USMNT Roundtable: Four More Years
The last USMNT roundtable of 2013 considers whether Jurgen Klinsmann’s contract extension is an early gift or a lump of coal…
night fortnight before Christmas, when all were at parties,
‘Cept at US Soccer, where Sunil Gulati
Dictated an email for the media’s top tier,
With news that St. Klinsi would get four more years.
You know the rest.
But was the decision — to extend Jurgen Klinsmann’s tenure as head coach of USMNT to the 2018 World Cup, before the 2014 tournament has even started — a good one?
Sounds like a question for the roundtable…
Klinsmann deserves this extension. He has engineered one of the most successful runs in the history of the national team. USMNT topped the CONCACAF World Cup qualifying Hex, blitzed through the Gold Cup with a 6-0-0 record, won a dozen straight games over the summer of 2013, and notched their first ever points at Estadio Azteca.
The U.S. Soccer Federation also saw fit to name Klinsmann as technical director of the squad, which will give him greater oversight with the youth squads and Development Academy players. This creates a continuity going forward, eliminates the possibility of Klinsmann moving on to another gig after Brazil, and puts the keys to the future in the hands of a man who believes USMNT has the ability and the resources to challenge for a World Cup.
However, even though this was the right move, I believe there was an ulterior motive for the U.S. Federation. The World Cup draw has placed USMNT in a “Group of Death,” and greatly raised the possibility of the USA getting knocked out, even narrowly, in the first round.
U.S. Soccer must have realized how bad it would look to offer a contract extension to Klinsi post-World Cup if he failed to take the team further than his predecessor, Bob Bradley — a man USSF was trying to force out the door for most of his tenure. Extending Klinsi was smart and clearly the right choice, but I think it was also a potential face-saving move by the federation.
The US Soccer Federation and Sunil Gulati have rehired coach Klinsmann for another four years, stretching his contract out until 2018 and adding the title of Technical Director for US Soccer to his resume. This is an unprecedented move by any soccer federation: to rehire a coach before a ball is even kicked in a World Cup cycle.
But coach Klinsmann is not just your ordinary coach. I like Klinsi as the coach, and he has had a successful tenure with USMNT. This signing may seem rather premature, but let’s dig deeper into some of the motivations of the US Soccer Federation.
Sunil Gulati is no fool, so he knows that Group G of the 2014 World Cup could be a real heartbreaker. On paper, USMNT might escape the Group of Death, or it might get killed with zero points. Coach Klinsmann is a hot coaching commodity and USSF would rather have him sign a contract extension now than have him be judged on the team’s performance in Brazil.
We all know this World Cup is going to be tough for USMNT. You could place any team with a world ranking from 6 to 15 into Group G and make an argument that it won’t get to the knockout rounds. Basically, USSF doesn’t want another country try to steal Klinsi away from the Stars and Stripes due to whatever results may come in the summer of 2014. Also, the federation is buying into Jurgie’s vision for US Soccer — hence the additional title of Technical Director.
USSF loves the fact of a coach with mass appeal to the US public, plenty of charisma, and the ambition to take US Soccer to the elite level of world football.
As premature as it may seem, I am in favor of the re-signing. After all, it’s Jurgen Klinsmann: a person who has actually won a World Cup as a player (in 1990), and who, as a coach, was just a little unlucky to lose to eventual winners Italy in the semifinal of 2006 tournament. Klinsi has the pedigree — the US Soccer Federation made the right decision to extend his contract early.
The decision by Sunil Gulati to extend the contract of Jurgen Klinsmann at this point was one of the easiest and best decisions Gulati has made during his tenure as president of the United States Soccer Federation.
Klinsi was hired to raise the profile of USMNT from a good CONCACAF team that can occasionally get a result against a top team to THE heavyweight in the region and a side no one wants in their World Cup group. To do this, he had to remake the team from one combining maximum effort and pluck with bunker and counter-attack soccer against elite opposition, to one with the technical ability to dominate its region and challenge the best in the world.
This is not a slight on either Bruce Arena or Bob Bradley, because I feel tactically they utilized the talent they had in the best possible way. Indeed, the lack of technical ability in the player pool available to either of those coaches underscores the reason why a paradigm change such as the one being implemented by Klinsmann requires time and commitment from the national federation.
At this point, I expected to see an increase in depth and glimpses of a technically better side, but not the positive results the Nats have achieved. The timing of the extension says as much about the commitment to Klinsmann and his goals as the contract itself. The timing says the job is not nearly done, and the results in the 2014 World Cup are more like a mid-term than a final exam.
With regard to his achievements, the fact that Klinsi is still rumored to be in demand by both clubs (Spurs) and federations (Switzerland) alike, despite the contract extension, shows just how highly the rest of the world has rated his recent work.
To continue that work, even after the final of the 2018 World Cup, I see Klinsmann moving into a general manager type of role, where he has influence on who leads the teams throughout the federation.
To join the next roundtable, contact Austin Fido, by email – email@example.com – or @canetop.