EDGAR ZUNIGA - Tuesday, September 28, 2010
With summer finally gone, the World Cup hangover has finally lifted and we are left with a buzzing echo in the back of our minds that won't go away for a long time. For fans of the US National Team, it is a mix of the cacophony of those damned vuvuzelas, the release of a million roars at a last-minute goal and the collective groan that came with what many feel was an all too early exit from the World Cup.
Despite having at his disposal what many argue is the greatest generation of American soccer players ever, the general consensus is that Bob Bradley mismanaged the team to another disappointing finish.
It might seem harsh to lay so much blame on Bob, but the US really did have a great opportunity to make it to the semifinals without having to face any of the traditional powers along the way.
It might seem harsh because Bob did what was expected of him, ensuring that the team remained competitive with Mexico (which is undergoing a period of transition) and being at the helm during a time when the US played well against some of the strongest teams in the world.
But that is not enough.
For US Soccer, the aim should not be to remain competitive in CONCACAF, it should be world domination!
Say what you want about Bob, but he is not a world-class coach. He might have a win logged over Vicente del Bosque, but that Confederations Cup semifinals victory over Spain was more a display of American grit and determination than Bob's brilliant managerial exploits. And, let's not forget that del Bosque now has a World Cup trophy on his resume.
While many pundits might not consider Jurgen Klinsmann on the same level as some of FIFA's finest, others feel he is just what US Soccer needs. Besides leading host Germany to the semifinals of World Cup 2006, he has a grasp of the European game and has spent enough time in the US to understand all the intricacies that come with managing stateside.
He has often been very complimentary about US Soccer and expressed his support for American athletes and their intelligence and desire to learn to play the game at a higher level. The guy even lives in Southern California, close to the National Training Center in Los Angeles.
So, when the time came to choose a new coach and direction for the national team, it was a bit of a letdown to see that US Soccer would stay the course and stick with Bob.
Just like in 2006, US Soccer Federation president Sunil Gulati pursued Klinsmann for the job. However, the result was the same with Bob being the default second choice (third perhaps?).
Was there anyone else besides Bob? What happened?
In an interview with former MLS player Sasha Victorine that was posted on the Kansas City Wizards website, Klinsmann admitted that it all came down to issues over control of the national team, which would extend beyond the technical staff and probably to a restructuring of the US Soccer Federation and player development programs.
US Soccer meandered in an endless desert of mismanagement and mediocrity for decades before a major purge in the late '80s. Since then, US Soccer has done its best to run a tight ship, build a working relationship with Major League Soccer and raise the profile of the sport across the American landscape.
For those reasons alone, one can understand why Gulati has been hesitant to let Klinsmann take free reign of the destiny of US Soccer.
Moreover, detractors of Klinsmann will point out his spotty run with Bayern Munich, where Klinsmann was given total control and brought in sports psychologists, yoga instructors, placed statues of Buddha around the club's training facility and experimented with the team's style of play.
Although he led Bayern to the quarterfinals of the DFB Cup and Champions League, it wasn't enough for a club accustomed to elite status with elite results. Klinsmann became the target of criticism from the media and was subsequently dropped by the club.
Some also question his work ethic and feel he lacks the will to work through difficult situations and might bail on US Soccer, leaving things in a big mess.
When taking all this into consideration, it makes sense why US Soccer chose to stick with Bob. They already know what to expect from him. With Bob at the helm, they already know the US is assured of qualification to World Cup 2014, they are confident that Bob will keep the US competitive with Mexico and they know Bob will work well with MLS and not overlook MLS talent when choosing his teams.
Best of all, Bob won't make any ludicrous demands or attempt a coup of the US Soccer Federation.
If this was a discussion about cars, you could compare Bob to the trusty Ford Focus with automatic transmission, which gets you from point A to point B without wasting much fuel but doesn't have what it takes to run on the track with the faster European models. Klinsmann is more of a slightly-used, manual-transmission BMW 5-Series that you can't take home unless you give the dealer the deed to your house and half of your paycheck.
From Gulati's point of view, the focus is on getting to the World Cup and hoping for a good draw and hopefully the knock-out round.
Going with Klinsmann would have been a huge investment that borders on a gamble and would have shaken up things too much for the suits at US Soccer. With the US now a sure thing in the World Cup, Klinsmann would be expected to take the team to at least the quarterfinals or beyond.
What if after all that, Klinsmann's plans fall apart thanks to mistakes on the field or the US gets lumped in a Group of Death and fails miserably? What then?
Sure, the same could happen with Bob in charge, but at least there aren't any crazy expectations. So, when the US barely defeats a CONCACAF minnow we can all sing our songs and chant our chants and then explode in jubilation when the team flies low under the radar and upsets some foolish team in the World Cup.
Just like 2010.