tell stories of disgusted fans lighting seat cushions and throwing them from the upper deck of the Estadio Cuscatlan. It was their baptism of fire to soccer in Concacaf, but they were on the road to the 1988 Seoul Olympics. And soon thereafter to Italia '90. The national team had taken off.

EPIC COLLAPSES. It is hard to remember a more total collapse than the USA's elimination on Monday night. Perhaps the most famous of the last 20 years was France's failure to qualify for the 1994 World Cup. The Bleus went into their last two games at home against Israel and Bulgaria needing only one point to clinch their ticket to the finals in the United States.

Ahead 2-1 with 10 minutes to play against Israel, which it had beaten 4-0 away, France lost, 3-2. Two months later, France got a second shot at the elusive point and was tied 1-1 with Bulgaria when Emil Kostadinov scored a last-gasp goal much the way Alas scored against the USA.

Goalie Bernard Lama had no chance on Kostadinov's shot that sent Bulgaria, not France, through to the finals. The goat at the Parc des Princes was David Ginola, who failed to kill off the game. France had a free kick deep in the Bulgaria half. The referee had his whistle in his mouth. But instead of holding the ball, Ginola launched a cross into the area, and the Bulgarians raced off on their winning counterattack.

Bad blood lingers to this day. Only four months ago, Ginola sued then-French coach Gerard Houllier for writing in his new book that Ginola was to blame for the loss.

LOOKING AHEAD. I don't want to sound like a doomsayer, but if you thought the reaction to Monday's exit was bad, imagine what will happen if the USA doesn't qualify for the 2014 World Cup. The last exit came in 1985 when the USA, needing only a tie to advance to the final round of Concacaf qualifying, fell to Costa Rica 1-0 in Torrance. U.S. Soccer was insolvent. The NASL had collapsed. Indoor soccer was all there was. No one cared.

Only one berth was up for grabs from Concacaf for the 1986 World Cup. Mexico already qualified as host, and the tournament consisted of only 24 teams. Concacaf will have 3.5 spots at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. Besides Mexico, the USA's competition should include Honduras, which went to the 2010 World Cup, Costa Rica, which went to the two finals before that, Panama, which beat the USA at the 2011 Gold Cup, and Jamaica, the best of the Caribbean teams. But El Salvador in particular could challenge Costa Rica behind Mexico in their semifinal group, as could Canada against Honduras and Panama.

Qualification for Brazil 2014 is no sure thing.

18 comments about "Calling Jurgen Klinsmann".
  1. Luis Arreola, March 28, 2012 at 9:34 a.m.

    Your damn right it is no sure thing. Who had more fans at the Canada vs Usa game?? I dpnt think Canada had that emotional advantage. I think Klins wants to establish the more attacking style first, prove the current player selection is inadequate to play iy and then get the right personal to prove it does work with the right group of selected players eliminating the bias selection that has gone on for too long. The only way Usa will see more fan suppprt is to embrace qnd include more Hispanic players in their national teams. Then everyone else will catch on as they will see better tecnical and more effective and exiting soccer with more goals per game ratio.

  2. Foot Ball, March 28, 2012 at 9:58 a.m.

    Oh give me a break. The U-23's collapse (a disaster, surely) and it puts "into question everything Jurgen Klinsmann has put in place in the last eight months"?

    Nice to meet you, Chicken Little.

  3. Gak Foodsource, March 28, 2012 at 10:06 a.m.

    The 4-3-3 is extremely hard to play. It takes years to master. Particularly in the middle of the field, defensive responsibilities are completely different than our beloved 4-2-2, or as just about everybody now does because of Bruce Arena, the 4-5-1. Juergen has our future interests in mind when he says he wants a 4-3-3 at the youth and sr levels, and he should not be disparaged for that. I disagree completely that we should reconsider the 4-3-3 because of u-23 failure. 4-3-3 was and will be a wry hard system to play. But it requires more skill of its players and that's what we need to emphasize.

  4. Dan Weintraub, March 28, 2012 at 10:27 a.m.

    YES Gak! We are seeing the wrong trees and we are in wrong forest here. It is GOOD to lose this game. It reinforces the reality that Americans playing 4-5-1, or some other counterattacking system, will NEVER succeed on the international scene. Even ENGLAND know this---eliminated during the previous decades of World Cups because they try to defend and counter without addressing the need for technical wizardry in the attacking 1/3.

  5. Dan Weintraub, March 28, 2012 at 10:29 a.m.

    We lose playing 4-3-3 because we aren't there yet....stick with it Jurgen!!! If you do, the USA will content for the World Cup by 2022.

  6. Walt Pericciuoli, March 28, 2012 at 10:37 a.m.

    Players are the difference,not the system. Until all our players are so comfortable with the ball that they can actually be free of it,then and only then will they have confidence to open up their eyes and minds to see and solve the tactical problems happening at faster and faster speeds as they progress through the higher levels of international soccer.In simple terms,master the ball. Technique,technique and more technique should be all that matters until players reach 16, and then even after tactics are introduced, still more technique.Once we have soccer players,the system won't matter.

  7. Karl Schreiber, March 28, 2012 at 11:40 a.m.

    I cannot believe our U-23 team performed this poorly!
    I have been away, that is, not involved,from USSF soccer for many years and cannot analyze the capabilities and contributions of current USSF sub-organizations and individuals nor do I know the USSF Head Coach’s responsibilities exactly.
    Fact is, individual US players have performed well in leagues abroad for many years and have been acknowledged as competent. Goalkeepers in particular have ranked highly or still are (Keller, Friedel, Howard). Around the time of our MNT’s victory over Italy earlier on, I watched an U-20 or U-23 team play, I believe it was Mexico, and when I accepted congratulations from a distant relative in Germany for the MNT’s victory I wrote him “Thanks, but wait until you see some of our younger players! It’ll be even better!” In other words, I believe we have had, are currently having, and will have in the future, great soccer players.
    Of the “Preolimpico”, I only was able to watch the full US – Canada game and the last few minutes of the El Salvador game on a Spanish-language cable channel. I could not believe what I saw in the Canada game. I could not believe the players’ attitude towards the game, the apparent lack of tactical concepts and tactical flexibility. These young talents were suffering from bad leadership off the field.
    In today’s article adherence or non-adherence to a system is mentioned. Coaches and the media make too much of “systems”. Even more so around our WNT! Stop that nonsense!
    Re. the current U-23 problem - the team leadership should have their performance analyzed by qualified people. USSF must also critically analyze the concept of increased reliance on foreign-born or foreign-based players who are not necessarily available helping their new "motherland" in critical games!

  8. Xavi Hernandez , March 28, 2012 at 11:44 a.m.

    Walt you are correct. My son was/is a ball wizard who can put the ball on a dime anywhere on the field. ODP and other elite coaches said he had fantastic skills that they wished other players had but that, and I quote "he was too concerned with skill" and was "to small and slow". He was cut at 13 for a bunch of fully-matured kids without a fraction of his skill. He still plays on an African immigrant men's team with ex-professionals but he won't have anything to do with organized US soccer. Note to soccer coaches - he's now over 5'8", still growing, and just ran a 52.9 400m.

  9. Gus Keri, March 28, 2012 at 11:46 a.m.

    When will we stop talking about the home advantage and the crowds? Did anyone stop to notice that the majority of the CONCACAF tournaments, of all ages, are held in the USA; and in case of the Gold Cups, every one of them except one and a half. There are two reasons why the rest of 35 countries in the region allow this. 1- Economically, it benefits every one. 2- They can count on their ex-partiates and their descendants to support their teams. (They even hold most of their friendlies in the USA)...In regard to the system played, give me a break. It's the lack of quality in the team to blame. Many players lack the technical ability and the tactical awareness to play at this level...And one last thing, what does the 9/11 attacks have to do with Honduras beating the USA 10 days prior? Did I miss something?

  10. ferdie Adoboe, March 28, 2012 at 1:39 p.m.

    When our national team coach is recruiting more Germans than Americans to represent USA, it should tell us what he thinks about our product. Don't blame him, he is doing what he feels he needs to do to survive. We have to see what he is trying to tell us.

  11. ferdie Adoboe, March 28, 2012 at 1:55 p.m.

    Jaime Alas was too selfish. He was supposed to pass, and he didn't. That is not good soccer right, coaches?

  12. Luis Arreola, March 28, 2012 at 2:24 p.m.

    Our national team coach is missing out on too many homegorwn Hispanic talents in Usa to Mexico, El Salvador,etc. Because he is more focused in Germany. I bet that is why they hired him.

  13. Mike Fredsell, March 28, 2012 at 3:44 p.m.

    you can't be serious blaming Klinsman for this. This whole process started with Bruce Arena and then Bob Bradley kept it going. Klinsman is doing his best with the cards he was dealt. Arena's idea of us soccer is using big, fast players with no creativity or skill, playing for set pieces. To blame Klinsman is absurd

  14. john haley, March 28, 2012 at 6:22 p.m.

    We have a mixture of different Ethnicities on the team. It is well rounded, as is the melting pot of the USA. We are Americans, not White, not Black, not Hispanic, nor Asian; just Americans. Also, others need to stop talking about big athletic players. As a coach, I would rather have bigger/faster/good ball handling athletes, than slighter ones, who are just good ball handlers. But the beauty of soccer is that all shapes, sizes, and speeds can play the game.

  15. Luis Arreola, March 28, 2012 at 7:30 p.m.

    Why do you feel its well rounded? Is the national basketball team well rounded? It is not but the best basketball players are surely pn it. Not the same with soccer.

  16. R2 Dad, March 28, 2012 at 11:23 p.m.

    xavi, the reason why the children of immigrants do well is because their parents know the game and get their kids to fight through the discrimination against skilled-but-smaller players. Look at Rossi--that guy would have never been given a chance in the US. your son should focus on the professional game and not worry about anything else. maybe a trial overseas? best of luck!

  17. Mj Lee, March 29, 2012 at 2:31 a.m.

    The solution is so obvious. The US MNT needs to play its games in Hawaii or Japan. Or Canada.

  18. Xavi Hernandez , March 29, 2012 at 11:20 a.m.

    R2 Dad - thanks, he was spotted by a scout and has a one week trial in Brazil this summer.

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