Commentary

Klinsmann and Walton cast shadow over MLS Cup

Paul Gardner

As MLS bows gracefully (well, that’s my hope) off the soccer scene for a short while, and the English Premier League prepares to dominate the TV screens over the holidays, it’s the moment to sort out some loose ends, or at least raise them as talking points.

MLS Cup 2014 for a start. It’s tempting to view this game, not as the Galaxy vs. the Revs, but as Landon Donovan vs Jermaine Jones, which really boils down to Landon Donovan vs. Jurgen Klinsmann. We can thank Klinsmann for that interpretation, because he is the one who keeps praising Jones as his ideal player, and he is the one who decided this past summer that Donovan is not good enough for the U.S. (that is, Klinsmann’s) national team. Fair enough. So Donovan and Jones will clash - possibly directly - in this climactic game.

To that extent, Klinsmann’s judgment in on the line. A distraction of course. Who the hell cares about Klinsmann’s judgment? There can be no discussion. It is awful. The absurd Donovan decision made that clear. If it was a soccer decision, then Klinsmann cannot escape the charge of incompetence, and simply does not belong in his job. If it was a decision based on personal considerations, Klinsmann should quit, not so much for incompetence as for unworthiness.

During a recent interview with SI.com’s Grant Wahl, Galaxy coach Bruce Arena had his say on Klinsmann’s policy of encouraging young U.S. players to go to Europe: “I don’t agree with that . . . We know from experience that European clubs are more experienced and have more resources than us. I don’t think they necessarily know anything more about soccer. I don’t think there’s any reason to believe that we can’t develop elite players here. And we should encourage our elite players to stay here, and we should have the resources to keep them here. We can develop players here ... Jurgen only knows Europe. He doesn’t know the United States as well as he needs to ... He’s got to learn our culture and our system a little bit better. And help make it better. It’s part of his job.”

Precisely. But unfortunately it’s a part of the job that Klinsmann has already shown he either doesn’t care about or is incapable of acknowledging. So he will continue this tangled business of telling young Americans they have to challenge themselves (by moving to Europe) while telling the young quasi-Americans who grew up in Germany that they should not challenge themselves by trying to play for Germany, but should take the no doubt easier option of playing for the USA.

Klinsmann is a clear example of the dangers presented to American soccer by the foreign experts. Because the American game has now reached the stage where it needs to stand on its own feet and -- yes -- to make, and learn from, its own mistakes. Klinsmann’s constant refrain that American players are not good enough and that MLS is inferior is not helpful -- particularly as Klinsmann’s efforts at building the U.S. national team have not produced anything that looks like progress.

Another foreign expert -- one who will also likely have an influence on MLS Cup -- is Peter Walton, the English referee who was brought in three years ago to show Americans how to referee. This was MLS at its worst, simply not knowing what it was doing. There was nothing wrong with American refereeing anyway, certainly nothing that necessitated the import of questionable English refereeing practices.

I can see absolutely no sign -- after three years! -- of any improvement in American refereeing. Walton has imported the English obsession with simulation (which gave us, this season, two of the most laughably inept decisions imaginable), and the English notion that it’s OK to give cozy little chats, instead of cards, to players who commit fouls. An approach that, of course, encourages fouling.

Walton’s referee choice for MLS Cup is Mark Geiger. I have great admiration for Geiger’s refereeing. Or at least, I did ... but lately it seems clear to me that Walton’s influence has taken hold, and Geiger has joined the let ‘em foul school. If that is the style of refereeing that Geiger employs on Sunday it will have an effect on the game. Not, to my way of thinking, a positive one.

I mentioned the English obsession with simulation, a distorted gospel so faithfully spread here by Walton. I hope that Walton watched last Sunday’s Southampton-Manchester City EPL game. When he would have seen a disgraceful diving call by referee Mike Jones against Sergio Aguero. Not even the English TV commentators, usually so quick to announce that “he went down too easily,” could excuse this one. A blatant foul by defender Jose Fonte -- sweeping both of Aguero’s legs away, no contact with the ball. A cast-iron penalty kick. If referee Jones had bothered to look, he would have seen the Fonte desperately pointing to the ground outside the area, clearly admitting the foul, but claiming (deceitfully) that it was outside the area. So who was cheating here?

None of that mattered to Jones, who yellow-carded Aguero for simulation. A call, I think, even worse than the one MLS produced back in August with Allen Chapman’s shocker against the Revs’ Charlie Davies.

But, whereas MLS commish Don Garber called a sudden press phone-in to protest vehemently about the way Klinsmann was trashing MLS, not a sound has been heard from the league about Walton’s inadequacies. Explicable, I suppose, in the sense that MLS appointed Walton. They made an error, and they’re not about to admit it. Panning Klinsmann comes a lot easier -- that was Sunil Gulati’s error, he made that appointment.

Everything I’ve been discussing points in one direction: That soccer continues to grow in the USA, that it has by now reached a pretty sophisticated stage where forelock-tugging to foreign experts should be a thing of the past. Americans are now quite capable of applying intelligent judgment to decide what sort of foreign help -- if any -- is needed.

From where I’m sitting, the contributions of Jurgen Klinsmann and Peter Walton are not helping. Rather the opposite, I’m afraid.

16 comments about "Klinsmann and Walton cast shadow over MLS Cup".
  1. Andy Grudich, December 5, 2014 at 8:33 p.m.

    I can't believe I am going to say this, but I agree 100% with Paul. I never agree with Paul and usually read two paragraphs of his articles and quit. But today I think he is spot on. I don't agree with most of what Klinsmann has said or done. I also have not seen great progress in US Soccer. I know we got out of the group of death, but show me what he did that was so great that we got out. It was our usual grit, toughness, and American optimism, the belief that we can win on any day that got us through. Just like Bob Bradley and Bruce Arena. I was a Klinsmann supporter and was very excited we hired him. I think we would be better off if Klinsmann took an EPL job. Paul is exactly right, the days of bringing foreign coaches in to tell us how to do things is over. We have plenty of qualified American coaches who understand the American soccer scene and culture better than an odd German transplant.

  2. Brendan Coyne, December 5, 2014 at 9:21 p.m.

    No, I disagree. JK is really on to something. Yes he has taken an unpopular opinion, an opinion the "old guard" (no offense) will of course take pains to refute.
    Soccer in the US may indeed be on the rise, but that has done nothing but show us how far we must go.
    Oh, blame JK for the result in the World Cup? I am going to turn that around and blame the system that developed our boys and groomed them for the USMNT.
    JK did not have a role in how his talent was developed. The "world class" training the boys received over their soccer careers, all of it, from the greatest in our land (FOR EMPHASIS: THE GREATEST COACHES AND TRAINING FACILITIES IN THE LAND), did not result in talent good enough to win more than one match in the World Cup.
    Oh blame it on not having Donovan, that is convenient but it means nothing in the big picture and you HAVE to look at the big picture.
    You cannot honestly say our team belongs on the same tier as some of our national opponents. It's a symphony of the world class versus the garage band of our system.
    Now, I am not Mr. Soccer as many here no doubt are, but as an objective observer, I do believe the status quo needs to be challenged and I agree Klinsman is a perfect counterpoint to the current establishment. Sadly, the guillotine was raised as soon as he uttered his now famous opinion on the state of US Soccer.
    I love MLS and how it is fostering a love for the sport, but the new lemmings will soon learn the truth and the US had better be prepared when that time comes.
    We need to start by being honest with ourselves and not stifling dissent that will lead to progression to the next level of soccer.
    US/MLS Soccer is not the NFL, MLB or NBA equivalent. We could only be so lucky if that day is ever to come. It's certainly not going to come as a result of a system that fosters closed development of its national players, that is for sure.

  3. Frank Cardone, December 5, 2014 at 10:09 p.m.

    Excellent review of major issues by Paul Gardner. Earlier this week I wrote a letter to Mr. Gulati and recommended that the USSF bite the bullet and send JK and send his enormous ego back to California. My reasons: His infantile decision re Donovan, his scouring of Germany for "American" players, his emphasis on "nasty" players like Jermaine Jones, a player virtually expelled from Germany, and his lack of respect for MLS. The sooner he leaves the scene, the better.

  4. beautiful game, December 5, 2014 at 10:43 p.m.

    Watched the women's college semifinal Texas A&M v Virginia. Virginia player intercepts the ball and a Texas A&M player attempts a shoulder to shoulder challenge which leaves the A&M player on the ground, due to huge size disadvantage. The Virginia player keeps possession of the ball and is heading up field un-impeded when the ref decides to blow the whistle for a foul on the A&M player. What made this ref blow the whistle?

  5. Lou vulovich, December 5, 2014 at 10:57 p.m.

    Paul, I think the Donavan issue should be dropped, I agree that Klinsmann made a mistake not taking LD if it was a personal problem he should have set that aside until after the world cup. As far as bringing German Americans I don't see a problem they are Americans and should always be an option for the US National team. As for Jermaine Jones i don't see him as being a dirty player, at times he is overly intense and may cross the line but you will not win without one or two players like Jones.
    As for Arena saying the US can develop players as well as European clubs I respectfully disagree I have not see it yet. American players are going to Europe for more opportunity that is the primary reason, as the US has done a very poor job of identifying talent.
    As for the Refereeing in the MLS and the USA soccer in general it is light years behind and will not catch up anytime soon, players have improved and coaches have improved refereeing has regressed.
    EPL referees will clearly make call for and against British players completely different than foreign players and so does the English FA, there are many examples but the foreigner players are well payed and the foreign coaches are gentleman if the y want to stay in England employed and no one says a word.
    As for Klinsmann he needs to continue to bring players into friendlies 20 somethings from the MLS. THAT WAS TO BE HIS STRENGTH NOT TACTICS.

  6. R2 Dad, December 6, 2014 at 12:50 a.m.

    "pretty sophisticated stage"? Oh, you jest, PG. Our country is the soccer equivalent of a million monkeys on typewriters--eventually something decent is produced, mostly by sheer accident. We are statistically underperfoming given our vast numbers and wealth. Klinsmann was brought in to find a way to deconstruct and rebuild our senior side--no other MLS or college coach has the experience, the gravitas, the ability to drag us there. OK, the Donovan thing backfired when Jozy went down and JK was lucky to get as far as he did in Brazil. But big picture, Klinsmann is tasked with getting today's 18 year olds to develop decent soccer brains by playing against Euro league players/teams that expect that--MLS does not. Yes MLS is financially viable, but look at the style of play and the number of our youngsters playing weekly in it (maybe half a dozen). It's very direct, the defending is usually primitive, creative players jump ship ASAP, and the refereeing facilitates this (thank you Garber & Walton). Will JK be able to implement the 4-3-3 with the players he will have in 2018? Maybe, but we should continue to try and fail until our number of skilled players reaches critical mass. Tab Ramos is our future USMNT leader--stop talking nonsense about these college and MLS coaches who know nothing, whose teams can't hold possession and whose players they've recruited can't execute the fundamentals. They are dead ends.

  7. Ron L, December 6, 2014 at 12:53 a.m.

    Many people may not like what JK said but there is truth in it. Arena is one of the few people who demonstrates that JK is not entirely correct. The Galaxy Academy is one of the strongest around. There are other MLS clubs with great Academy system but less than 5. As far as Walton, we need to send him back to the bogs of his homeland. He is going to hurt our Referee getting to the World Cup because what he thinks will make MLS sell not what is proper soccer. We have better homegrown leadership already in PRO that have World Cup experience.

  8. Thomas Sullivan, December 6, 2014 at 10:58 a.m.

    Agree with PG. JK's poor personnel decisions extend way beyond Donovan. Julian Green has played exactly 1 game while on loan. He got a lucky goal in the WC, who was he better than? Donovan was vastly superior to at least half the WC team. Take Nguyen or even Hercules over Julian Green any day. Bad decisions on bad decisions are JK's legacy.

  9. Gunther Charles, December 6, 2014 at 11:18 a.m.

    I am one of those guys who do not always support Paul Garner but in this particular case I will. There was/is not a half good reason to have an Englishman here in the US to train our referees. Look at the "Premier League" Referees, most of them have no clue what they are doing, can't run, they are in terrible position to see the foul committed, some of them to lazy and not even making the effort to be in the area where things happen. But most of them it seems, their FIFA badge comes out of a department store. Why is Mr. Walton here? What in the hell do we owe him. Personally I take any licensed US Instructor here in the US and let them teach, at least our Referees learn something. If you all look back, the US has one of the best instructional programs for any referee who wants to get better, trust me, I know. Who is at the helm in England. Mr. Riley, Mr. Mason, Mr. Clattenberg?? Get serious guys look at the facts before you start ridiculing our Referees.
    One more thing. Mr. James the so called German midfield player is one of the dirtiest player there is, if he is that great wouldn't you think that Germany would have kept him?

  10. John Soares, December 6, 2014 at 2 p.m.

    The USA has what it has as a team. It is not Spain or Germany. Degrading your players in public or constantly complaining about "their" ability or lack of, will not improve the team, but has the potential to make it worse. Agree or disagree with JK's "technical" ability as a coach. IF; he is going to improve this team. He will need to do it with actions and put a sock in it.
    A good coach always finds a positive to talk about while (quietly) correcting the deficiencies. As to "telling the truth". Not all truths need be told. Certainly not in public

  11. Frank Drescher, December 6, 2014 at 3:12 p.m.

    Klinsmann is trying to make soccer better in the USA. MLS is comparable to a third division European soccer league. If we have US players train with better players in Europe they will get better. If we buy our best players back from Europe to play with less sophisticated players they will get worse. Why is this so difficult to understand?

  12. Vince Leone, December 6, 2014 at 5:56 p.m.

    I realized that Paul's judgement can't be trusted in regard to Donovan when Gardner claimed that Donovan is better than Obafemi Martins. Both players bring different skill sets, obviously, but in what universe is LD better than Martins? I'm not a Sounders fan, but I'm happy to watch them play to see Martins. When is the last time you turned on the TV so you could watch Donovan?

  13. Kent James, December 6, 2014 at 7:32 p.m.

    I am mostly in Gardner's corner on this one; with this being LD's last game, I think this will (thankfully) be the last we hear about JK's poor decision there, but I think it is legitimate for PG to bring it up, because it was the first time I really felt JK had blown something (not so much to not take LD, but to pretend it was because he wasn't good enough a week early without us getting a chance to see that in a friendly game). US soccer ain't perfect (as we all know), but neither should we look for a foreign savior; implementing the changes cannot be put on the shoulders of one coach. The issue with German Americans is not that we should not look there for talent, but it just seems that JK uses that as a crutch (or at least preferences them over players developed in the US). And finally, while the MLS does not have the quality of the EPL or any major European league, for the USMNT to be good, we need the MLS to develop many of the players. Telling any potential USMNT players to go to Europe (and skip the MLS) will not help the league. Sure, some players should go to Europe for some time (but not all), and they should not be disrespected if they come back; that's what we need. Good player go to Europe, get experience, then bring that back to the MLS to raise the quality here.

  14. Alex G. Sicre, December 8, 2014 at 2:13 p.m.

    Sorry Vince, I've turned on the TV to watch Landon Donovan every chance I could to watch him play for the Galaxy. Never to watch your Obafemi for any reason.

  15. Ref Evaluator, December 9, 2014 at 9:54 a.m.

    R2 DAD, well said. Fully agree with you. It is embarrassing for a country of our size and wealth to not be able to produce one truly world class player.

  16. Ref Evaluator, December 9, 2014 at 9:55 a.m.

    John, I think we are past that point of our leaders not challenging our failed system openly. We tried your way and it has done nothing positive.

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