What's up with Klinsmann’s choices?

The last two U.S. Men’s National Team matches showcased some mediocre, if not random, choices by new coach Jurgen Klinsmann
by Herb Scribner   |   Wednesday, February 01, 2012

USA head coach Jurgen Klinsmann needs to form a core team before World Cup Qualifying begins

Let me start off by saying that it wouldn’t surprise me if the U.S. Men’s National Team barely manages to qualify for the 2014 World Cup. Right now, they’re nowhere close to being a shoe-in, which it should be.

That’s mostly due to how the team has been shifted around like letters on a Scrabble board, with a few old favorites joining unending new waves of random MLS and exotic Amer-German recruits.

There isn’t a simple, cohesive team that the U.S. is building on, though the start of 2014 WC Qualifying is in sight. Aside from Clint Dempsey, Landon Donovan and Tim Howard, are there really any other players that we can absolutely, without a shadow of a doubt, guarantee that will have roster spots in the upcoming WCQ games?

In two recent games for the U.S. Men’s National Team, head coach Jurgen Klinsmann has made some peculiar player moves. I’m sure I wasn’t the only one who literally saw question-marks float around the screen when Jeff Parke came onto the field. To put it bluntly, he’s a 29 year old average player in MLS. No chance to develop, not getting any younger and not really worth the roster spot. It would’ve been wiser just to call-up a talented youngster with upside.

Then there’s Heath Pearce. Pearce has proven time and time again to be an ailing part of the back-line. He continues to be unjustly rewarded with opportunities and continues to fail. ESPN's Leander Schaerlaeckens even rated him a 5 after the game versus Venezuela, not exactly the toughest of opponents.

These new Klinsmann choices are detrimental to American soccer in two ways.

The first I’ve already mentioned, but I’ll expand upon. The teams the USA fielded against Venezuela and Panama aren’t going to resemble those rosters, in the slightest, when qualifying starts. That just might be the USA “C” National Team. When it comes time for the qualifiers and lead-up friendlies before the World Cup, does anyone really expect Jeff Parke to be called up for duty than or possibly all the way to Brazil and have to defend guys like Neymar and Messi?

No dice.

Instead, Klinsmann is doing things that Bob Bradley should have already been doing post-World Cup 2010. He should have been experimenting with new players that hadn’t gotten their just opportunities yet like your Graham Zusi’s or your Geoff Cameron’s. These guys consistently perform well in Major League Soccer, and therefore deserve a shot in the lineup. I’m not saying guys like Parke or Pearce don’t deserve an opportunity to compete for the national team, just maybe wait until the World Cup is three years away instead of two.

What Klinsmann should be doing – and maybe he has some mastermind strategy that all of us are overlooking and can’t comprehend – is perfecting the lineup with players of national team quality and getting them ready for the tumultuous WC qualifying road ahead. The U.S. Men’s National Team should have most of its roster sorted by now and the upcoming games should focus more on getting the right playing style and coordinated team-play down.

Because when the U.S. competes in the early 2014 months in friendlies, no one’s going to remember that Jeff Parke and Jeff Larentowicz were part of the team that beat Venezuela. Soccer doesn’t work like that. Shoot, sports don’t work like that. You’re only as good as your last game. So while it’s good news that Klinsmann got two not-so pretty wins under his belt with these friendlies, it won’t matter much when the team that competes for the World Cup resembles this one, in name only.

The other reason these whacky call-ups are dangerous is because the team is so unpredictable. With lots of big changes nearly every exhibition game, there’s no consistent core national team for American fans to cheer for. Although soccer uses national team’s unlike American sports, most fans can cheer for and root for the entire team because they know all the players – at least for a season, typically.

With Klinsmann’s lack of American player knowledge leading to myriads of zany call-ups, the players are shifting and moving around so much that fans can barely keep up with who’s on the team. That’s why stalwarts like Donovan, Dempsey and Tim Howard have become so popular. They are the mainstays and not coincidentally, the most recognizable to fans. These guys are always in the big matches, they sell tickets, they inspire and they raise money for the USMNT program. Imagine if most players on the pitch were recognizable to those watching. No longer would non-hardcore fans have to search Wikipedia when the likes of Jeff Parke step onto the field. Viewers would already know them, adore them and cheer them on. To do that, Klinsmann needs to start building a stable team sooner rather than later.

Like most changes of power, the appointment of Klinsmann to the helm of the U.S. Men’s National Team brought a refreshing sense of hope and change to come for a country that had been stagnantly mediocre at the world’s sport for the better part of a century. Right off the bat, the prospect of Klinsmann’s new coaching strategies brought excitement to American supporters, media, players and even the broader casual sports fans. He made the news, he inspired and he brought about changes that many analysts had been suggesting previous coaches Bob Bradley and Bruce Arena make, for some time.

And in Klinsmann’s short time as US head coach, Donovan and Dempsey have been used sparingly – of course because they have EPL and MLS matches to deal with – leading to a cornucopia of different players being used. Sure, it gives Klinsmann a better feel for who is out there and who can compete at the national team level. It helps build the future and prepare for what comes after Donovan and after Dempsey. It does a lot of good for the red, white and blue.

But with that, comes the aforementioned problems. He’s not building a unified team; he’s not perfecting a lineup to compete with the world’s best. He’s doing a job that should have been done when Bradley got home from South Africa in 2010. Some of that is not his fault; he was possibly put into the position later than he should have been.

I like the way Klinsmann has inspired the national team and its fans and I don’t mind that he’s testing out new players and trying new things. But unfortunately, it’s not going to help the team in the near future. He really needs to start building a team, the team, one that the USA can call its own.


UMass Amherst
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FC Barcelona
SN managing editor and award-winning journalist, Herb has always been known as "The Soccer Guy" wherever he goes. He's a leftback in most outdoor and indoor leagues. He also writes for Deseret News National.