US looking to take next step to Brazil World Cup with Klinsmann

There are a number of questions for Jurgen Klinsmann to answer as coach, but he could be an inspired appointment for the United States.
Team USA coach Jurgen Klinsmann is cheered as he walks onto the field before the start of their international friendly match against team Mexico.
Team USA coach Jurgen Klinsmann is cheered as he walks onto the field before the start of their international friendly match against team Mexico.

Landon Donovan's dramatic goal against Algeria last summer in the World Cup was at the stroke of midnight on New Year's Eve for Americans smitten with football.

It ignited unrestrained celebrating as the United States, seconds from elimination in the group stages, wriggled into the last 16.

During previous Cups, the US might have enjoyed the party so much that they would not have been bothered about losing the next match.

This time, following a sobering 2-1 defeat to Ghana, it was akin to waking up on New Year's Day with a headache and wondering: "Was that worth rejoicing over?"

Not really, which explains why US Soccer thought hard before deciding Bob Bradley should continue as the coach until the next World Cup in 2014.

He barely lasted one year. A 2-1 defeat against Panama early in the Gold Cup this summer, the team's first loss in 28 group matches, put him on notice. A blown two-goal lead, and a 4-2 loss to Mexico in the finals, made him unemployed.

Americans are no longer willing to settle for starts-and-stops, even incremental improvements, with their national team. They want consistent results. They want trophies. Not necessarily the tallest one at the World Cup, but some polished evidence of achievement.

So, US Soccer punched in search terms such as "master motivator" and "World Cup champion" and up popped the name Jurgen Klinsmann. Again. The German native was no stranger to the federation. He had spurned their advances before.

Not this time. US Soccer tapped Klinsmann, the first foreign-born national team coach since 1995, to keep those victory celebrations from wearing off too quickly.

It was a good move, qualified by a slew of ifs.

• If the players respond to Klinsmann, who brings a charisma and a portfolio to die for, headlined by a World Cup title in 1990 as a player and a third place, losing to eventual winner Italy in 2006, as a coach. He is prone to long-winded pep talks that has caused some eye-rolling on veteran squads overseas. With a younger US squad these might strike the right tone, especially right before kick-off. Bradley's bunch habitually allowed the first goal and were forced into scramble mode.

• If the team adjusts to a shift in playing style, with coaching reins loosened, allowing for more creativity. Klinsmann is fond of attacking football and will emphasise ball control to avoid the mistakes that often haunted the US under Bradley.

• If Klinsmann can secure and develop the players to plug in to his model that insists on faster, more athletic wings and backs, plus more diverse skill sets. That ultimately might mean detouring youngsters away from American football and basketball and toward football, a long-standing but unfulfilled ambition. The next World Cup looms in 2014, so Klinsmann could require two terms in office before the squad is shaped to his liking. Even so, anything less than progressing into the last eight would unleash second-guessing on removing Bradley for him.

• If Americans welcome an import as the coach without asking why a nation of more than 300 million cannot find a home-grown replacement. Klinsmann's experience has provided him a world view of the sport that no US citizen could match. Besides, he is a 13 year California resident, married to an American - though genes, and not the sunny beach life, are responsible for his blondish hair.

• If he surrounds himself with assistant coaches schooled in X's and O's, an area not considered his long suit. Klinsmann is a big-picture guy who presents his teams with a playing template and tends to punt on some details. This concern should be minor. Klinsmann has reach the mountaintop and should not feel threatened by accomplished aides who will make up his staff.

• If there are no more losses to another Panama. Klinsmann has his critics, some of them affiliated with Bayern Munich, the team that replaced him in 2009 after less than a year.

In his autobiography, the Bayern player, Philipp Lahm, wrote: "We practically only practised fitness under Klinsmann. There was very little technical instruction and the players had to get together independently before the game to discuss how we wanted to play."

This was a marriage destined to fail. Klinsmann brought in American fitness instructors who conducted yoga classes.

Not exactly an acceptable new-age approach to the old guard in Germany.

That Klinsmann consented to coach the US after prior refusals might raise concerns about his own motivation.

Is his heart pumping to reflect the passion required of this job? The guess here: yes, unqualifiedly.

The quick in-and-out at Bayern Munich left a stain on his record. He cannot block out the forgettable season, but it would grow obscure if followed by some magic in America.

A powerful mouthwash it would be to rinse out the bad taste.

Klinsmann, whose team is on display on Friday against Costa Rica and on Tuesday against Belgium, is no outsider who must assimilate into a new football culture. For all intents, he is one of us.

This is a medium-risk, high-reward hire. For the national team to create an atmosphere where one football party can lead into another, Klinsmann was the proper call.

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Published: August 30, 2011 04:00 AM


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