Monday, January 12, 2015

Struggling U-20s: Jurgen's Home for Misspent Youth

It is SO your fault!
So, the terrible, shameful start to qualifying for the U.S. Men’s U-20 National Team has passed into the consciousness of anyone who cares to absorb it: for those not watching (or cowering in shame before the future) Wee-U.S.* has compiled a 0-1-1 record in qualifying for this summer’s U-20 World Cup by way of a 1-1 draw to Guatemala (highlights for the curious) and a 1-0 loss to a gutsy, yet inexplicably perfect, Panama (again, highlights for the curious).

Wee-U.S. has games left, thank gods...

...wait. Let us pause here to contemplate the sheer crappiness of the U.S. Soccer website when it comes to the junior U.S. Men’s Teams. Where are the standings, the schedule, any semi-useful information about the most important thing going on right now in U.S. U-20 Soccer? I see videos of Tab Ramos talking about...things, and painful highlights, but little in the way of obvious context for the tournament at hand...

...oh god, don’t make me go to CONCACAF’s site…OK, gawd, I’ll do it. Ew, ew, it smells like Jack Warner...

In all honesty, I’m just coming to this qualifying tournament. I’m only now looking at the groups, standings and schedules for the first time as I write this. (What? Not having this shit on some convenient platform hardly promotes interest). And, OK, it took a little digging, more than expected or wanted, but I finally figured out what the U.S. has to do to book their ticket to the U-20 World Cup in New Zealand: either top their group (Group A) or come out as winners of the game between teams two and three in the same Group A.

OK, with games 1 and 2 officially pissed away, we have the rest of a round-robin to rescue this and reach either the Holy of Holies (1st in group) or…that space in front of the Holy of Holies whose name escapes me at the moment (2nd and 3rd in group). The group “heavyweights” did their damage (that’d be Guatemala and Panama), which leaves Aruba, Jamaica, ooh, I wanna take ya, to Key Largo, Montego...Dang it, don’t recall the lyrics an sorry for wedging that shitty song into your head. No, the teams we have left do include Jamaica and Aruba, but there’s also Trinidad and Tobago to play, a team who currently stands second. Now, I’d like to think we can beat all those teams – just like Panama and Guatemala probably will – which should guarantee a spot in the playoff...

...but that bring us to the uncomfortable subject of the U.S. junior team’s recent record qualifying tournaments.

The U.S. missed out on the most recent Olympic Tournament; this, apparently, is what has Jurgen Klinsmann calling in a fresh batch of youngsters for the latest January camp. That makes sense because that Olympic miss was a pretty high profile fail. Tragically, that was of a piece for the Junior Yanquis’ fairly recent past…and, well, shit. The U.S. Soccer website provides the same underwhelming coverage (Jesus, does the 2013 U.S. U-17 Championship still-shot seriously connect to current news about other U.S. U-## teams? Yep.)…moving on to Google...

There it is: we missed the U-17 World Cup in 2013, falling to mighty Honduras (not real snark: the Contrachos are improving). As it happens, that was the first time in a long damn time that Tiny-U.S. had failed to qualify for the World Cup. Happily, recent history looks better at the U-20 level, but there was that miss in 2011…and what about the U-23s? Mmm…spotty. In fact, the U.S.’s most recent qualification – 2008 – was bookended by failures in 2004 and 2012.

And all that begs the question: when was Klinsmann hired? Middle of 2011, yeah? And here we have fails in 2011, 2012, 2013 and, now, potentially, 2015 (U-20s) – and another could follow?

OK, yes, I’m starting a conspiracy for sport. I don’t really have much sense for how much Klinsmann’s playing/training edicts trickle down to the youth teams at this point in his tenure, but I know (or at least believe) that that’s the goal. And I’m uncomfortable with that because I think Klinsmann’s a snake-oil salesman who bought instant credibility with a foreign accent. I know one U.S. team pretty damn well – e.g. the senior men’s team – and I can’t call what I’ve seen in them progress. It’s stagnation at best, topped off with some pretty reasonable allegations of training sessions as torture. The man generally comes across as more of a life coach than a soccer coach and that’s not what the program needs. Add in the disconnect between the way Klinsmann talks about how the U.S. Men’s team should play versus how they actually play and it’s hard not to ask questions.

Is there any point to this, then, beyond slander? Well, yeah. Klinsmann has, at most, four more years to get his system in place across all levels of U.S. soccer. He’s had about three and half years prior to that as well and what we have, objectively, are a series of hiccups at the youth national team levels, some of them comparatively unprecedented, and a men’s national team that’s maybe in transition or maybe just the victim of a coach so eager to push theory that he’ll pass over getting good returns.

What we have here are trends, people. And they ain't good. If the current U-20 campaign actually fails...well, if that's not the time to ask questions, I don't know when is.

* To introduce a naming convention: Tiny-U.S. will be the U-17s, Wee-U.S. the U-20s and Pocket-U.S. the U-23s.

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