World Cup Rosters: the injury curse, plus thoughts on Klinsmann's choice of passport-holders

By Paul Gardner

So much for any thoughts of an intriguing afternoon watching World Cup teams play warm-up friendly games. Very quickly I’m watching an appalling challenge from Ireland's Alex Pearce on Italy's Riccardo Montolivo. After a delay for treatment, Montolivo departs on a stretcher. The Italian press is saying he has a fractured tibia. No World Cup for him.

On switching channels I get to watch Mexico’s Luis Montes score a terrific goal. Minutes later, he is involved in a frightening collision with Ecuador’s Segundo Castillo. The replays show Montes with his lower leg bent at an impossible angle. Another leg break. No World Cup for Montes. Castillo looks like he must have been injured, too. No word on him. I’m quite relieved to have missed the Netherlands-Ghana game that saw Ghana’s defender Jerry Akaminko stretchered off -- though this injury resulted from an awkward fall.

I cannot say that the way Ireland was playing against Italy had much to recommend it. Overly physical -- but, then, isn’t that the way it always plays? Isn’t that the way the physical teams are proud to play? Maybe, in which case World Cup-bound teams would be well advised to leave Ireland off their warm-up opponents list.

The risks of the game, then? You can make that argument, but I would have thought that -- between fellow professionals -- some sort of intelligent restraint would be at work in these games.

That seemed to be the case in the Spain-Bolivia game. Not very much hard tackling to be seen there. But we did see the sort of game that Spain had to struggle through -- repeatedly -- in South Africa, four years ago, against an opponent determined to defend en bloc and little else. It does not make for a great game.

I also noted another friendly scoreline, this one with future World Cup implications: Qatar 0 Macedonia 0. Not being a devotee of Qatari soccer, I’ve no idea whether that is a good result for them or not. But some days earlier I had watched an under-21 international game of surpassing embarrassment. The final score was Brazil 7, Qatar 0. Believe me, had Brazil not seriously taken its foot way off the pedal in the second half, this would have much, much worse for Qatar.

Of course I felt sorry for the young Qataris, who were hopelessly outclassed. So these are the future national team players for Qatar – under-21s, who will be mature enough by 2022, when Qatar stages the World Cup. Except that not one of these guys will be good enough. We’ve already suffered through one World Cup in which the host’s team was totally inadequate -- that was four years ago, when South Africa became the first host ever eliminated in the first round.

Whatever may be the political advantages of awarding the World Cup to countries with slight soccer pedigrees, such maneuvering does nothing for the tournament itself. A feeble host team is a turn off, for sure.

So where will Qatar get its players from if it’s to have a competitive team by 2022? Will they be naturalized Brazilians? Qatar tried this expedient back in 2004, selecting three Brazilian players -- with no previous links to Qatar -- and offering them lucrative contracts provided they agreed to become Qatari citizens. FIFA President Sepp Blatter called it “against the spirit of the game” and the move was eventually nixed.

But, from the legal point of view, Blatter’s argument seems a weak one in the absence of any specific rules against naturalizing foreigners.

Anyway, the USA might ponder the situation. Jurgen Klinsmann has chosen to include seven (right, seven) players who have had little or no contact with the USA. Nothing legally wrong here -- all hold, legitimately, U.S. passports. Though Blatter (and others, I think) might consider this to also be “against the spirit of the game.”

The players are very definitely not products of the USA. Klinsmann is telling us that they are all better than any one we can produce here. Including, it would appear, Landon Donovan.

Klinsmann, I think, would have a point if here were bringing in mature, experienced players. Only one of these seven comes under that heading -- Jermaine Jones (who, anyway, as a notoriously undisciplined player should not even be considered for the US national team). The average age of the other six passport-holders is 23.

Compare that with the average age of past World Cup-winning teams: France 1998 (28 years 4 months), Italy 2006 (29 years 6 months), Spain 2010 (27 years 3 months). This is not a tournament for youngsters.

The reasons for Klinsmann’s preference for foreign-trained talent over domestic-bred players is unclear to me. Maybe the fact that five of his seven passport-holders are German-Americans should tell me something. But as none of them, that I can see, is demonstrably, unarguably better than American candidates for the World Cup spots, I find their inclusion difficult to justify.
19 comments about "World Cup Rosters: the injury curse, plus thoughts on Klinsmann's choice of passport-holders ".
  1. Allan Lindh, May 31, 2014 at 10:33 p.m.

    Hogwash. Dixerud and Johannson are demonstrably better than any comparably aged young attackers we have. (I personally would start them both.) And Rossi for Italy was born, bred, and played his early soccer in this country, and now plays for Italy, so we're about even. The young Germans have profited from pro contracts early in life, time will tell whether they pan out, and besides none are game changers.

  2. Mark Hardt, May 31, 2014 at 10:59 p.m.

    Klinsman does not trust nor respect Americans. He speaks condescendingly even of Bradley. His son mocks Donavan. So he prefers Timmy Chandler who turned down the Us in hopes Germany would call him up over Goodsen who is clearly better. Donovan was done in by the sabbatical which clearly infuriated this German who sees taking time off as weak and disloyal. The whole German thing is clearly favoritism for the country where he grew up.

  3. P Van, June 1, 2014 at 3:11 a.m.

    I have no problem with the inclusion of the German-American players. Some of them--Jones and Johnson, just two examples--have shown themselves more than capable of national team play, if not every game. They're certainly stronger than any other born-and-bred American players at their positions--Beckerman for Jones--nope, not from what I've seen, even though Beckerman has gotten better. And what does where they officially grew up matter in some respects anyway? A serviceman or woman's child who happens to grow up in Germany is still in my book very much American--at a certain point the whole "national" team angle is a grey one obviously. But these guys are Americans too by most folks' definition. And who cares? Oh, Paul Gardner. The World Cup rocks; most countries' play reflects their cultures throughout the world and this holds true for Fabian and Jermaine on the US team too. They seem pretty damn "American" to me. I am disappointed though that more "Mexican" Americans didn't make the squad. I was excited about Coach K's early words in his tenure about creating an American soccer that reflected the culture. This has not come to pass, even though Torres, Castillo, Corona, Orozco...they too have something to contribute. It'll be interesting to see how things develop longer term. For now, let's stop the dissection of how "American" are they.

  4. Brent Crossland, June 1, 2014 at 7:18 a.m.

    Could it be that "Klinsmann’s preference for foreign-trained talent over domestic-bred players" is less about the geographic pedigree of the players and more about his assessment of the system that they grew up in?

  5. Mark Hardt, June 1, 2014 at 8:12 a.m.

    Brent, i think you are correct about the system but i think it is a stretch to say Green with almost no first team play is better by virtue of the system than an accommplished MLS player.

  6. Joe Bailey, June 1, 2014 at 8:30 a.m.

    I'm with PG on this one. 100%!

  7. George Gorecki, June 1, 2014 at 8:39 a.m.

    For a writer as experienced as Gardner is, I would expect him to have a better command of the language. To describe US citizens as "passport holders" is insulting and implies that they acquired a US passport for the sake of convenience. Aron Johansson, for example, was born in Alabama. He is no less American than any other native of this country and to call him a "passport holder" denigrates him. An example of a genuine "passport holder" would have been David Regis, who was not a citizen of the USA and needed his citizenship application accelerated to get him eligible for WC 98.

  8. Charles Stamos, June 1, 2014 at 9 a.m.

    Unfortunate for WC pound players to be injured in send off games; crap happens. I don't see anything wrong in Pearce's tackle on Montolivo, except the injury of course. Pearce takes away the ball with his right foot and Montolivo breaks his leg hitting Pearce's stationary left leg. The contact could have broken both players legs.

  9. Joe Linzner, June 1, 2014 at 9:56 a.m.

    while one certainly should disdain "Holzhacker" soccer the apparently rather obvious xenophobia is surprising.
    if you dislike Klinsmann, say so. There is no need to pussyfoot around. show us some choices you feel are better choices....then again one has to notice you are a writer not a coach...

  10. Walt Pericciuoli, June 1, 2014 at 11:21 a.m.

    All good points, but don't blame Klnsi for doing the same as past WC managers in the USA. He has just done it better.We should be upset that after all this time, "our" WC managers still find it necessary to search outside of the USA for talent.

  11. Andres Yturralde, June 1, 2014 at 12:48 p.m.

    I watched the Mexico-Ecuador game, and I would blame the injuries on the organizers. The field should have been in better condition, and they should not have watered so much before kickoff and at halftime. It was hard to control the ball or make a decent pass because the turf was too slippery. In fact, if you pay attention to the Luis Montes-Segundo Castillo collision [], Montes' first touch went further than he might have expected (the kid has a great touch, I've enough of him to know). When the balls slips away from him like that, it becomes a 50-50 ball and begs Castillo to go for the interception. Then the collision occurs, and now we have the results: broken leg for Montes and torn ligaments for Castillo. (By the way, Rafa Marquez also messed up his foot on his own because of the bad turf, and he had to be taken to the hospital. It looks like nothing was broken, though, so that's good news.) Unfortunately for Montes and Castillo, they will miss the World Cup. Normally, I would blame these kinds of injuries on the game itself, but I beg to differ this time around. On a lighter note, did you hear that Donovan is going to be playing for Mexico now that Montes is out and Klinsmann doesn't want him anyway? []

  12. Molly Wilsbacher, June 1, 2014 at 3:39 p.m.

    I agree with Allan and others that I'm glad so many American soccer players who grew up overseas and are willing to play for our national team. Dixerud, Johnson and Johannson are some of the best players out there. Even Green is practicing, if not playing, with some the best players in the game for a team that wins almost every tournament they enter. He has to be learning some major skills practicing with such talent.

  13. Bruce Moorhead, June 1, 2014 at 5:37 p.m.

    Walt, I do blame Juergen for doing the same thing that I blamed Bora in 1994 and Steve in 1998 for doing: not trusting the US system and searching far and wide for dubious Americans. Even if we win this WC I will have a problem with the selections. Of course, the worst are Green and Brooks, who are simply too inexperienced to be on either national team at this point.

  14. Ramon Creager, June 1, 2014 at 11:31 p.m.

    I'm finding it hard to get excited about this team. I haven't heard of most of them (And in Green's case no wonder--someone with virtually no first team time should not be on a WC squad, period. I don't care who he practices with.) And the idea that somehow Donovan is not worthy of a spot is ludicrous. So he took a sabbatical. So what. The man had been at it non-stop since he was a teenager. Give him a break. He needed one. Meanwhile Jermaine Jones was given an enforced sabbatical by the Bundesliga for being a first class jerk. But that's just fine with our Klinsi, who surely must know that hard players & hard teams have found the WC unforgiving. Well now we know his priorities.

  15. Walt Pericciuoli, June 2, 2014 at 10:38 a.m.

    Bruce, trust the US system? I've been waiting all my life for our "system" to produce world class players, so far how has it worked out? The second part of my comment was, we should be upset that we find it necessary to have to "search outside of the USA for talent". By the way, sons of American servicemen are not "dubious Americans".They are American citizens.

  16. Mark Aegerter, June 2, 2014 at 11:15 p.m.

    It would be one thing if the played this so called 'beautiful possession football' JK claimed he was going to put on display. But to my eye, this is a team of inexperienced athletes, with very little technical ability, just like we already have.

    Look at it this way, when we go out in 3 games in a couple of weeks, maybe JK will get fired. I am afraid this is going to end very badly for this WC.

  17. Chris St. Hilaire, June 3, 2014 at 12:23 a.m.

    Green has demonstrated that he sn't ready for primetime and Jurgen bringing him in over Landon is proof of two biases -- one anti Landon and one pro German. I've lost all respect for our coach.

  18. Kevin Johnson, June 3, 2014 at 5:09 a.m.

    There are many parts to this passport holder issue. To me, no problem with the citizenship question. But my questions arise regarding the choice of unproven players with potential, as judged by JK, over proven players who JK seems to view as stale or overripe. And the clear predisposition toward Germany-bred Americans versus just-about-any-other-soccer-country-bred players does suggest a clear bias. So, what's wrong with that? Lots. It may be essentially a matter of soccer style familiarity that JK knows German soccer and feels he can mold US soccer in that image more comfortably than say Spanish style soccer, but in any case, he seems to be planning on being around as US coach for awhile since it is unlikely that his cadre of young German talent will gel with the rest of the team in a couple of weeks. We'll see if that strategy works for him and the US Men's National Team - it didn't work so well for Tom Sermanni on the women's side.

  19. Jim Caldwell , June 12, 2014 at 1:07 a.m.

    "Only one of these seven comes under that heading -- Jermaine Jones (who, anyway, as a notoriously undisciplined player should not even be considered for the US national team)." Paul Gardner, are you serious? Complete crap. Love him or hate him, Jermaine Jones has put the work in on this team long before Klinsmann came aboard. He's the only player since Gooch who could go chest to chest with anyone in CONCACAF and instill fear in them. He's the only USMNT field player to play serious - and starting - minutes in Champions League. That whole undisciplined tag is way overplayed, I'm glad he's digging in and tackling for USA.

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