How German is Klinsmann's comfort zone?

By Mike Woitalla

The number six jumped out at me when Jurgen Klinsmann released the U.S. starting lineup for Wednesday’s game against Germany.

Six foreign-raised starters. Four from Klinsmann’s native Germany, a Norwegian and an Icelandic product. A fifth German came off the bench.

For sure, the USA has benefited from U.S.-eligible players who were raised abroad before Klinsmann arrived. The contributions of German Tom Dooley and Dutch-raised Earnie Stewart to the U.S. national team were enormously important for American soccer.

But under Klinsmann, who has also brought into the program Germanic coaches Andi Herzog, Matthias Hamann and Berti Vogts, giving opportunities to German products has become a major part of his strategy. They don’t even have to be Bundesliga stars.

So I continually wonder how Klinsmann’s use of foreign-raised stars will affect the progress of American soccer in the long run. When Alfredo Morales has played 10 times for the USA without demonstrating extraordinary qualities -- are we denying opportunities for players raised within our shores?

When foreign-raised players get so much playing time -- how does that strike the American coaches across the country whom Klinsmann, also U.S. Soccer Technical Director, is supposed to inspire?

After this extraordinary week for U.S. soccer, I think I’m a little less worried about the situation. Klinsmann’s team that upset Germany may have been stacked with foreign products, but we’ve also seen young U.S. products shine. Bobby Wood, for example, a hero with gamewinning goals in the 2-1 win over Germany and 4-3 victory over the Dutch five days earlier.

There’s Jordan Morris, who helped the U-23s in their third-place finish at the Toulon Festival and came off the bench against Germany for his fifth U.S. appearance as a 20-year-old.

Klinsmann gave defender Ventura Alvarado the shot he deserved for his success with Club America and has kept faith in the promising 22-year-old despite shaky some spells.

Rubio Rubin, currently starring with quarterfinalist USA at the U-20 World Cup, was capped at age 18 by Klinsmann.

As long as Klinsmann is bringing in German products because they can truly raise the level of the national team -- 22-year-old central defender John Brooks may be such as an example -- and not because coaching Germans is in his comfort zone, that’s OK.

Still, if the USA continues starting teams that are half comprised of foreign products, there’s a problem somewhere.

33 comments about "How German is Klinsmann's comfort zone? ".
  1. Winston Stewart, June 11, 2015 at 7:15 p.m.

    Your last name is Woitalla; is that a native American name? Just asking as you seem to suffer from not so subtle xenophobia. The fact is, apart from the native Americans, every "citizen" of this great country of ours have their roots in another country.

    The reason I dislike your article is that it is not sincere. If you have a problem with JK bringing in help from Americans born overseas or who have overseas connections, then simply say so. Don't pretend that you were genuinely examining the psyche of JK, because you were not.

  2. Florencio Amaya, June 11, 2015 at 7:51 p.m.

    What JK is doing is great for American soccer, he is pushing the young American player to better them self and the pressure is working how can you not see that if you know anything about the game.

  3. Joe Linzner, June 11, 2015 at 8:03 p.m.

    Isn't it incredible how covertly xenophobia raises it's ugly head? Every one of those players have legitimate American ties and although bi-lingual, as am I, (Naturalized, thus American by choice)they have every right to represent the USA. Thus I find your article offensive and rather shallow.
    Since you find fault with JK's use of these players, please advise him of legitimate alternate players with attributes equal to these "foreigners"

  4. Ric Fonseca, June 11, 2015 at 8:28 p.m.

    Holy mackarel, when I first saw the headline for this piece, I was hoping that Mike W would've focused on Klinsmann's own native-birth and background, not, as the three comments above point out on the piece's xenophobic tone. And I also find it unbecoming of not just the author but of SA, why because I too am a naturalized US Citizen and an American by way of Mexico my country of birth (the term "American" is actually applicable to ALL of us born in the Americas, from Alaska to Tierra del Fuego) And so, would I be excoriated by the readers if I were to point out "How Latino is Tab Ramos' Comfort Zone," by virtue of how many "Latinos" are on his team? And readers might recall that some months ago there were a helluva lot of comments on this very issue that SA printed, but instead of lamenting on the number of "Americans" of German descent, they were about the number of "Americans" of Latino descent. Go figure.

  5. Raymond Weigand, June 11, 2015 at 8:30 p.m.

    My take: The coach has a current trend of playing kids who are fit (really fit!) and understand how to play as a team. I like Thomas Dooley - his fitness and game intelligence (aka distribution) during the 1994 World Cup is an excellent role model for today's player ... Dooley made his teammates into stars! Michael Bradley plays a similar way - probably not a surprise that he learned from a former National Team coach - the value of teamwork. Gyasi Zardes could be the future - he is young and already understands how to play a team style (probably not a big surprise as his primary coach for most of his career is also a former National Team coach). It's not so much about where you are from or where you have been ... it's probably more about what you learned while you were there and how much you are able to teach. (and before you folks scoff at Gyasi ... just rewatch the games he is in and watch from a team perspective and notice all the setups he gives to teammates and the fitness to find the space to give his teammates another option - in a timely manner)

  6. Anthony Siano, June 11, 2015 at 8:35 p.m.

    Wow! Is there never any end to the Klinsmann bashing? The team beats The Netherlands and Germany and the SA posting is, "Does the MNT have too many players with ties to Germany?" Xenophobia is too kind a word.
    Why isn't the discussion about the dividends coming from JK giving Michael Bradley the "helm" of the team or keeping the goalkeeping at the highest levels while respecting Tim Howard's need for a sabbatical. Or most fundamentally, the stepped up offensive play and enhanced technical skills our players are demonstrating. And I notice that today's MNT gives as many hard challenges as we take--and don't back down. That's a nice change, too!
    The call-ups shoot and score--not put the ball over the net or wide. Where is the citation of "too many" Germany-connected players on our U-23 or U-20 teams.
    This repeated sniping at JL is just a diversion from the past several years' history of the "talking heads'" flawed and incorrect criticisms of Klinsmann's coaching.
    Where is there any significant proof that any player of quality is being turned away by JK?

  7. Ric Fonseca, June 11, 2015 at 8:40 p.m.

    Also, if "there is a problem somwhere" vis-a-vis why there aren't more US born players on Klinsmann's teams, the finger must be pointed inward, meaning that it is the likes of the nature of the coaching beast, from the has-been "pro" Brits, Latinos (Mexican, Argentine, Central American, Brazilians, and other Europeans that are more interested in learning how to work the youth "developmental" pool, i.e. how to earn lots of dollars, and parents succumb to the "foreign-accented" former "pros." And outward because many of us who've been in the trenches, not to omit the so called "soccer talent search groups, e.g. Alianza," that are in it for the money. So the "somewhere" of the "problem" is in our very own front and backyards, the local pay-for-play clubs, and pseudo coaches, as well as the affiliated and unaffiliated youth soccer clubs and leagues, leading up to and including the state, regional, and national soccer associations, and landing dab smack in the middle of MLS (that has a penchant for signing "foreign" players from all parts of the soccer playing globe. And the beat goes on!

  8. Raymond Weigand, June 11, 2015 at 8:52 p.m.

    Ric - your comment has so many layers to consider. My take: I seemed to recall a study where USA players do better against non-USA teams in tournaments when the ages are U14 and younger ... the coaching priorities begin to diverge after U14 - where the non-USA teams begin to focus on game intelligence and the USA player continues to become even more physically and technically gifted.

  9. Raymond Weigand, June 11, 2015 at 9:02 p.m.

    Ric - in other words - keep coaching - keep moving forward - there is too much uncertainty to consider to make a proper analysis. After all, how many coaches did Maradona name as his influence ... I think he learned from watching and doing. (... he named Rivelino and George Best) Tomorrow's superstars will be ignoring their coaches and naming Messi ... and Messi.

  10. John Mcdermott, June 11, 2015 at 9:05 p.m.

    I think Mike's point is pretty clear. Klinsmann has surrounded himself with German-speaking coaches and has brought an unprecedented number of US-eligible players who learned the game in Germany. The question of "comfort zone" is a legitimate one to ask. I believe the answer to that question is that it certainly doesn't hurt someone's chances if they come from the same system that produced the coach. I think Mike is also saying clearly he has no problem with such players when they clearly bring something that elevates the team. But that has not always been the case. And when a mediocre "German" gets more opportunity to show what he can(or can't) do than an equally-talented native-born player than that doesn't help to advance the game in this country. Neither does hiring coaches from Germany and Austria who will not be staying here when Klinsmann's time inevitably comes to an end. Moreover, what message do Klinsmann's staffing choices send to American coaches? Andi Herzog? Hamann(not even the well-known one) and the "German Bora", Berti Vogts? When Fabio Capello was hired as the England manager he was required-and it was his also his desire-to hire a prominent young English coach as an assistant, one who could be seen as an eventual England coach. Why US Soccer has not required Klinsmann to do that is hard to fathom.

  11. Ginger Peeler, June 11, 2015 at 9:51 p.m.

    Mike Is not xenophobic...he's addressing all those posts of the last couple weeks prior to the U.S./Netherlands game that WERE xenophobic. And he pointed out how JK was giving our U.S.-born players their opportunity. Case in point: Jordan Morris, who he noticed when our team was scrimmaging Stanford. JK is keeping an eye out for talented players on our continent, too. The U.S. is so big, I think it's more difficult to identify some of our very talented players. The kid needs to be in the right place at the right time to be "discovered". But Mike was saying that he does not see the obvious signs of favoritism that JK was being accused of.

  12. Mark Konty, June 11, 2015 at 11:10 p.m.

    What do you say about the players raised in the US, developed as players in the US, but went to play for Serbia and Italy? Anyone recall how many of the players from France's '98 World Cup team were "natives?" Didn't think so. My point is that in the global society we shouldn't be surprised, nor anxious, about where our players come from. The rule is simple, if they qualify for a passport, they qualify to play. 'Nuff said.

  13. Allan Lindh, June 11, 2015 at 11:19 p.m.

    Too many German coaches? What country has had the best international record of late? And the best development system? With maybe 80-100 players in the pipe-line that can really play? And a national league built on German players? Who else should we be learning from? England? How have they done of late? JK is an arrogant jerk, but learning from Germans about the German approach to player development and organization -- that seems like a hell of a good idea.

  14. Santiago 1314, June 11, 2015 at 11:54 p.m.

    I've made it pretty clear that I think JK is a Wierdo, Jerk, Prick... But, where is the proof that "American" kids are being left off for "Foreign" raised kids...Name the players from MLS, that are better??? The 4 players that let US down the most at Last WC, were.. Davis, Wondo, Jozy, and Zusi... It's OFFENSIVE to even hear a Fellow American Question the Bonafides of a US Passport Holders Right to Represent this Great Country...Shame on You, Mike..

  15. Paula Barrett, June 12, 2015 at 12:16 a.m.

    John McDermott:

    I couldn't have said it better myself!

  16. BJ Genovese, June 12, 2015 at 1:35 a.m.

    Right or wrong, players that are with clubs overseas at all youth levels are given extra attentiona by our national team scouts. It legitimizes there potential to say this kid plays at the La Masia. But there at the La Masia for a reason... right? Maybe they are there becuase they are good. There are alot of good players in the US youth system... but they are lacking one thing that can get them that golden star on there CV... and that is dual citizenship.

  17. R2 Dad, June 12, 2015 at 2:39 a.m.

    Part of this is just click-baiting, but I think the focus is "how does that strike the American coaches across the country whom Klinsmann, also U.S. Soccer Technical Director, is supposed to inspire?" I don't think I want our Technical Director to inspire american coaches. I want american coaches to be embarrassed their training methods, lack of development and overall suckage is entirely inadequate and to chase them out of the game. There is no reforming these crappy kick-and-runners and the sooner they leave the better. Here's the litmus test, crappy coach: Do you insist on playing out of the back? If the answer is No, everything else follows and you are entirely inadequate to train our U8s. Go do something else. You are polluting the minds of our soccer youth AND THEIR PARENTS. I hope JK publicly shames you, Mr/Mrs Direct Play Coach, for your suckage. Look at the ratings for the USMNT vs Germany. Our attackers and midfield did fine, it's our defenders that are the weakness. Do the math!

  18. Ric Fonseca, June 12, 2015 at 2:48 a.m.

    Santiago, for some reason or other you have it against JK, then again you're right that Davis, Wondo, Jazzy, and Susie Q, let our team down; and to Ginger, to say that JK shoulda been told by the US Soccer honchos to hire a US coach, is difficult to swallow, as he did just that during his first years, he had his old buddy Martin Vazquez (a Mexican born, but US Coaching school trained) as one of his coaches, and several others, and then when he wasn't getting the players, well, he was let go as was Martin's old buddy Carlos Juarez.
    So you see to conjure up what if and could-shoulda at this stage, is specious.

  19. Ginger Peeler, June 12, 2015 at 6:07 a.m.

    Ric, I didn't say anything at all about JK hiring coaches. Please don't blame me for someone else's post. You've attacked me for something I never said. My post was only to point out that Mike Woitalia is not xenophobic.

  20. Pat Mancke, June 12, 2015 at 7:51 a.m.

    I agree with your concern, but if you look at Germany they also have done this and look at their success. Excuse the spelling in advance
    Podalsky, Klose, Ozil, Botang. Feel free to add others if you know of any. I'm just happy we got away from any the Brittish influence and now have a German presence to emulate.

  21. David Mont, June 12, 2015 at 8:14 a.m.

    So typical of today's mentality in this country. When faced with an uncomfortable truth, just label the bearer of the truth xenophobic, racist, bigot... I guess it makes one feel superior, and of course there is no need to actually debate the point. Don't you understand that it has nothing to do with the kind of last name a player has, but where he was brought up! Podolsky, Klose, Ozil, Boateng -- were all developed as players in Germany! Contrast that with almost half of the US team that had nothing to do with US soccer until invited to play for the national team. Klinsmann has shown clear preference for German players. Look at Chandler, whose defensive skills are non-existent, is always directly responsible for a goal or two a game, yet always has a place in the starting line-up. Or if you take the same Chandler -- Klinsmann easily forgot his sabbatical from the national team and took him to Brazil. Yet, a sabbatical from soccer by Donovan, whose contributions to the US soccer slightly exceed that of Chandler's, was never forgiven. Or Danny Williams who had a very mediocre outing against Holland but scored a somewhat lucky goal, according to Klinsmann had "earned a starting place" against Germany, yet Yedlin, Wood, and Morris who showed much more impressively against Holland, didn't. Or Green, who was clearly way out of his league playing for the national team last year, and even today is not much of a contributor at the junior level, somehow got himself a ticket to Brazil last year. Or remember how publicly and strongly Klinsmann criticized Bradley and Dempsey for returning to the MLS, yet he never said a word about Jermaine Jones coming to the MLS. This all stems from Klinsmann's strong belief that US-raised players are inherently inferior to European.

  22. Raymond Weigand, June 12, 2015 at 12:31 p.m.

    click baiting ... haha ... I like that. I get that JK finds the fittest team players available and he challenges them to put even more effort into their game and he employs competition for positions as reinforcement. My take is that JK has done what a good manager does ... put the challenge out there and reward the best of the best who are willing to put in the time and effort to make the organization better. I bet he knows that the defense can be better ... and I bet that it will be. Probably will reach out to an Italian defenseive coach ... hah! If you want to be the best ... you have to be opened to learning from the best!

  23. Clayton Davis, June 12, 2015 at 12:54 p.m.

    I don't think the author is saying anything xenophobic. The fact is that the number of Americans learning soccer in this country is far greater than the number of players with US ties overseas who learn it. If such a high proportion overseas become elite that means that our own domestic development program is severely lacking. While I think JK is overrated as a coach and certainly as a communicator he is very poor, his contributions as a technical director might bear fruit.

  24. Rick Estupinan, June 12, 2015 at 3:16 p.m.

    This is what I think of JK, that maybe he is not a good communicator.During games you hardly see him actively encouraging his players from the side lines,to go forward,to keep running,to...whatever a good coach does to let the players know that he is watching their every moves.
    One good thing he should do,(and maybe he does)is to get all the players together and watch the entire games,the ones against Holland and Germany,and pinpoint the good plays and the mistakes done during those games.And after congratulating them an encouraging to do better next time.I think that in the long run it will help them a lot.

  25. Kent James, June 13, 2015 at 8:43 a.m.

    Mike W is not being xenophobic; he is asking a nuance, multi-level question. First, it is at least interesting that he started so many German-Americans in the game against Germany in Germany. Was this a conscious tactic? Did he think the German-Americans would not be intimidated by the quality of the German team? Or even more nuanced, did he try to get the Germans overconfident by putting out a team of Germans who weren't good enough for the German national team? Or was it just coincidence? Second, clearly JK admires German soccer, which is not surprising; Germany are the world champions and have created a tremendous soccer development system. But is there a downside to this admiration? Does it blind JK to other, almost as good but potentially more relevant systems of development/play (such as those in Latin America)?

  26. Kent James, June 13, 2015 at 9:01 a.m.

    The German-Americans that JK has recruited are all solid players. So far, none have become stars (well, Jone's WC performance does merit that status). While I think Chandler has not earned the playing time he's given, Johnson and Williams have generally done well, but will never be stars at the international level; maybe Brooks and Green could be, but it's a bit early to tell. So the question is are the players he's recruited actually better than domestic US players, or does JK simply prefer them because they developed in the German system JK admires? Or is this simply an example of JK's arrogance; he thinks he is better than the German national team coaches in spotting talent, because he is able to see the talent they've missed? Additionally, while it is admirable that JK scours the globe looking for US-tied players who could enhance the national team, sometimes the focus seems to be limited to Germany (though if it were limited to one place, that would be appropriate because of the military presence that has created an abundance of Germans with American heritage). In this global age, it is not unusual to see national team players with ties to more than one country. But what is unusual, is to see players playing for countries that they only visit for national team games. Then it seems to evolve into a more 'mercenary' situation; unable to produce our own national team players of any caliber, we result to hiring players from abroad. This is not to impugn the patriotic feelings of any of the German-American players; I have seen nothing to indicate that these players do not wholeheartedly support the US team. But the preponderance of players of such backgrounds does suggest a lack of confidence in the players in the current system. And I don't think the American players are so bad that the only way we can compete is by hiring talent from abroad. So sure, bring in the best players from abroad who are willing to play for the US, but don't be biased in their favor simply because they are from a system you prefer.

  27. Mark Hardt, June 13, 2015 at 6:04 p.m.

    First off I am a polish american so I recognize your name. From one pole to another you are completely missing the point on Klinsman. He is not pro German he is pro think out of the box and treasure hunting in unusual places. He did the exact same thing in the 2006 WC. Miroslav Klos is Polish born. LEt me repeat that Klos is pole just like you. Klinsi also nabbed Turks and Spaniards for his team. Klinsi loves to treasure hunt. What are the odds of finding someone born in Mobile, Alabama in the Icelandic system? Or a kid from Oslo whose Mom is American? How extreme is his treasure hunting? Well how about a Stanford Junior from Vancouver, Washington. HE IS AN AMATEUR. This is not a German thing this thinking out of the box. What a Polack you are. I can say that you know like the N word in rap videos.

  28. Scott Johnson, June 14, 2015 at 1:17 a.m.

    I though Jordan Morris was from Seattle; his dad is a team doctor with the Sounders IIRC. If he was from the Couv, it was when he was quite young...

  29. Ginger Peeler, June 14, 2015 at 4:20 p.m.

    Mark H..."treasure hunt"? I love it!!! What a perfect description of the way Klinsmann finds players for our national team. He does seem to have a knack for finding something in players that others may not see. That's not to say he's infallible, but, for the most part, he seems to bring out the players' faith in themselves and their team mates. Wish I knew what the odds were in Vegas for the USMNT when they pulled off the Netherlands and German wins. Both were accomplished by a combination of Klinsmann's "treasures" from the mainland and abroad. Here's to the Treasure Hunt!!!

  30. Mark Hardt, June 15, 2015 at 12:47 p.m.

    my bad Morris was born in Seattle, Washington to Michael and Leslie Morris; his father, Dr. Michael Morris is the Chief Medical Director of Seattle Sounders FC.[14] he has three siblings named Christopher, Julian and Talia.[15] He attended Mercer Island High School.

  31. Lonaka K, June 19, 2015 at 8:58 a.m.

    National team selection at all levels is a difficult task. What Us Soccer has to instill is a fair and comprehensive system. Especially at the college level, NT coaches need to keep an open mind on evaluating players. I believe that a player matures mentally and physically at around the age of 23. When evaluating players you have to keep in mind how well will he develop by 23. Yes there are exceptions. I don't think there has not been a World Cup champion who's roster was populated with teen age wonders. For the most part many of them were around the 30 yr mark. As long as the selection process is fair and complete, It doesn't matter where the player was born or raised, as long as they are U.S. Citizens.

  32. c abraham, June 24, 2015 at 8:25 a.m.

    Mike's article is not about xenophobia. This is a topic worthy of discussion. US citizens are US citizens. But, where they grow up and train may make a difference when trying to convince the best athletes in America to choose soccer over other sports like American football, basketball, etc. The kids growing up and training within our borders need to know there's a path for them to the national team and beyond. In the end, I side with Klinsmann on this. The best players and training are in Europe. Our players need to understand this and spend some time over there. That's the path for the foreseeable future. This is how the nations that are outside of Europe that have been the most successful have done it for years, e.g., Argentina, Brazil, etc. Their top players train and prove their metal in Europe. Why should the US be different? We are far from ready to be different. It's okay. Europe won't bite and the kids may learn something along the way to bring back home. Of course, there should be opportunities for players who primarily train in America and we need to continue to improve our training. But it's impossible to duplicate the competition level and the world cup stage is not the place to experiment.

  33. Santiago 1314, June 25, 2015 at 5:24 p.m.

    @Chris,... agree

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