We dream of football and the world is full of dreams

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Klinsmann: The most divisive figure in US Soccer history

Image: Getty

The title of this blog should make it clear. Klinsmann is and has been quite a divisive figure for the sport of soccer in the United States. His hiring came as no surprise in mid 2011 when Bob Bradley was let go after a disastrous showing in the Gold Cup. Klinsmann would remake Team USA and would give it the world presence it deserved.

Klinsmann's tenure was rocky at first, with 3 losses and 1 tie in the first 4 games. After that came great showings in friendlies versus Italy, Mexico, and Slovenia, interspersed with lackluster performances in the beginning of the CONCACAF qualifying rounds.

But Klinsmann pushed the envelope of what could be achieved. He got the most out of Altidore, and introduced and reintroduced players like Geoff Cameron, Mix Diskerud, John Brooks, DeAndre Yedlin, Julian Green and Joe Corona. He set a record for the USMNT in consecutive wins at 12, won the Gold Cup 2013, and delivered the U.S. to Brazil 2014.

Up until the pre-World Cup friendlies, most things could be forgiven. And yet, there were fissures in his relationship with some of the players and, especially, with MLS.

It started in August 2013 when Clint Dempsey made a surprise move to the Seattle Sounders. Klinsmann was not happy that his captain would no longer be playing in Europe. Michael Bradley's move to Toronto FC in January made things worse. Klinsmann was very clear in his disappointment. It was not competitive enough in MLS and their form would suffer.

What really broke things for him with many fans was his exclusion of Landon Donovan from the World Cup team. Many, myself included, thought the decision would haunt him at the tournament. In a way, it did. Altidore's absence due to injury after the first game and an ineffective Brad Davis stick out as reasons the best player the U.S. has ever produced should have been a part of that squad.

But Klinsmann's recent remarks about more players needing to be in Europe and MLS not being enough drew the ire of one Don Garber. Garber was rightly insulated by the coach's words on player development. 

But what is the real truth behind Klinsmann's divisive nature? Just ask the fans. Some argue that MLS is great, should be supported and is getting more and more impressive every year. The crowds in Portland and Seattle make this point clear.

And then there is a vocal minority that sustains that the only worthwhile soccer exists in Europe, that Klinsmann is absolutely correct and that Michael Bradley needs to go back to Europe. I heard this from a soccer fan in small town Florida: Klinsmann is right, MLS is not good enough, and, surprisingly, Landon Donovan isn't as good because he never played abroad. I suggested that he look at the statistics. Donovan has scored more goals than anyone else for the USMNT.

So there it is. Surely, if you are a soccer fan in the U.S. then you fall under one of those two categories. You side with Klinsmann or you don't. Divisive indeed.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Thank you, Landon

Image: Getty

Landon Donovan played his last match for the U.S. Men's national team tonight in a game versus Ecuador in East Hartford, Connecticut. He didn't score but sure got close. There was spectacle while he was on the pitch and his teammates wanted it for him.

Altidore served Donovan the perfect ball and he Landon struck it well. The post, however, disagreed. The rest of us, all of us, wanted it for him. 

But Landon gave us so many goals already with the national team. 57 of them, actually. Some were expected, some spectacular, some made us dream, some made us cry. There was the second goal in the 2-0 versus Mexico in 2002 and a passage to the quarterfinals. There was also the goal versus Mexico that clinched the qualification to Brazil 2014. And, of course, the goals versus Slovenia and Algeria in 2010. 

Donovan's goal versus Algeria encapsulated what it is to be an American soccer player. The goal started from the bottom up, from Tim Howard's pass, to teamwork between Altidore and Dempsey, to Donovan's sublime final touch off a rebound. It was meant to be and it was meant to be dramatic. Americans love drama and Donovan wrote us the script.

Andres Cantor put it well during his narration of the goal. The goal was and had to be scored by America's franchise player. 

Tonight we say goodbye to his presence on the pitch for the USMNT. True, he was missing at the World Cup and it would have been nicer for his career to end with another tournament. And yet, in the end, Landon chooses his own path, as he did by staying in MLS and foregoing a career in Europe. He knew it was his time to end this journey. Landon chose to say goodbye at 32 with his head held high, still scoring, still smiling, still dreaming.

Thank you, Landon, for helping us dream of soccer.