Soccerstoriesbook's Blog


THE PLUSH LIFE OF JUERGEN KLINSMANN

Juergen Klinsmann has agreed to a four-year contract extension that keeps him at the U.S. National Team helm through the next World Cup cycle and on until the end of 2018.  As part of the agreement announced by the U.S. Soccer Federation, Klinsmann also becomes technical director.

Appointed U.S. coach in mid-2011 following the dismissal of Bob Bradley, Klinsmann guided an overhauled American squad to a 2014 World Cup berth.  The U.S. finished first in the final round of the CONCACAF qualifiers (7-2-1) and went undefeated in winning the 2013 Gold Cup.  The team ended the year 16-4-2 overall, setting single-year marks for wins, winning percentage (.761) and consecutive victories (12).

“One of the reasons we hired Juergen as our head coach was to advance the program, and we’ve seen the initial stages of that happening on the field and also off the field in various areas,” said U.S. Soccer Federation President Sunil Gulati.  “In the past two years he has built a strong foundation from the senior team down to the youth teams and we want to continue to build on that success.”

Klinsmann reportedly is being paid $2.5 million a year on his current contract and can earn up to $10.5 million in bonuses depending on the USA’s performance at Brasil ’14.  [December 12]

Comment:  The comfortable throne reserved for the U.S. National Team coach just got a little more plush.

Since the Bora Milutinovic era, when the rest of the world started to pay attention to the Americans, the post has been derided by the international media and fellow coaches (some of them wishful suitors) as a job with none of the intense scrutiny and relentless criticism that hounds most every other national team boss.

Said soon-to-be fired Mexico coach Ricardo LaVolpe of the overall U.S. National Team atmosphere after losing a World Cup qualifier to the Yanks in 2005:  “Here, everyone’s interested in baseball and American football and many people didn’t even know that a soccer match was being played today.  So it’s easy for them, because they aren’t playing under any pressure.  My mother, my grandmother, or my great-grandmother could play in a team like that.”

We’ll assume that LaVolpe’s grandmother is Clint Dempsey and his great-grandmother is a good deal older, like Steve Cherundolo.

Then, more recently–last December–there was disgraced former France coach Raymond Domenech, who guided Les Bleus to the 2006 World Cup final and then watched his team mutiny and implode in a disgraceful three-and-out showing four years later.

“There’s a job I’d rather have,” Domenech said in an interview with But! Lyon.  “Besides, I know [Klinsmann], he knows and he doesn’t care.  This post is the coach of the United States.  I’d like to see this country.  Add to that, the Americans always qualify [for the World Cup].  At the same time, it is easy in North America:  there are only two games to qualify for the World Cup.  South America is already a paradise, but the North is even better!  You play Canada, Mexico.  You’ll walk in the Islands.”

We’ll never understand what Domenech meant by Canada, which is ranked 112th in the world and crashed in CONCACAF’s 2014 World Cup qualifiers two months before his comments.  That aside, he made his point.    Here, there is the lack of the breathless, relentless pressure that has made life miserable for everyone from Franz Beckenbauer to Michel Platini to Brazil’s once and future genius, Felipe “Big Phil” Scolari.  And it hasn’t done much for Miguel Herrera, the last in a string of four Mexico coaches run through the grinder from September to November.

While the U.S. National Team is years away from having the support–and scrutiny–of a majority of the country, the resulting atmosphere has spared the USSF the temptation to make panicky dismissals of its coaches and allowed those coaches to go about their business.

In Klinsmann’s case, time to test a large number of players, make mistakes, and, ultimately, over time, alter the culture of the team.  Then watch the results at a World Cup.  Or, perhaps, a second World Cup.

Not being a soccer nation has its advantages after all.

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THE KASEY KELLER EFFECT

They threw open the gates to the upper deck at CenturyLink Field and 64,140 turned out to see the Sounders defeat the San Jose Earthquakes, 2-1, in the final 2011 regular-season match in Seattle.  Sammy Ochoa and Fredy Montero scored in the last 10 minutes and goalkeeper Kasey Kelly stopped seven shots to send the throng home happy. 

This was not part of a doubleheader, and there was no fireworks spectacular offered.  Both sides had qualified for the playoffs.  The attraction was goalkeeper and native son Keller, who plans to retire at the end of the season.  [October15]

Comment I:  Appropriate, and well deserved.

With all due respect to Brad Friedel, Tony Meola and Tim Howard, Keller, 41, will step down as the best goalkeeper produced by a country known, internationally, for its goalkeepers.  The pride of Olympia, WA, never had a three-week stretch like Friedel, who started ahead of Keller at the 2002 World Cup and was spectacular for a hot team.   And Keller largely went down with the ship as a starter at the 1998 and 2006 World Cups.   But from 1990 to 2008, he was world class in England (Millwall, Leicester City, Tottenham, Southampton, Fulham), Spain (Rayo Vallecano), and Germany (Borussia Moenchengladbach), blazing a trail for the likes of Alexi Lalas, Carlos Bocanegra, Steve Cherundolo, Clint Dempsey, Frankie Hejduk, Brian McBride and, yes, Friedel and Howard.

Keller’s career spans an amazing stretch in U.S. soccer history.  A star at the University of Portland, he played for FC Portland of the Western Soccer League in 1989.   The WSL’s players were semipro for the most part, but Portland was made up of college players protecting their amateur status; young Keller posted a 0.38 goals-against average and won the league’s MVP award ahead of players like Marcelo Balboa, Dominick Kinnear and John Doyle.  Twenty-one years after playing in front of  hundreds at Portland’s Civic Stadium (future home of the MLS Portland Timbers), the crowd watching him is an adoring 64,140, the third-largest for a stand-alone game in MLS history. 

At least Keller will always have the 1998 CONCACAF Gold Cup, where he made 10 saves–most of them bordering on the miraculous–to turn away Romario, Edmundo and Brazil, 1-0, at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum in the semifinals.  It was the greatest performance ever by an American goalkeeper in a high-profile match.  But some will speculate what might have been had coach Bora Milutinovic decided to put up with what was then a young, headstrong Kasey Keller and chosen him ahead of Meola, Friedel and Juergen Sommer for his 1994 World Cup squad.  If Keller, not Meola, was covering the near post during the USA’s final first-round match, a 1-0 loss to Romania, maybe the U.S. wouldn’t have had to face Brazil in the second round.  Instead, the opponent would have been a somewhat softer Spain, in Washington DC, and hard to say if Bora’s Boys wouldn’t have bought an appearance in the rarified air of the quarterfinals and with it another week in the national spotlight.

Comment II:  The crowd at CenturyLink Field was the fourth-largest worldwide that weekend–trailing only those at FC Barcelona, Real Madrid and Bayern Munich.  It lifted Seattle to a final average attendance for the regular season of 38,496 (nearly 3,000 above stadium capacity) and made the Sounders the best draw in MLS for all three years of their existence.  More important, it helped boost the league’s average gate for 2011 to 17,795 with one week remaining, thus breaking the record of 17,406 set in MLS’s inaugural 1996 season.

There were a few factors that made that 17,406 possible.  First and foremost, there was the novelty factor as an entire league debuted.  There also was the blessing and curse of the many gridiron football stadiums the teams were forced to call home:  While four-figure crowds looked pathetic in these cavernous stadiums, when it came to home openers or games with post-game fireworks shows, there were plenty of seats for all, like the Rose Bowl crowd of 69,255 that saw the Los Angeles Galaxy’s first match.  And there were turnstile counts that deserved an asterisk, like the 92,216 back at the Rose Bowl on hand for a twinbill involving the Galaxy against the now-defunct Tampa Bay Mutiny and the U.S. National Team versus Mexico.  (Easy to conclude that it wasn’t Mutiny fans who flooded the stadium that day.)

No such gimmicks or mitigating factors today, which only makes Keller’s big night all the more impressive.  No fireworks, no giveaways, no glitzy foreign opposition–just a love affair between the Sounders’ amazing following and a hometown boy who makes good and returns to close out his career.   Think of it–an American soccer player as a major drawing card, at least for one night.   The Emerald City is the exception to the rule in so many things MLS, but Keller’s big night suggests the possibility that the league has reached the point where its clubs should consider staging testimonial matches for its most popular American players.

The last true testimonial match held here was Pele’s farewell at Giants Stadium in 1977, when he played one half each for the Cosmos and his former Brazilian club, Santos, before a packed house.  Since then, the only thing close was the 2004 farewell tour by the U.S. National Women’s Team as Mia Hamm, Julie Foudy and Joy Fawcett called it a career.  It’s too late for favorites such as Cobi Jones (L.A.), McBride (Columbus) and Balboa (Colorado), but it’s time for MLS to recognize that the pull of certain popular, long-time players is stronger than it may have previously realized.



THE HONEYMOON BEGINETH

New U.S. National Team coach Juergen Klinsmann named a 22-man roster for the August 10 friendly with Mexico at Philadelphia’s Lincoln Financial Field.  The meeting will be the first between the rivals since Mexico’s 4-2 romp over the Americans in the 2011 CONCACAF Gold Cup final at the Rose Bowl in July.  It also will be the first friendly between the two sides in three years.  [August 4]

Comment:  Let the honeymoon begin, or as former Mexico coach Ricardo LaVolpe once said of the U.S. National Team, as quoted in Soccer Stories: Anecdotes, Oddities, Lore and Amazing Feats:  “Here, everyone is interested in baseball and American football and many people didn’t even know that a soccer match was being played today.  So it’s easy for them, because they aren’t playing under any pressure.  My mother, my grandmother, my great-grandmother could play in a team like that.”

As games go, this is about as meaningless as it comes when it’s the U.S. and Mexico.  Klinsmann will have a long look at players he’s wondered about during his five years as U.S.-coach-in-waiting, and the process will continue next month, with friendlies against Costa Rica at the Home Depot Center in Carson, CA, and Belgium at King Badouin Stadium in Brussels. 

It doesn’t matter if the U.S. goes down again, 4-2, in Philly.  It doesn’t matter if the U.S. performs poorly against another World Cup qualifier opponent, Costa Rica, or extends its limp record against European teams in Europe with its trip to Brussels.  And it doesn’t matter because these are friendlies and the U.S. coach is former German star Juergen Klinsmann, the biggest name ever to coach the national team.  

Klinsmann’s resume begins with a World Cup championship in 1990, and he lifted the 1996 European Championship trophy as captain.  To put Klinsmann’s credentials as a player in perspective, he scored 47 goals in 108 international  appearances;  the total number of caps earned by his 34 predecessors at the U.S. helm total 35, and it would be far fewer were it not for future NASL commissioner Phil Woosnam, who played 17 times for Wales in the early ’60s.  (The others:  Bob Millar, two, for the U.S.; Erno Schwarz, two for Hungary; Bob Kehoe, four, for the U.S.; Gordon Bradley, one, for the U.S.; Walt Chyzowych, three, for the U.S.; Bob Gansler, five, for the U.S.; and Bruce Arena, one, for the U.S.)

As a coach, while he later failed to click at his former club, Bayern Munich, what most will remember him for was his work in transforming Germany at the 2006 World Cup.  Despite being the hosts, the young Germans were expected by their own countrymen to crash early but instead played an entertaining and inspired brand of soccer in reaching the semifinals.

Beyond that, Klinsmann seems to have come out of Central Casting, had the call gone out for a foreign-born U.S. National Team coach.  Young, articulate, bright enough to negotiate his own contracts while with AS Monaco and on other stops during his highly successful 17-year playing career.  Lives in Huntington Beach, CA, with his American wife and their two very American children.  Thoroughly familiar with the current national team pool, the American mentality and the American soccer system.    

As a result, expect Klinsmann to get the kid-glove treatment for quite some time from the those covering the national team, a press corps never known for making life difficult for any previous U.S. coach–even the prickly Arena or the equally prickly Alkis Panagoulias.  To put it another way, Klinsmann’s relationship with the media will make the bucolic Bora Milutinovic era resemble the height of rancor and malevolence.



NOW MAYBE A STEP FORWARD, NOT YET ANOTHER STEP SIDEWAYS

Bob Bradley, U.S. National Team coach since 2007, was fired during a meeting with U.S. Soccer Federation President Sunil Gulati and federation CEO Dan Flynn at the Home Depot Center outside Los Angeles.

The USSF said it would have a further annoncement in two days.  [July 28]

Comment:  David Gould.  Bill Lloyd.  Andrew M. Brown.  Walter Giesler.  William Jeffrey.  John Wood.  Erno Schwartz.  George Meyer.  Jim Reed.  John Herberger.  George Meyer (again).  Phil Woosnam.  Gordon Jago.  Bob Kehoe.  Max Wosniak.  Eugene Chyzowych.  Gordon Bradley.  Dettmar Cramer.  Al Miller.  Manny Schellscheidt.  Walter Chyzowych, Bob Gansler, Alkis Panagoulias, Lothar Osiander, Bob Gansler (again), John Kowalski, Bora Milutinovic, Steve Sampson, Bruce Arena . . . and Bob Bradley.

The leading candidate to succeed Bradley is Juergen Klinsmann.  That would make Klinsmann the only U.S. coach to have ever actually played in a World Cup, let alone won one.



THIS LILLY DOESN’T WILT

The U.S. will kick off its bid to reach the 2011 FIFA Women’s World Cup in Germany tonight when it takes on Haiti at Estadio Quintana Roo in Cancun in the second game of the CONCACAF qualifying tournament.  The finalists of the eight-nation competition earn trips to Germany while the third-place finisher advances to a playoff against Europe’s fifth-place team.  [October 28]

Comment:  No. 1 in the latest FIFA World Rankings, the U.S. figures to breeze to a berth in Germany, although the steadily improving Canada and host Mexico might make things interesting.  The only real question is, when will Kristine Lilly appear, extending her world record in career caps to an astounding 350.

It would be easier to understand if the 39-year-old Lilly was a goalkeeper, or even a defender, relying on positioning and experience to compensate for diminishing foot speed.  But the 5-foot-4 Lilly is what’s she’s always been:  a midfield dynamo doing the heavy lifting, something appreciated by her teammates, some of whom are now a little more than half her age.

Lilly earned her first cap in 1987, four years before FIFA staged its first Women’s World Cup, a competition hosted by China that America would win.  Another world championship and two Olympic gold medals have followed.

It should be acknowledged that elite women’s soccer doesn’t revolve around powerful clubs and national leagues, so the emphasis is on international play (think Bora Milutinovic’s  U.S. National Men’s Team, which played 52 matches in the 18 months leading up to the 1994 World Cup).  Of all women’s national teams, the U.S. has a whopping 25 players, current or retired, who have played in 100 matches or more; Germany and China, at 15 and 13, respectively, are next.   Nevertheless, Lilly’s numbers are a testament to her extraordinary talent, drive and durability.

Among men, the leader is Mohamed Al Deayea of Saudi Arabia at 181, followed by Mexico’s Claudio Suarez (177) and Ahmed Hassan of Egypt (169).  Topping the U.S. list is Cobi Jones, whose 164 caps are less than half of Lilly’s.  The average number of caps on the current U.S. women’s squad is 73; without Lilly, it’s 58.  She’s the only player to appear in all five Women’s World Cups.  And, oh yes, on a team known over the years for the scoring exploits of Carin Gabarra, Michelle Akers, Tiffeny Milbrett, Mia Hamm and Abby Wambach, the little engine from Wilton, Connecticut, and the University of North Carolina has scored 130 times for the United States.