As successful as Bob Bradley was during his time coaching the U.S. Men’s National Team — winning a World Cup group; finishing second in a Confederations Cups; claiming a CONCACAF title — his successor was bound to be subject to some difficult comparisons. That his successor was Jurgen Klinsmann, a man who had previously been courted for the job, only heightened the debate. What was so wrong with Bradley? What’s so special about Klinsmann? Why is the U.S. essentially importing a coach, and why are we being told our soccer is needs to change?
A long-time resident of California, Klinsmann is not your typical foreign coach, but the fact he was brought into to enact a stylistic and organizational change only fed insecurities. Add in the transitioning of Carlos Bocanegra out of the team, Landon Donovan’s long hiatus from the international landscape, and a scathing, anonymously-fueled media examination by those in and around the team, and the Great Jurgen Klinsmann Debate briefly defined U.S. soccer.
Now, after 11 consecutive wins, a confederation title, and first place standing in The Hex, that debate’s been redefined. Instead of an anti-Klinsmann contingent carrying Philipp Lahm’s quotes to the steps of Soccer House, the opposition’s gone silent. Klinsmann’s shut them up. Concerns about tactical acumen have been answered by solid game plans and an increased ability to make the right in-game adjustments. Critiques that his success with Germany was dependent on an emerging talent base have been addressed by his drastic expansion of the player pool. And the complaint that Klinsmann was unduly imposing an ill-fitting style ring hollow as the team controls matches like they’ve never before.
As a result, the debate has died. Even if the U.S. were to fall on their face from here forward, the conversation would begin a new. The question wouldn’t be why Klinsmann didn’t work. Instead, it would turn into a Chepo-esque discussion. What went wrong, would be the question, one that would acknowledge the reality of Klinsmann’s current assent.
But without a doubt, that assent has reached a point where a few mea culpas are in order. Not that the original criticisms were so outlandish or unfounded. They just didn’t play out. In the mean time Klinsmann’s original visions of a different, more versatile and stylistically imposing U.S. squad have begun to take hold. You can see it in the results. You can see it in the players’ confidence. You can see it in the reverence teams are showing for the way the U.S. is playing. It’s striking how much Klinsmann’s plan’s fallen into place, contradicting so many other’s predictions.
With a major title in the bag and with the United States sitting on top of CONCACAF, Klinsmann has silenced his first set of detractors – those who predicted immediately failure, who were grabbing pitchforks ahead of the team’s World Cup qualifier against Costa Rica. Others with more nuanced concerns about the long-term fit may still be proven right, but for now, The Great Jurgen Klinsmann Debate that enthralled U.S. soccer in March has been settled in the coach’s favor.