No other national team coach has had the gravitas to speak out on the state of American soccer and no other coach has been more willing to speak
There has always been a bluntness to Klinsmann's comments that has rubbed many people the wrong way. There is little nuance to how he speaks, few qualifiers, little hyperbole and no sarcasm. "It is what is is," comes up a lot. Not a lot of "Whatever," a favorite of, say, Bruce Arena. Agree with it or not, Klinsmann's matter-of-factness has been consistent. But rarely, until now, has he been dismissive.
Klinsmann has spoken out on all aspects of American soccer from Major League Soccer to the rec-club-college culture that pervades American soccer. Change is clearly so important to Gulati that he not only gave Klinsmann a new contract even before the USA played in the 2014 World Cup but he gave him unprecedented authority over the technical side of the federation. Would Gulati have made some of the same moves as Klinsmann has? Likely not. But the goal -- blow up American soccer as we've known it -- is so important that he's willingly gone along.
The great communicator continues to speak out. It's usually via USSoccer.com that he frequently gives lengthy and generally informative interviews on myriad topics about his players and the state of the game. In an interview he gave Steven Goff the Washington Post, Klinsmann spoke on two hot topics: his apparent favoritism of players based in Europe and Mexico to players in MLS and the conflicts caused by MLS's insistence to play through and immediately after the FIFA fixture calendar with seven games on tap between now and next Wednesday.
Like many topics, there is little or nothing you can argue about with Klinsmann.
-- On how he evaluates players and their club form, he says his staff analyzes the environment they play in and makes a point of emphasizing the day-to-day situation:
“When you play in the Premier League and Bundesliga, you are on your toes 24/7. If you make mistakes, you are going to hear from everybody. There are different levels of competition out there that I have to analyze, and I have to weigh in individually, ‘How good is that kid now?’ Maybe someone [in Europe] doesn’t get in the starting 11, but I know he is playing a high level week in and week out within his team. Players here in MLS, they do not have competition in their teams. It’s just the way it is. They are not putting national team players or Designated Players on the bench ...”
-- On the bind playing through the FIFA fixture calendar puts players in:
“It’s a lose-lose. He plays for the club, he misses out on the national team, or he’s playing for us and missing out on the club. Players are in the middle and feel very uncomfortable. They want to be with both teams. They want to do their job for both. It’s getting better but we are not there yet where it ideally should be.”
As I said, you can't argue with either point.
The only problem with Klinsmann and his bully-pulpit is that he uses it to talk about everything that might be wrong with America soccer except when it concerns his job as national team coach. And to make matters worse, if someone questions his performance, he or she might be dismissed as an ignorant American.
The extraordinary thing about Klinsmann's interview with Steven Goff is that he chose to rehash the 2015 Gold Cup, by any benchmark the low point of Klinsmann's four years as national team coach. The USA's fourth-place finish was the second lowest in its 25 years of participation in the tournament. But ever worse than the finish was how the USA played.
One of Klinsmann's favorite buzzwords is proactive, and the USA was anything but proactive for much of the tournament. If you throw out the Cuba and Jamaica games, the USA was outshot, 75-25, at the Gold Cup. These weren't world-beaters the USA was playing, but Honduras and Haiti, which have won a combined zero games in four appearances at the World Cup, and Panama, which has never played in the World Cup. The average Soccer America player ratings for the USA dropped from 5.96 at the 2013 Gold Cup and 5.83 at the 2014 World Cup to 4.79 at the 2015 Gold Cup.
Klinsmann preferred to talk about the USA's 2-1 loss to Jamaica in the semifinals.
“It was definitely our best game, [but] there were these [officiating] calls. Everybody was saying, ‘Yeah, that’s true, it’s crazy.’ Three days later, it was a loss against Jamaica, two mistakes on two set pieces, and suddenly it was bad coaching. People see the result and they think, ‘That must have been really bad.’”
One call Klinsmann cited was the rare call of a handball on goalkeeper Brad Guzan for crossing the penalty area as he was making an outlet pass. It led to a free kick and the second Jamaica goal. Should it have been called? Maybe, maybe not. But it certainly wasn't the worst call of the tournament. You want to talk about being Concacaf'd this summer? Ask Panama or Costa Rica.
As for losing on two set pieces, it wasn't the first time that's happened to the USA against Jamaica. In Klinsmann's first game with the USA against the Reggae Boyz, it suffered its first defeat in 18 meetings. Yes, it lost on two set pieces. Coincidence or bad coaching?
What is so surprising is that there wasn't exactly an outcry of highway robbery right after the defeat in Atlanta. Klinsmann didn't bring the Guzan call up in his post-game comments provided by U.S. Soccer. If anything, the Guzan call was quickly forgotten in the aftermath of the controversial Mexico-Panama match that followed the same evening. But neither was there a huge outcry about any bad coaching. It was generally noted as ironic that the USA played the best game of an otherwise poor tournament in the one game it lost outright.
Klinsmann first tried to look at the positive side, pointing out more people care about the national team than ever before and are vocal about sharing their opinions and now have an outlet to do so. But he didn't stop there:
“Do they understand really what happened in the Gold Cup? Some of them absolutely do and a lot of people don’t. I take it, it’s not a big deal. But it also explains we have a long way to go to educate people on the game of soccer still in this country.”
The suggestion, of course, is that people in other countries understand the game of soccer better. True? Who knows? But if it is true, I'd then ask. If Klinsmann was coaching Germany and it played like the USA did at the Gold Cup, what would Germans think? He'd have probably been sent back on the first plane back to California.
Big picture: I get the revolution that needs to happen and agree with just about every one of Klinsmann's recommendations (he had some excellent insight on what's bad about the American coaching culture in Part II of his interview with Goff). National team: I, for one, accept his most controversial decision: to stick with John Brooks and Ventura Alvarado at center back. Few of his decisions have been outright lousy, but the national team has, with a few exceptions, not looked very good at all in the last year -- for which he must ultimately take responsibility.
But just because someone might disagree with him doesn't give Klinsmann the right to dismiss him or her as uneducated. That's no way to run a revolution.