Unless you’re deaf to the discussion that surrounds the U.S. men’s national team (and if you are, more power to you), you noticed how Brian Straus’s Sporting News piece was disproportionately embraced by the critics – those who already had doubts about Jurgen Klinsmann. As ‘level-handed’ as Straus tried to be about relaying his insiders’ doubts, the piece was laced with indictments. If you were at all concerned about the national team’s direction, the story become vindication.
Opposing views eventually surfaced, but by then the contingent of detractors had been lured into the open. For them, Straus’s work was ammunition. Philipp Lahm’s criticisms were already emblazoned in their minds, ready to unload in retort whenever the occasion arouse. For them Joachim Löw, not Klinsmann, was always the key to Germany. Take him out of the equation, and all Klinsmann had to his coaching career was his failure at Bayern. This guy may not even be as good as Bradley.
And in the buildup to Costa Rica, those criticisms hit a crescendo only to fe hoisted on their own petard, sent falling to the Dick’s Sporting Goods pitch to be buried frozen under foot. Beneath ankle-deep snow and three World Cup qualifying points, the detractors’ case started to turn cold. Not only had the U.S. won, but the adaptability Klinsmann had been preaching for near-two years was on display, taking full points in a game everybody acknowledged as must win.
After the result at Azteca provided further validation, it’s tempting to think the anxiety of Colorado is in the team’s past, though that would seriously underestimate the strength of the detractor’s beliefs. Just as they crouched in wait for work like the Sporting News’s to shine light on dressing room rumblings, so they’ll wait for the team’s next stumble. If the attack doesn’t come around at Jamaica or at home against Panama and Honduras, expect a humbled but dedicated opposition to ask if the U.S. isn’t just delaying the inevitable. Until Klinsmann fulfills the promises, there will always be doubters.
There’s nothing unfair about holding coaches to standards, but it’s important remember who sets those standards. Or in the case of Klinsmann – a man whose easy demeanor leaves some to read him as arrogant or aloof – it’s important to realize who didn’t set those standards. Klinsmann has never promised to deliver a World Cup, nor has he claimed he’ll be the man to finally make the U.S. a power commensurate with the country’s stature. He’s only come in with a plan to improve U.S. Soccer, something every boss should have in tow. That Klinsmann’s plan is more exhaustive, ambitious, and revolutionary than his predecessors’ doesn’t mean his ultimate goal (progress) is any different.
With the same eye toward success as any coach who would take the U.S.’s reigns, it seems Klinsmann’s only arrogance was deigning to accept a position he was granted, because it was inevitable a man of with his CV would engender high expectations. His main problem is having different, proven, but easily criticized plan to build a program, the scope of which allows critics to bemoan one aspect (tactics) while undervaluing others.
One good week is can neither squelch nor refocus that dissent. The skepticism is too deep-seeded to uproot with five days and four points. That those results came in the face an uncoiled backlash will pierce the pride of the slumbering bully, but he’ll resurface. Only fulfilling contrived promises will smooth Klinsmann’s course.
But Klinsmann has bought himself some time, as well as some credibility. The next bump in the road won’t be met with the same scrutiny, and crisis number two will be evaluating knowing how Klinsmann defused crisis number one.
But until the U.S. becomes Germany – or CONCACAF’s facsimile there of – Klinsmann be seen as a false prophet, and through no fault of his own. With ever word of dissent that leaks from the locker room, people who never wanted Klinsmann hired in the first place will the seeds of a bigger, perhaps non-existent problem. If he stumbles in Panama, fails to win the Gold Cup, or can’t get past the Round of 16 in Brazil, he’ll be no better than Bob, regardless of whether he’s set the underlying course in a new, more versatile direction.
The crisis is over, but the U.S. needs more than a re-centered campaign for Klinsmann to earn any leeway with his doubters.