Starting the Jurgen Klinsmann campaign for US national team coach

This post is the first in a series of five recommendations for USSF President Sunil Gulati

Klinsmann is the right man to coach the US

Bob Bradley has had a successful run, but it’s time for him to move on to a new challenge and for US soccer to bring in a new coach to take soccer in America to the next level. There is really only one man for the job: Jurgen Klinsmann.  The former star striker and German national team coach is obviously a big name in world soccer, but after two good summers in a row US soccer no longer needs to prioritize borrowing other nation’s big names to be considered a serious soccer nation. There are four main reasons he should become the next US national team coach: he takes a holistic approach to building national team system from the playgrounds to the World Cup, he would develop a recognizable American style of play, he knows US soccer intimately and has thought about what it would take to transform the sport in America, and he is one of the best strikers of all time and would be a fantastic mentor to the future of US soccer, Jozy Altidore.

Let’s not forget to pay Bob Bradley his due. He took over in very difficult circumstances after a disastrous 2006 World Cup and an unsettled coaching search and not only righted the ship quickly, but won the Gold Cup in his first year, orchestrated a dazzling deep run in the Confederations Cup, won Concacaf World Cup qualifying, and won Group C at the Finals in South Africa. But despite those successes it wasn’t all roses. Bradley struggled to adapt his favored system to his personnel and was prone to play favorites rather than the best players. And while he fostered a remarkable resiliency within his team that produced too many comebacks to count, it is also true that his team found itself in need to come back far too often for it to not be partly down to poor match preparation and tactics. A four-year cycle is the right time to move on and that may be to Fulham if the rumors are believed. Continue reading

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Assessing ESPN’s WC Coverage – A Major Step Forward For Soccer In America

Overall it was an outstanding World Cup for ESPN and a tremendous improvement over four years ago. ESPN’s massive investment in the tournament gave the World Cup and Olympics like feel and signifies the massive progress the game is making in this country. The coverage was thorough and professional and the on-air personalities seemed to gel well. However, the coverage in many ways seemed to emulate the approach to World Cup coverage pursued by BBC or ITV and was perhaps not as innovative as ESPN could have made it. Here is a run down of what worked and what didn’t.

Positives:

Chris Fowler. He was perhaps ESPN’s star of the tournament and showed he is a true professional. Fowler who had never covered soccer before to my knowledge almost never put a foot wrong. But it wasn’t just that he didn’t make a mistake, he provided insight and framed the topics of discussion in an interesting and easy to understand way. Perhaps for the fist time on national television on Sunday, there was a discussion of the different tactical schools of soccer from the Dutch to the Barcelona school. For soccer followers there wasn’t much new there, but on the other hand it was a generally informative discussion that gave the American viewer the sense that there were different ways of playing the game. Fowler was the one who presented the discussion and provided the context – he also had a great sign off at the close of proceedings that was quite an advert for South Africa.
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Bob Ryan Captures What US World Cup Run Meant – It Made America Sad

Bob Ryan of the Boston Globe is one of the classic American sports journalists. He is also a bit old school. He came of age before soccer was anything in this country and confesses to know little about the game. But Ryan unlike many of the sports writers of his generation, doesn’t approach soccer was some preconceived ideological disdain. Instead, he pays attention when the game makes him pay attention and respects the sport as it is. In 2002, he penned a magnificent column that essentially called it his fellow writers, such as Tony Kornheiser, who were resistant to embracing the US team in the World Cup merely out of a preconceived disdain for soccer. Ryan said if they couldn’t get into this team and this competition then they simply weren’t sports fans. You gotta love when a non-soccer guy and one of the most respected American sports writers took on the soccer hate directly.
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US Players that increased their stock

As the World Cup is slowly coming to an end, the summer transfer season is about to pick up. In past World Cups for the US, MLS based players gained significant attention and used the tournament to initiate moves to Europe. In 2002, Brian McBride and Damarcus Beasley and in 2006 Clint Dempsey drew Fulham’s eye. This time around it is a bit different situation.

With just three unknown MLS players (Robbie Findley, Edson Buddle, and Jonathan Bornstein) on the US squad and none of whom particularly impressed, it seems unlikely that these players did enough to attract European attention. Yet this does not mean that this summer’s transfer season will be uneventful. While 19 of the 23 US players on the squad play in Europe, only one – Oguchi Onyewu with AC Milan – plays for a big champions league club (although one could say Maurice Edu and Beasley with Glasgow Rangers qualify, since Rangers is in the Champions League). It is a sign of significant progress to have 19 players on the squad playing abroad, especially since just 12 played abroad in 06 and 02. However, the next step and what should be an objective for US soccer for 2014 is to get more players playing on big clubs against even better competition.

After this World Cup some US players significantly increased their stock, and may be able to make upward moves.
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Jozy Is The Future

There has been a lot of talk about how no US strikers have scored in the last two World Cups. This is an uncomfortable stat and is a fairly solid thing to point to for why the US isn’t in the tournament. Strikers have to score and Altidore’s failure to do so is worth pointing out. But we shouldn’t go over board.

Jozy it seems to me is being treated as if he is a veteran in his prime, with the same expectations of a Donovan or a Dempsey. He is 20 years old. Repeat that. And then repeat that again.

Yes he didn’t score, but in my mind he had a very strong World Cup. he played the target role brilliantly, he scared the crap out of defenses and as a result opened up space for others to come in behind. He drew fouls, created chances, and ran at defenders. He hit the post against England, set up Bradley’s equalizer against Slovenia, and put the ball in to the box for the winning goal against Algeria. Against Ghana the importance of Altidore was evident when he was taken off before extra time. Without Jozy the US lost one of their main focal points in attack and his absence allowed the Ghanaians to focus more on Dempsey and Donovan.

It seems to have been forgotten that target strikers are often late bloomers. No one heard of Didier Drogba until he was about 25. Brian McBride didn’t settle into the premier league until his 30s. Jozy, while not scoring many goals at Hull City this year, started more games at striker than anyone else on the club and he did so as a lonely isolated holding player, where chances were few and far between. I heard some Englishmen remark that they had seen Jozy play and weren’t all that impressed – his touch would elude him, he would drift in and out of games, make the wrong run at times, or try to do too much on his own. But most of these commentators had no idea that Jozy is 20 years old. If Jozy were English, he would be hyped to be the next savior of England and would have a hugely expensive price tag. Think I am over doing it? Crap, marginal players English players like David Bentley even cost 20 million dollars!
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Greatest soccer rant ever: Socialism. Satan. Sodomy. Soccer

This is pretty indescribable. So I wont describe it, other than to note that it does not appear to be a joke. (H/T Ginge Talks the Footy)

The World Cup: As Popular In The U.S. As The World Series?

World Cup viewership during day = World Series in primetime

Yesterday, Ken pointed out that more Americans are following the World Cup than live in the United Kingdom, a great stat to refute the notion that Americans don’t care about soccer. I’d like to add to that a fun little stat from the New York Times’ Sports Business column — as many Americans watched the USA v. Ghana Round of 16 match as watched the average game in the last World Series:

For the ESPN empire and Univision, any questions about the return on their investment in the World Cup are being answered by viewers. On Saturday, the United States’ loss to Ghana was seen by 14.9 million on ABC — an American record for the tournament — and an additional 4.5 million on Univision. That’s 19.4 million viewers for a Round of 16 game on a Saturday afternoon at 2:30 p.m. Eastern — the same number that Fox averaged over six prime-time games for last year’s World Series.

In fact, “through 52 games, ESPN’s average viewership is up 58 percent to 2.86 million; Univision’s is 2.1 million, up nearly 9 percent. Figure, then, that about five million are watching the games, comparable to the N.B.A. playoffs, excluding the finals, and the Stanley Cup finals.” The American Prospect’s Tim Fernholz submits that this means soccer’s time is here:

What intricate argument can be brought against these numbers? Tom Scocca blames Fox for making baseball boring to watch, but what they’ve done — playing games at night, have a lot of commercials, etc. — have been characteristic of baseball for a long time. If you care about baseball, you’re going to watch the World Series whether or not the games are long. Why not just admit it, soccer critics: Futbol is coming of age in America.

There’s little doubt in my mind that the World Series had been made (even more) mind-numbingly boring by the demands of television, which the structure of soccer tends to confound (no stoppages, so no commercials, for instance). In the localities for the teams involved, though, I’m willing to bet that the World Series isn’t lacking for viewers.

But still, this, combined with Ken’s point from yesterday, shows that there’s a sizable U.S. audience following the tournament, despite what the soccer haters say. And that’s a great thing for the future of the sport in America.