As a grass roots coach, I found the US national team’s performance utterly depressing.
Yes, I know that goes against the conventional wisdom. US soccer officials and commentators have tried very hard to blow up our collective rear ends and convince us that this was a leap forward for our men’s national team.
It was not.
When I saw the performances at this World Cup, I saw a US national team that looked utterly indistinguishable from US teams in recent World Cups. They had the strengths: hard work, never give up attitude, great goalkeeping. They had the same weaknesses: inability to take the initiative (something which, at times, seemed like a conscious tactical decision), poor passing, lack of creativity and, particularly, a complete inability to possess the ball. An inability almost bordering on fear.
Despite all the happy talk of our charismatic, telegenic foreign coach, despite all the kumbayah propaganda of US Soccer suits, I did not see anything that was even marginally better this World Cup as compared to the last few. The performances weren’t worse (well maybe the possession was) but it wasn’t better. It was about the same. We defended most of the time. We were on our heels most of the time. We created very little on the attacking side. Hard working, nothing special. Typical US team. The record was worse than in 2010.
We were sold something different. The charismatic coach with the great playing resume said all the right words leading up to the tournament. He spoke of wanting the US to shed the underdog mentality and not be afraid to go toe to toe with bigger teams. Yet during exam week, the scared underdog is exactly who showed up.
The other big buzz surrounding Coach Jurgen Klinsmann was his emphasis on a side that was very physically fit. This was his justification for dropping the US’ all-time leading international and World Cup scorer Landon Donovan, an omission that proved very costly in the Belgium match. (Most assume that the Donovan snub was more about a conflict between two big egos)
Yet in virtually every game, a starter was injured in the first half with a muscle strain. Were the players overtrained, given the tropical match conditions they ended up facing? Certainly it seems a miscalculation occurred somewhere.
I would’ve settled for baby steps. But I didn’t even see baby steps. No American coach would be given the free pass for mediocre* performances that Klinsmann has been given.
(*-The US was very good vs Portugal. Being comprehensively outplayed by a side the caliber of Germany is no shame… keeping it close was not a bad accomplishment, just ask Brazil. But getting completely outclassed by Ghana and Belgium, two teams who are good but not world class, is inexcusable)
I realize that no coach can make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear. It takes time for a coach to build things to where he wants them. But Klinsmann seems happy with the performances at this World Cup. I saw performances where we were completely outplayed, where we were back on our heels all the time chasing the game. If Klinsmann is satisfied with this, he needs to go. This is more of the same, not a transformation… or even a modest evolution.
I’m a coach who tries to develop plays with technical ability and tactical awareness. If our national program eschews these things in favor of fitness (the one thing US coaches have always been able to develop, then it feels like I’m wasting my time developing soccer players if all the higher ups want is athletes.