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Jürgen Klinsmann trying too hard to Europeanize U.S. team

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Thursday was the five-month anniversary of Jürgen Klinsmann’s appointment as head coach of the United States men’s national team. In that short time, he has presided over seven games and has a paltry 2-1-4 record.

He has also instituted some controversial player-selection policies, in some instances preferring European-born players to Americans. This has led to some backlash, most recently this morning from U.S.-born professional player Preston Zimmerman that started some discussion on Twitter about Klinsmann’s policies:

zimmerman tweets Jürgen Klinsmann trying too hard to Europeanize U.S. team

Preston Zimmerman (from Pasco, Wash., currently playing for SV Darmstadt 98 in Germany's 3rd Liga) lashes out at Jürgen Klinsmann on Wednesday morning on Twitter.

On Nov. 10, Brian Straus of Sporting News published an interview with Klinsmann ahead of the 1-0 U.S. loss in France. In it, Klinsmann made some assertions that implied the U.S. is better off with Europeans on its national team than Americans.

For example:

“It’s a different part of American culture. It’s the global picture that America represents. Those are kids who came through military families or for whatever reasons, working reasons of their parents, then they grow up with a different educational system, which gives them in soccer terms an edge ahead of American kids growing up in the U.S. They go through thousands more hours of playing the game than the American kid because the American kid only plays organized [soccer]. They come through different systems that gave them, especially, a technical advantage, an advantage in terms of how they read the game, anticipate the game, because the more you play the more you read things ahead.”

But the fact that he’s selecting foreign players is not his fault; it’s society’s:

“Now you live in this dual-citizenship world that is normal. It’s globalization. It’s just the way it is.”

Klinsmann obviously has a disdain for the grassroots of the American soccer system. He doesn’t seem to understand that it is different here; the same things that work in Europe or South Americ will not work in the U.S. The landscape is changing toward a more hybrid system with European allusions, but it will never be exactly the same.

The U.S. Soccer Development Academy is expanding, with Major League Soccer clubs taking a greater interest in youth soccer than ever before. However, most of these players will continue to go to college than straight to the pro ranks when they turn 18. The very top players who are ready for it will make the jump to the first team; others will get four more years (some less, if they leave early) to develop as players before taking that leap.

Looking at the last three U.S. World Cup rosters, the American system has fared just fine. Just six players out of 49 grew up in what could be considered a non-American system (youth play outside of the country):

world cup rosters 1024x385 Jürgen Klinsmann trying too hard to Europeanize U.S. team

Click on the image for a full-size version of the 2002, 2006 and 2010 U.S. World Cup rosters.

These American-born players made their mark on the college system before becoming professionals, and they made it to the quarterfinals in 2002 and won their group — which included England, a nation that exemplifies the club youth academy system — in 2010.

Evidently, being a non-American does not necessarily make a player better.

Those 2002, 2006 and 2010 players who did not play in college played for the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla., which is the precursor to and a model for the current U.S. Development Academy system. IMG still has two teams participating in the new system, but graduates of the old academy include Landon Donovan, Damarcus Beasley, Michael Bradley and Jozy Altidore.

The academy system developed from that early start, and now all clubs under the Development Academy umbrella receive support from the U.S. Soccer Federation, not just IMG. To continue finding quality youth players, this system has to keep developing.

It’s off to a fine start — most NCAA Division I recruits played at an academy, and 16 of the 20 members of the U-17 national team that just won the 2011 Nike International Friendlies play for an academy side.

Additionally, Klinsmann has to realize the right balance between the European system and the existing American system. Imposing too much change will destroy all the work that has been done up to this point to find a system that is uniquely American but still effective on the global soccer stage.

Finally, a few more MLS selections to U.S. friendly squads would be nice, instead of European-born and -based players of whom nobody has heard or seen play.

Hopefully, the U.S. will be holding the World Cup in 2014, and Klinsmann will look like a genius despite his rocky first few months in charge. But that’s a far cry from the current look of things. If World Cup qualifying starts slowly for the U.S., changes have to be made quickly.

Sacrificing this World Cup cycle for future cycles would be unacceptable because the talent the U.S. has right now demands that success be immediate, not sometime in the future.

Liviu Bird is a goalkeeper for Seattle Pacific University and editor-in-chief of The Falcon, Seattle Pacific’s student newspaper. Follow him on Twitter.

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Comments (15)

  1. Yours is a false choice – European or American players. Klinsmann has never said that he only wants one or the other. He wants the best for the US and is looking all over for eligible players. The US will be better off fielding the best possible team, with players drawn from all over the map. To paraphrase Nelson Mandela, we shouldn’t care whether the player is European-born or American-born, we should only care if they can play.

    • well it’s clear usa will be the worst team ever even if klinsmann’s gonna try to change the team with foreigners!

  2. “Imposing too much change will destroy all the work that has been done up to this point to find a system that is uniquely American but still effective on the global soccer stage.”

    Change is not to be feared, but embraced.

  3. The US soccer community needs to embrace and encourage pickup soccer games. Until that happens we will have great athletes playing the game but we will not have the creativity that soccer demands

    • Bravo! That would be nice, wouldn’t it? Might also add playing futsal, rather than traditional U.S. indoor soccer, to the mix.

  4. Give him time and I am sure he will improve the team. Trying to “Europeanize” the team is not a bad thing!

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  5. When players on that U-17 team are ready for the senior squad, I doubt Klinsmann would overlook them for European-born players if the ones developed by the academies are as good are better. The reality is that the U.S. development system hasn’t been as good as other regions of the world. That may be changing, but with the current crop of players 23 and older, there’s just not enough quality and savvy about the game to compete at the highest level. We win big games here and there against top teams “the U.S. way” (i.e. determination and physical advantages), but over the long haul there’s no substitutes for skill, understanding the game and being able to adjust to whatever style works against a specific opponent.

  6. Mr. Bird,

    “Finally, a few more MLS selections to U.S. friendly squads would be nice, instead of European-born and -based players of whom nobody has heard or seen play.”

    You did not hire JK to be nice you hired him to put the best team out there. Just because nobody (in this case you) has heard of a player does not mean they aren’t fantastic. No one had heard of Tim Chandler before Bradley (not JK) brought him on and he is already one of the best fullbacks the US has ever had. The USSF has been trying to do it your way for at least 31 years and no one likes the results.

  7. Wow, you aren’t too bright in analyzing the sport you play. “a few more MLS selections to U.S. friendly squads would be nice, instead of European-born and -based players of whom nobody has heard or seen play.” Yep, some more Chris Mullan the Amputators, Wandering Wondolowskis, and Jar Jar Beckermans are just what we need to tear this global football shit up. You betcha. Whatever dude.

  8. I’m sorry but as a former college coach I’ve got to state the truth of the matter here, even the top few D1 programs play an overly restricted schedule and the NCAA has punished Wrestling, Gymnastics and yes Men’s soccer for the sins of Basketball and Gridiron Football… college simply does NOT successfully produce creative professional caliber players… that is the job of professional club sides world wide and Klinsmann is simply acknowledging that fact.
    It is telling that the vast majority of our top youth team players are choosing to try and turn professional rather than spend up to four years in a system that leads to a retardation of their skills in relationship to their peers coming from most any other country. This might be signing with MLS early or more likely trying to move to train and learn in a professional environment, often in Europe. Just look at the likely u-23 OLYMPIC players, the majority of them are coming from outside the collegiate system and that makes perfect sense to me… a player who is 22 years old in MLS coming from college is a rookie just learning his trade, that same player at 22 or 23 in Europe has a good four or five years of professional experience under his belt…there just is no way that that college player is as well trained and sad to say he is at a great disadvantage but that is simply NOT Klinsmann’s fault… look at Chandler, at Johnson, at Gatt, at Diskerud, etc these are going to be the players expected to replace Donovan, Dempsey or Cherundolo soon… while some MLS players might factor into this mix, clearly most are just not up to the challenge and sorry to say it is the BEST players available who hold a US passport that get to be on the NATIONAL Team… and as a dual National who was born here but holds an EU passport I’d like to say that this crap about about just who is a “Real” American is a bunch of crap…and often a means of keeping the status quo of channeling in mediocre suburban upper middle class hacks who have gone the “Academic” rout rather than those who went to turn pro at an early age… look at the number of Latinos or Asians or simply POOR kids on ODP…they are nearly always the exceptions not the rule… and if we are to compete successfully internationally it will require that we take advantage of THESE Americans as well as ANY citizen who is good enough to compete at the highest level… not just “Joe College from the ‘burbs”
    (ICE)

  9. There is so much wrong with what you have written it is hard to know where to start. This country has yet to develop an everyday field player for a top club in a top league. I say field player b/c Friedel is about the closest we have come. The ball is round. The game take thousands of hours to master. Pay to play suburbanites hunting for college scholarships when they make ODP at eleven may serve their parents but it is not serving the game in this country. The pool is too small. JK may screw up as a coach but expanding the pool to include developed professionals is not a mistake. Chauvinistic thinking coupled with false dilemmas will not advance the game here. College soccer is basically a waste and the college players are not fairing well v. the young professionals based on the reports coming out of u-23 camp–by Porter himself. Academy system v. selecting Euros is not mutually exclusive. The US has and will continue to select MLS hacks to Nats as a political suck up-is there anyone other than LD that is truly deserving given the talent? Comparing US to England is truly selective reasoning. English football and its developmental system is not top shelf. If you want to use this line of thinking talk about recent friendlies v. France, Belgium, Spain and The Netherlands and use that argument as a catalyst that change is needed immediately?

  10. I think you have just got to trust his abilities and let him get on with the job!

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  11. Klinsmann is trying to change to a European style which isn’t going to work with a nation that doesnt play European football and none of their main competitors are European … I mean they might come across the odd Euro team in the World Cup but is that any real reason to change a whole style of play? No way.

  12. Let’s be honest here, the USA is quite a long way off from Europe in terms of footballing quality and so maybe trying to copy their model is not such a bad thing. The only world cup winners have been south American or European. Neither of these two follow the American system.

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  13. US Soccer has suffered for years because they do not develop players who understand the international games tactics. They are a bunch of great individuals who cannot see the whole field and decifer what the other team is doing – particularly when the US is on offense. Watch all the single runs that end in a pathetic hospital ball pass or jeeze I guess I cant go anywhere so I’ll just dump it sideways to you type of pass. No sense of the whole game. Who cares where there come from – if they are US Citizens and can play at an international level then let them play. Bradley had very little tacticle skills as a coach by the evidence of how easily his team was blunted. My opinion is that the US has a great deal to learn from the Italian style of play which is 180 out from the style that they play today.