USA-Canada match underscores Olympic issues for Klinsmann

By Ridge Mahoney

Funny how it seems that qualifying for the 2016 Olympics has been dropped by U.S. head coach Jurgen Klinsmann as his main priorities.

Several times since the first training camp of 2016 opened Jan. 11 he’s stated the objectives for this year are a) advancement to the Hexagonal round of World Cup qualifying, and b) doing well in the Copa America Centenario, which is just four months away. (The presale for tickets starts Wednesday.)

The Olympics were very important to Klinsmann last year, at least until the Americans lost their Concacaf qualifying semifinal against Honduras and needed to beat Canada in the third-place game to stay alive for a berth in Rio. A 2-0 defeat of the Canadians set up a do-or-die scenario similar to the Confederations Cup playoff against Mexico in which the senior team was beaten, 3-2, in extra time.

Klinsmann did select a hefty number of Olympic age-eligible players for the January camp in preparation for the Olympic playoff series against Colombia, to be played March 25 and 29 in Barranquilla and Frisco, Texas, respectively. But regardless of how well Jerome Kiesewetter and Co. perform, this is a stopgap measure at best to ramp up for a winner-take-all showdown in Texas.

Recent struggles to reach the Olympics prompt critics to cite faltering domestic development programs as the cause. This is certainly part of the issue, but there’s no question that many South American and European confederations have sharpened their focus on programs and competitions for the younger age levels. UEFA rewards its top performers at the U-21 level with slots in the Olympic tournament and though not every club is eager to let players participate, each quadrennial some excellent players are showcased.

Concacaf nations have followed suit in addition to Mexico, which among its international youth honors boasts of the vanquishing of Brazil in the 2012 Olympic gold-medal match. Both losing semifinalists came from Asia, and in the third-place game, South Korea defeated Japan. Honduras reached the quarterfinals. The USA didn’t qualify.

No longer is the men’s Olympic soccer tournament a tap-in for U.S. Soccer. Only in 2000 did the U.S. get as far the semifinals but at least the USA qualified for the final tournament in 1988, 1992 and 2000. The USA hosted in 1984 (Los Angeles) and 1996 (Atlanta). It fell short in 2004 qualifying and in 2008 lost its final group match to eventual silver-medalist Nigeria and did not advance. Argentina, which first unleashed Lionel Messi upon the world at the U-20 World Cup a decade ago, captured the gold medal.

You’ll hear the argument that the Olympic soccer competition is a glorified youth event (restricted to U-23 players with three over-age additions permitted) that doesn’t bear much on how the players perform as full internationals. This may be true and if the U.S. play prompted fans to sing out “Ole!” as it slickly and audaciously moved the ball around the field, the Olympics would matter little if at all. Plus, there seems little correlation as to what an Olympic success or failure means at World Cup time.

So when the Americans play Canada at StubHub Center Friday, does Klinsmann roll out as many of his U-23s as possible to fuel their competitive fires one final time before taking on Colombia? Or does he slot in a few but otherwise treat this as an important friendly in advance of a back-to-back pair of qualifiers in March against Guatemala?

It’s hard to believe U.S. Soccer won’t schedule at least one more game for the U-23s before they take on Colombia, but getting a few of them away from their European clubs a few days earlier than the official FIFA window won’t be easy. (These clubs don't even need to release them for the playoffs.) As cumbersome as the situation is, the fact remains that beating Honduras would have landed the USA in Rio and what Klinsmann had labeled of utmost priority didn’t materialize. Andi Herzog coaches the Olympic team and collaborates closely with Klinsmann on personnel, selections, tactics, etc.

It’s quite likely that to ease the scrutiny of fans and press, Klinsmann is telling the public one thing and conveying a very different message to those players perhaps bound for Barranquilla. There’s certainly considerable pressure on them already with more Olympic failures than successes in recent cycles.

Yet Klinsmann, too, must feel the heat. The full national team failed last year to qualify for the Confederations Cup. The Hexagonal is inevitable and the Centenario will be spectacular. The grooming of younger players is one of the reasons he was hired, yet Olympic hopes are dim and flickering.

There will be a lot more on the line than national pride and a border rivalry on Friday. The Olympic course is nearing its final hurdle.

12 comments about "USA-Canada match underscores Olympic issues for Klinsmann".
  1. Allan Lindh, February 3, 2016 at 2:26 p.m.

    "Insanity is repeating the same behavior and expecting different results" Albert Einstein. Jurgen Littleman is a loser, the evidence is overwhelming, and yet we continue to pay millions to a third rate coach. Fire him for cause, and dare him to sue to recover the balance of his contract. The expert testimony that he is a loser would be overwhelming.

  2. Miguel Dedo, February 3, 2016 at 2:52 p.m.

    It is too late to find a new coach, much less a new leader responsible for development at all levels. Just now, JK's major value to the people who run US Soccer is that he keeps the heat from falling on them.

  3. Ric Fonseca, February 3, 2016 at 4:48 p.m.

    Like I've said before: a new bash JK has begun! Damned if he does, and damned if he doesn't! BTW, is Mexico's Osorio getting bashed also due to his comments that Mexican players should also go to Europe to "hone their skills?" (My emphasis.)

  4. :: SilverRey :: replied, February 3, 2016 at 5:50 p.m.

    Actually he is. Osario had to release a handful of statements a few days later backtracking on ripping on MLS.

  5. Ric Fonseca replied, February 3, 2016 at 9:24 p.m.

    >SilverRey, could you please provide me with the source? Gracias!

  6. Joe Linzner, February 3, 2016 at 7:06 p.m.

    Learning, playing, coaching and refereeing for nearly 60 years makes a person wonder where thes supposedly qualified soccer staff writers get their qualifications to analyze and opine with authority as to player selection, player relations, tactics, etc. The reason, generally is that they were never good enough in a sport to be actually playing it or coaching at a level above walk on scrimmage level. So the use the printed word to make themselves experts.. Mr. Mahoney is quite simple someone who dislikes JK intensley for what reason I am unsure. Xenophobe, Jealousy, whatever, the negativity is palpable. The last view articles are proof of a diatribe that is confusing and selkf contradictory that are downright asinine. For a National sports magazine allows this charlatan to post this dribble is startingly questionable. He is not capable of writing about little league much less the USANMT nor it's coach... Laughable.. That is my opinion, not any less worthy than Ridge's!

  7. Ric Fonseca replied, February 3, 2016 at 9:23 p.m.

    Thank you Joe. The same is applicable to some tv journalists, except for a certain few, e.g. Wynalda, Lalas, Balboa, Keller, et. al. when they begin bashing the game officials, and so my question has always been: have any of those guys ever really and actually officiate any game, at any level, that gives them sufficient "knowledge" about the LoG? And mind you the same goes for those in the Spanish language tv stations, save for some who were actually game officials and or players. As for your comment, again muchsimas gracias!

  8. Wooden Ships replied, February 3, 2016 at 10:33 p.m.

    Joe, I struggled a bit with the article, style, but its alright by me. Meaning, I'm appreciative that we have Soccer America and their staff. They offer information and we discuss. What I enjoy the most is our discussions based upon any given article. Anyway, not sure if he has a genuine animus towards, JK, perhaps. I do think this is a big year for him and us. His player selections need to improve, which should lead into a more skilled match. I think also, now that the pool does show promising skill, it is up to the players to be ready. I've never been offended by JK's comments, inconsistencies in stated positions. Trying to appease and appeal to a hungry and passionate fan base has to be problematic to say the least. I think though its time for him to abandon his insistence on a few players.
    Ric, I agree about former players and too many negative comments on officiating. Without referees you don't have competitions. Two of the cities I lived in, in this country, didn't offer men's amateur soccer because nobody wanted to be a Center. If one has never officiated they don't understand. It's not easy, in fact I would say its the toughest job/role in sport. With regard to the Olympics, I'd like to see us make it, and I guess Ridge and many others see it as a barometer, but it won't ruin my summer. Columbia will be tough, and I know AA we should do better due to our population, but we are much farther along than we were back in my day. And, you're right Training Compensation is the way and it too will happen.

  9. Joe Linzner, February 4, 2016 at 8:58 a.m.

    I too am thankful for being able to pick up, follow on-line, a National Magazine devoted to what is for me a sport that is so intrinsic to my life. Soccer has taught me so much about myself and has made me a better person through life's journey. However, I do find that continually negative articles based on personal opinion and conflicting direction within , deserve a harsher editor's pen than was rendered in this article. JK is not perfect, certainly I am full of fraileties. I feel that many good things have been accomplished. There is not a single facet of JK's coaching that hasn't been attacked. His person, his tactics, his selections, his personal look, personality, his awkward English, his behaviour on the side line, his learning to pilot a helocopter, his being a foreigner and being German at that ... Yet, record wise he is well on par with any coach we have ever had. I see us playing a more atractive game, faster, an honest try to control the ball. Not the blast and hope our "athleticism" will carry us through style and hoping the opponent get's tired strategy of the past.... in any case, I too have issues with JK but why constantly jibe on and about the guy solves and adds to the disrespect of the sport especially among newcomers... It is just plain ridiculous. Here is the thing, I know for a fact that being a soccer player, there isn't a single game that isn't played to win, either by or for either of us. No athlete likes to lose. The problems are not all on JKs shoulders, there is much blame to go around.

  10. Wooden Ships replied, February 4, 2016 at 9:45 a.m.

    Well said Joe. In some circles and maybe many feel this way, hiring someone not from the States was an affront to their sense of nationalism-patriotism. Personally, I like the guy. Our fan base might harbor resistance to so many amateur clubs, clinics and camps being orchestrated by non natives. My soccer youth in St. Louis was a tremendous mix of nationalities, which beside the sport being so fun, provided a greater love for it because of the bond between such a diverse group of people. During my playing days, coaching days, refereeing days and general manager days, the absolute best thing was the global friendships. I remember telling my wife at the 94 cup that out of the 24 teams, I had teammates at one time or another from 19 of those countries. As I've said before I'm glad someone of JK's pedigree took the job. It's a first. I hope that he has greater success this year.

  11. Woody Woodpecker, February 4, 2016 at 4:09 p.m.

    Look I'm a Canadian, so any scrap we get is a "jolt" of something.In my day, we we're streets ahead of the US. However, I read these comments which make me laugh. Do you realize how far you've come? Do you realize that you now have players with some of the elite clubs in Europe.You have organic growth every year. It's only a matter of time before you land the big one at Barca, Real Madrid, MU where the player will be the "star"? What the heck do you want from JK? First be realistic, the USA is not going to win the men's WC for many, many more years, that's just not going to happen. The MLS is booming at all levels, if you ever see Don Garber, you should thank him, for putting soccer on the map, in this country, which is directly linked to the US national team. Please don't tell me about the old NASL, ASL, MISL, I understand those leagues very, very well. JK, is not the be all and end all, but what are you looking for? The US national team is and will be a continuous work in progress, the most important thing, is that the system, structure and strategy is growing and improving. Albeit slowly. Rome wasn't built in a day....For the record, I'll take Canada tonight 2-1...

  12. Wooden Ships replied, February 4, 2016 at 4:57 p.m.

    Nice perspective WW. Games tomorrow might isn't it?

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