Why U.S. Soccer Needs Klinsmann

Bobby Curran
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Friday - July 21, 2006
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Something had to be done. The U.S. World Cup team was dismal in Germany. Two goals recorded, one of them an own goal by eventual champions Italy.

And it wasn’t just the results - not just no wins, two losses and a tie.

It was how the Americans performed. No passion, no offense and, at times, it seemed like they had no plan.

When this happens in sports, something has to give. And last week’s firing of coach Bruce Arena was the likely first option. You can hardly fire all the players. It probably is not entirely the fault of Arena. In eight years, he has accounted for 71 victories and managed the U.S. to a quarter-final slot at the 2002 World Cup. But the 2006 edition made it obvious that the Americans are no closer to soccer’s best teams than they were 12 years ago. Forget the No. 5 world ranking by FIFA. Sponsored by Coca-Cola, nobody took those ratings seriously. Depending on whom you ask, a more realistic assessment puts the U.S. somewhere between 15 and 20, but they didn’t play close to that in Germany. Credit to Arena, he didn’t want to leave a job unfinished.

“Bruce expressed a desire to continue,” said U.S. Soccer Federation president Sunil Gulati. “I’m sure he’ll have opportunities. He had a great opportunity before the World Cup, but he didn’t want to be distracted. No doubt there will be multiple opportunities in the soccer world in the U.S. and outside if he wants them.”

In other words, goodbye and good luck. Gulati said the search for a new coach would begin immediately.

The new coach will have a serious challenge. It is true that soccer’s relatively meager rewards all but guarantee that America’s best athletes will gravitate to other, more lucrative sports like football, basketball or baseball. Still, it’s hard to believe that in a country approaching 300 million in population you can’t find 25 or so players who can be at least competitive on the world stage. So it’s imperative not just to find a coach, but to get the right coach.

“There’s a lack of an obvious candidate, which means there could be a number of suitable candidates,” says Gulati. “Clearly it’s not like eight years ago, where Bruce’s track record at university and on the professional level was so extraordinary. We do not have that situation.”

Maybe it’s not obvious to Gulati, but many think Juergen Klinsmann, who coached Germany to a third place finish in the World Cup this month, would be a perfect fit. Klinsmann just resigned from the German team, is married to an American and lives in the U.S. He commuted to coach Germany, and his soccer philosophy, trimmed to two words is “score goals.”

Gulati said last week that a new coach should have “some knowledge of American soccer, experience, leadership, a track record of success.”

When asked specifically about Klinsmann, Gulati said, “Does Juergen Klinsmann have those qualities? He probably does. He’s had success with the German team. He has a much better handle on the American soccer scene than someone who hasn’t spent time here. He’s inquisitive. He’s an intelligent guy, multilingual with a lot of positive qualities.”

Klinsmann claims to have no interest in the job, but you get the feeling that these are the first steps of the mating dance.

Klinsmann is the right guy. Americans can handle losing, but not with a team completely lacking in passion and aggression.

And if you want Americans to get behind their soccer team, it’s not a bad idea to hire the man who remade the staid German team into an offensive force.

Put Juergen Klinsmann on the payroll and just “score goals.”

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