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Saturday, December 14, 2013

Risky choice to keep Klinsmann for four more years

Photo credit: US Soccer

When we heard that Klinsmann would remain as coach of the US Men's National Soccer team for another four years and would also become a technical director, many of us questioned this decision's wisdom. Two World Cup cycles with the same manager almost never pans out.

This is true for many teams around the world, but even more so for Team USA. While the first cycles for coaches like Bruce Arena and Bob Bradley were hugely successful internationally, their style became stale and the rest of the world caught up with their strategies.

Bruce Arena may have gotten the US to the quarterfinals in 2002, but 2006 saw them score one goal and manage a unlikely tie against eventual World Cup winners Italy. Lacking Chris Armas, a clear attacking role, an aging Claudio Reyna and an under-used Landon Donovan resulted in a forgettable tournament.

The same goes for Bob Bradley. After a stellar Confederations Cup in 2009 and a great group phase in South Africa 2010, his miss-use of Ricardo Clark and reliance on Johnathan Bornstein gave Ghana the upper hand. And that was really the end for the coach. A year later the lack of depth in his team during the Concacaf Gold Cup contributed to a clear defeat to Mexico in the final. 

US Soccer made the right decision in replacing Brdaley with Klinsmann in 2011. The former German star's tactics and depth building were slow to kick in but eventually paid dividends in 2013 with important victories abroad, a Gold Cup win with a largely-experimental squad and record-breaking points and number one qualification in the Hexagonal tournament of World Cup qualifying.

But USA is in certain peril with their World Cup draw. Germany, Portugal and Ghana are all extremely talented and with a greater number of technically superior players like Mesut Ozil, Cristiano Ronaldo and Kevin Prince Boateng. It will take a little luck and playing the games of their lives to get through this group.

And what if there's another three-and-out in Brazil 2014? And a loss at the Gold Cup and no Confederations Cup again? Might we have jumped the gun already? Complacency? Lack of inventiveness for US Soccer directors?

There might be some positives, of course, with Klinsmann as a technical director. Player development from a young age is key for future tournaments. The involvement of MLS is another step forward. Finally, exploiting the German connection and adding Bundesliga players to the pool remains advantageous now and in the future.

As fans, we hope the best for him and that the decision to keep him another four years turns out to be a good one. Examples are available when it comes to second cycle coaches for other countries: Hernan Gomez and Luis Suarez for Ecuador, Sven Goran Erikson for England and Raymond Domenech for France. Need we say more?

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