Thursday, February 5, 2015

Jurgen Klinsmann's Hell: A Whole Team of Donovans

Whoa. Sign this guy.
I will try not to make this about U.S. Men's National Team (USMNT) head coach Jurgen Klinsmann. Because, basic, maybe unhinged, hostility. With that in mind, I'll just keep that portion of the post brief. Klinsmann's latest comments regarding U.S. players' lack of fitness and (manic) dedication is just this winter’s version of last summer’s “nasty” comments: bullshit, for starters, but it's more significant as evasion. Let players burn when they deserve it, of course...but does everyone honestly believe Klinsi hasn’t screwed his share of pooches over the past 3 1/2 years? Otherwise, y'know, shouldn't he raise his hand and start asking what he can do?

I could pile up grievances until they top the Portland, Oregon skyline, so I'll stop there with the bitching. Besides, no small number of visionaries and mad-method geniuses have made a regular practice of throwing colleagues, partners, assistants, employees and even friends under the bus. After all, it’s easier to preach gospel when the shit’s not sticking to you. Few enough frauds, however, can outrun truth or reality forever and Klinsmann has many highly-visible moments of truth ahead.

The U.S. will face Panama this Sunday in the last of the January Camp/Camp Struedel friendlies. What he does will be interesting and all, even if people say friendlies don’t matter, something I agree with, even if most of the time.* What’s on my mind today is the grand...hold it, The Grand Experiment of Jurgen Klinsmann’s tenure.

The U.S. Soccer Federation (USSF) hired Klinsmann to assume the daunting mantle of "transformative figure." My low opinion of Klinsmann is what it is, but I hereby applaud the balls it takes to say, "Yes, I am your fucking genius. You are welcome." The project itself has inherent value, too, because a team can't learn what it's capable of without trying new things. A least up to a certain point. Try something till you have to stop. Then, stop. Will Klinsmann see that? Sorry, another post for another day.

Klinsmann’s latest "artful" dodge dredged up a whole lot of thoughts about where the USMNT is today and where it's headed: the way fitness, once the USMNT'’s perennial ace-in-the-hole, suddenly became a problem under Klinsmann; how frequently our players look visibly uncomfortable operating under Jurgen's system; and, yes, the long run of crappy results. It's hard to avoid wondering where it's all going. And then you come across a tweet like this one after the Chile game:
"When #USMNT playing B Chile Team they're playing against decades of cultivated tactics/style, meanwhile U.S. at starting point of identity."
That's a random tweet in the grand scheme (by @DanielNyari; follow him on Twitter!; and sorry I'm too dumb to just embed; I'll learn, promise). Had I been able to watch even half of Chile v. U.S., I wouldn't have seen it; it's not my habit to check any given match-tracker, but there it was. And it’s been with me in the week or so since the final whistle blew in [city-name-here], Chile.

What if the U.S. has already discovered its identity? Could this be something larger, maybe a clash of cultures? It's an ironic problem on one level because Klinsmann's mindset taps into something very American: the belief in permanent progress, the idea/fantasy that some given thing can indefinitely rise upward. Then again, this is how we got No Child Left Behind. But that's only half of America: there are also the slackers, the hipsters, the artisans, the work-to-live not live-to-work lifestyle. Good honest citizens have worried for decades whether these hippies will cause us to succumb to Ivan (or “other foreign competitor”), so maybe they're out to turn the USMNT into a hacky-sack kick-around instead of the blood-and-iron war of Klinsmann's imagination.

Basically, it's not inconceivable that Klinsmann’s years-long bitching about MLS could actually speak to a uncomfortable truth about the American player. They might cherish Major League Soccer’s (MLS) old-shoe feel too much to strive for higher ground, or connections to family make stepping too far from American shores too much to bear. Or, to personify the theory, maybe Landon Donovan is the true talisman and North Star of the USMNT and U.S. soccer culture in general. Maybe they're all dreaming of Cambodia as we speak. Or, in more honest terms, maybe we do what we do, and play the way we play, because we like it. Or maybe our feet are just shaped wrong. Let's not pull anything off the table too soon....

So, there are some thoughts in there. Rolling in a big comfy bed with sweet indifference; hints of clashing culture; a celebration of the idea of just trying shit; a placeholder suggestion that the USSF might have been taken in by a silver-tongued con-artist: call it what you will, the Klinsmann era has given us a shit-ton to talk about. I have my thoughts on where it's going, but those can wait...

* In recent years, and for whatever reason, I started acting like friendlies don't matter - as in, I make extremely minimal efforts to watch them. That said, put together enough of the same kind of results – and Klinsmann has done this, without question (see: losses with highly repetitive patterns) – and you’ve got a sample that could very well mean something. It could mean everything, up to and including something straightforward as Jurgen being a lousy fit. I can't remember the last time I heard the argument in all honesty, but the idea that foreign coaches just "don't get the American player" was all the rage way back when.

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