Jurgen Klinsmann

Digging into the “Why?” over concerns about Jurgen Klinsmann

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DENVER — Where did this perception of a Jurgen Klinsmann spiral come from?

Let’s dive into the “Why?” on this sudden, raging unease and unrest over the U.S. manager.

Why, for some fans, media and supporters, was he the darling of our U.S. Soccer establishment one day, a prized innovator ready to get this team off its plateau, then something very different the next? Why was he suddenly a bumbling know-nothing (at least in some eyes), a man who is risking our World Cup and needs bailing out worse than the banking system of 2008?

It really comes down to five perceived problems. Let’s look at them:

Treatment of Carlos Bocanegra

I distinctly remember watching Carlos Bocanegra, the once stately U.S. captain, during a couple of sequences in semifinal qualifying. He was caught out of position and just did not have the foot speed to recover. I recall thinking, “Hmmmm. This is a problem.”

Players do get older. The quickness and mobility slips away. Some can make positional adjustments and “think” their way into a slightly more prolonged career. But only a precious few can keep their game at international level into their mid 30s, and Bocanegra turns 34 in May.

We all wrote two years ago about the inevitability of it, about how Bocanegra would struggle to be effective as a 35-year-old during the 2014 World Cup. Guys like Omar Gonzalez and Geoff Cameron were always going to pick up the baton at some point.

Is this really so shocking?

VERDICT: Not guilty 

Grand designs abandoned, grand promises not kept

What about that higher defensive line, the sharper passing out of the back, the more attack-minded philosophy as represented through consistently aggressive tactical approach?

Klinsmann did arrive with visions of something better, something more stylistic, something attack-minded that U.S. supporters could really get behind (although the highly pragmatic approach under Bob Bradley doesn’t look so doggone bad anymore, now does it?)

On this one, Klinsmann has made little or no progress. His best results have arrived via matches that highly resembled Bradley’s blueprint, which was about tightly organized lines of defense, and then offense through counter-punch and set piece magic.

Here, Klinsmann’s hands have been tied. His most dynamic man, Landon Donovan, has been scarcely available. His options for wingers and playmakers? Meh.

I know everyone wants to see more – but honestly, you really think Jose Torres is all that? Klinsmann did himself no favors through over-promise. Otherwise …

VERDICT: hung jury 

A semifinal round that didn’t go swimmingly

In the end Klinsmann’s team finished atop its semifinal round group, earning 13 points to match the team’s second-highest total in a semifinal round in the last five World Cup cycles.

But style points were lacking (see above) and it did come down to the final match day, which is probably too close for comfort for either Mexico or the United States, the region’s powers.

 VERDICT: hung jury 

Perceptions of player mistreatment (mostly Jozy Altidore)

source:

Criticism of Klinsmann on this is rather silly.

The coach upset a bunch of folks by not calling Altidore for two qualifiers last fall, never mind that he was scoring regularly for AZ in the Netherlands.

Klinsmann simply didn’t think Altidore was working hard enough – especially as a guy like Terrence Boyd set the example for how to seriously get after it during practices.

I said all along, this was never about Altidore in qualifying; the United States had enough muscle to reach the final round.  This was about building the best Altidore for the long haul – and what manager wouldn’t want that?

Klinsmann sent a message. Altidore heard it. The young striker is better off.

VERDICT: not guilty 

Inclusion of multiple German Americans

This is one where Klinsmann has over-reached. Yes, Fabian Johnson, Timothy Chandler, Danny Williams, Jermaine Jones and Boyd are either bright young stars in the making or talented figures who offer the team something more concrete right now. (Jones and Chandler, by the way, were brought into the system under former manager Bob Bradley.)

But there was surely a point of diminishing return here, where Klinsmann began running a risk of doing harm to the domestic coaching establishment, and potentially to his locker room, too.

He is absolutely correct that Chandler, Johnson, etc., are “Americans,” and they are 100 percent eligible to play for the national team. He made the point again at Thursday’s news conference.

Still, perhaps a little more discretion here, a little more judicious use of this card, would be helpful. In terms of mitigating locker room cliques and ensuring that development here remains a valued cornerstone of the U.S. Soccer organization – rather than just picking off the “passport players” developed in other lands – he’s probably got enough players in the pool now who didn’t grow up in the United States.

VERDICT: guilty 

“Pretty unreal, a fairy tale” — Alonso, Marshall celebrate Sounders title

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Talk about penalty kicks all you want, and definitely talk about that save, but Seattle’s formative heart kept Toronto FC’s vaunted attack off the scoreboard to win its first MLS Cup final.

Veterans Chad Marshall, Osvaldo Alonso, Stefan Frei, and Roman Torres simply got the job done against Sebastian Giovinco, Jozy Altidore and the high-flying Reds.

“We knew what a great offensive team they are,” Marshall said. “Giovinco and Jozy are incredible. The amount of goals they put up this postseason is pretty ridiculous, so to keep them off the board for 120 minutes is incredible.”

[ MLS CUP: Seattle wins in PKs | 3 things ]

The man in front of him, Alonso, was a prime reason for that. Countless connecting passes and perfect spacing limited TFC’s chances with the ball. After an MVP caliber season, you could argue that Alonso deserved just as much of a shout for MLS Cup MVP as winner Frei.

“In the final you have to give everything you have to win,” Alonso said. “I step on the field to play for my team, play for myself, and play for my family. And I think I did that.”

Both Alonso and Marshall spoke of the moments following Torres’ match-winning PK, as the Sounders crew flew down to pitch to celebrate in front of a rave green and blue visitors section high above BMO Field.

[ MORE: Bradley apologizes to fans ]

[ MORE: Altidore, Frei on that save ]

“I think I threw my back out on the run to Roman, and he flew right by me,” Marshall said. “It was just nuts. I lost my voice in a matter of 20 seconds. It’s just so exciting.”

Alonso was filled with pride for the fans at the game, and the ones back in Seattle who stood by the Sounders after a midseason coaching change.

“They deserved this, the trophy, because they are always there for us,” Alonso said. “Even when we were down at the bottom of the table. This trophy means a lot for me.”

Marshall admitted the words weren’t coming to him, even an hour after the game.

“I don’t know if I can. It’s an incredible feeling, from where we in July, the Kansas City game, to this moment right now, it’s pretty unreal, a fairy tale.”

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Bradley lauds “fearless” teammates after heart-wrenching MLS Cup loss

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Michael Bradley paused to collect himself, several times actually, before apologizing to Toronto FC’s supporters.

The game of football, with its soaring highs and gutting lows, was the latter now. TFC had dominated Seattle over a lackluster 120 minutes, Bradley engineered several big interventions and some delightful balls that didn’t have an end product.

[ MLS CUP: Seattle wins in PKs | 3 things ]

Much of that won’t be remembered, though, because Bradley passed his penalty kick right into the path of a waiting Stefan Frei. Surrounded by reporters in the TFC locker room, Bradley chose his words carefully.

“When you put everything you have into something, when you come in every day ready to pour your heart and soul into something, the highs are amazing and emotional and incredible in a positive ways,” Bradley said. “And the setbacks… hit you hard. Every guy here is going to have to take the time to get over this one, to let it hurt, let it frustrate you, let it anger you.

“It’s not for the weak, and you see that on nights like tonight.”

[ MORE: Altidore, Frei on that save ]

Bradley was one of the final men to emerge from the showers at BMO Field, and he answered every question with brutal honesty.

“On behalf of the team, we can only thank every person in this city for their support and for the passion and the emotion and the energy that they put into this, together with us,” he said. “I’m sick to my stomach that we couldn’t reward them with the biggest trophy tonight.”

In defeat, it was easy to see why TFC’s locker room is drawn to its captain. Bradley shirked nothing, answering the tough questions and humoring those who would lob softballs about his family.

Among the former was this response, one of those quotes that moves a team into formation.

“The margins are so small, and on nights like this you have no choice but to go for it,” he said. “We talked about having a group of guy who were gonna, on the biggest of nights, be fearless and go after things in an aggressive way. And we did that. We were strong, brave, and went after the game in a really, really hard away from the first minute right up until the 120th minute.”

That Bradley missed a PK will howl to the moon in Toronto to the wee hours of this Sunday morning, and his critics will be happy to join in. But as the 29-year-old prepares for a winter that could see him head across an ocean before returning for World Cup qualifying and another MLS season, Toronto can be happy to put its faith — and its backbone — in No. 4.

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Altidore, Frei react to “that save” after Sounders claim MLS Cup

TORONTO, ONTARIO - DECEMBER 10:  Stefan Frei #24 of the Seattle Sounders stops Michael Bradley #4 of the Toronto FC during the penalty kick phase during the 2016 MLS Cup at BMO Field on December 10, 2016 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. Seattle defeated Toronto in the 6th round of extra time penalty kicks. (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images)
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When it comes down to it, Jozy Altidore and Toronto FC were inches away from becoming MLS Cup champions.

The man who walked away with MLS Cup MVP was the reason they didn’t.

[ WATCH: Frei’s big save ]

Deep in extra time, Altidore leapt high to loft a header toward the far post. Frei adjusted his body for one dramatic lunge, just slapping the ball toward Roman Torres for a clear.

“(Altidore) does the right thing because he goes against the way that I’m coming from, and that point you just move your feet as quick as you can see what’s possible,” Frei said.

Altidore thought it was in.

“I thought so,” he said. “It was a tough ball to begin with. … It was a hell of a save. At the end of the day you’ve got to pull off something special.”

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Three things we learned from Seattle Sounders’ MLS Cup triumph

Seattle Sounders players chase defender Roman Torres (29) after he scored the game-winning shootout goal to defeat the Toronto FC during shoot out MLS Cup soccer final action in Toronto on Saturday, December 10, 2016. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Mark Blinch/The Canadian Press via AP)
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MLS Cup 2016 was the most well-played game of soccer all year — far from it, in fact — but the Seattle Sounders are MLS champions for the first time in their eight-year history anyway.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS Cup coverage ]

Three thoughts on a poorly-played, but thoroughly intense 2016 finale…

A cup final, it most certainly was

The numbers of cup finals which feature brilliant, composed attacking play is hugely outweighed by the number of cup finals featuring a total lack thereof. Whether it was down to nerves, the frigid conditions in which the game was played, or a combination of the two, Saturday’s final at BMO Field was yet another example of the latter.

The telling stats: 40 fouls between the two sides (just three yellow cards shown); zero first-half shots attempted by the Sounders, and just three shots in total over 120 minutes (zero on target).

The only moment of true quality came in the 108th minute, when Stefan Frei made the best save you’ve seen all year to deny Jozy Altidore and keep the Sounders on level terms (WATCH HERE).

Michael Bradley, man of the match (until his PK)

As we’ve come to expect, Bradley was anywhere and everywhere on the field for TFC, at all the right times. With Osvaldo Alonso playing the part of warrior in the Sounders midfield, and Jonathan Osorio’s attacking prowess preferred to the defensive chops of Will Johnson alonside Bradley, it was up to the U.S. national team captain to singlehandedly track and mark Nicolas Lodeiro out of the game. He did just that, and so much more.

Then, came his penalty kick, TFC’s second, which was hit with so little pace and no more than three feet to Frei’s left for the easiest save he’d make all night.

The greatest comeback in MLS history

You’ve heard it all by now, but it doesn’t make what the Sounders did from August to December any less remarkable — from ninth place on the day Sigi Schmid was fired (two days before Lodeiro arrived), to the MLS summit in four and a half months. No team in MLS history had ever overcome a points gap that large (10) that late in the season to even qualify for the playoffs, let alone advance in said playoffs, reach MLS Cup, and lift the trophy.

Brian Schmetzer, a Seattle native and member of the Sounders family since his own playing days beginning in 1980, replaced Schmid with (presumably) the idea that he’d see out the lost season as interim head coach before making way for a big-name hire this winter. He won eight of his first 14 games as a head coach instead, led the Sounders to the four-seed in the Western Conference, and delivered to his hometown the ultimate prize on Saturday.

Watching the Portland Timbers lift MLS Cup 2015 was undoubtedly the toughest pill to swallow for anyone in Rave Green, but to end their Cascaida Cup rivals’ reign as defending champions by winning that very piece of silverware themselves … that’s a one-up that’ll last a lifetime.