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With better leaders, USMNT will see victories

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Two weeks ago, American soccer fans were delighted at news that Jurgen Klinsmann, the U.S. Men’s National Team head coach and technical director, had been fired. During his five-year tenure in both positions, he had many moderate highs and disappointing lows, including taking the national team to a historic low.

As head coach, Klinsmann did a seemingly fine job guiding the team to 55-27-16, which is not terrible for a nation that only cares about the sport every four years.

He helped the team won the Gold Cup in 2013, finally beat Ghana in a World Cup and went to the semifinals of the Copa America Centenario. No, the 2014 World Cup doesn’t count, because the team only advanced on goal difference by winning one game. 

Wrong coaching

Klinsmann found a lot of lows, however. Personally, every time the US played, it never felt like the team was safe. Even if we were winning, there was a feeling that we were going to lose, somehow.

While Klinsmann was aiming for a creative style of play, the players looked to the conventional, get-the-job-done way. Forcing the players into the former without preparation or real thought into the new responsibilities doesn’t go well.

For example, Klinsmann randomly used a 3-5-2 formation against Mexico. That went pretty terribly.

Klinsmann also got the USMNT to lose the 2015 Gold Cup to Jamaica — the equivalent of anyone losing to the Cleveland Browns. With three World Cup qualifying losses this year, it is becoming clear that the team won’t make it to the grand game — the equivalent of Alabama not being ranked in college football.

USMNT never qualified for the Olympics. Even though the Olympics isn’t that important, it still hurts. More crucial, however, is how the USMNT lost to Mexico at home, in the unofficial spiritual home of U.S. soccer that is Columbus, Ohio.

These stunning upsets might be due to Klinsmann applying the American audience-desired creative style that players weren’t ready for. Yes, the players are professional, but they’re not German national-team professional.

As a coach, you adapt and slowly implement a style. Jurgen Klinsmann wanted it now.

Soccer-less leadership

With Klinsmann gone, Bruce Arena is back. The solution to this problem is actually a bigger issue: Sunil Gulati, president of U.S. Soccer.

It’s time for him to go.

Gulati, to his credit, has done more than enough for U.S. Soccer. He has ushered it to a point where it is more than financially stable. U.S. Soccer is its own entity under the Amateur Sports Act of 1978, and therefore, it’s in charge of its own finances.

Gulati has brought around a new era of soccer popularity in the U.S. He’s made a lot of great business decisions that have pushed the beautiful game to the forefront of American vision. Without him, ESPN, Fox and NBC wouldn’t fight for those lucrative Europa League’s TV contracts.

We are the closest we’ve been in a long time to hosting a World Cup again.

But, like with Klinsmann, there are two sides to everything. Gulati, an economics professor at Columbia University, is an excellent business person. Those skills, though, do not translate into the ability to make completely competent soccer decisions.

First off, he appointed Klinsmann two positions that inherently contradict each other. The technical director’s job is to push for better youth development, which clashes with the head coach’s job in the United States.

Facing the facts, the Major League Soccer isn’t that great of a league. The technical director needs to push the country’s youth toward better leagues — European leagues. MLS players and officials don’t like this.

Klinsmann was also infamous for degrading MLS. He then had to pick players there to play for the USMNT. Obviously, this did not end well.

Gulati also didn’t fire Klinsmann in 2015 after the Gold Cup loss to Jamaica. I wouldn’t be surprised if, in other countries, this resulted in the coach’s passport being revoked and an immediate deportation. In the U.S., somehow you get to keep your job.

This was a terrible non-decision from Gulati that created the situation USMNT is in.

Lastly, Gulati rehired Arena to be USMNT’s coach. Arena is one of the reasons America has been stuck in a boring, get-it-done play style.

With players like Bobby Wood, Deandre Yedlin and America’s one true hope, Christian Pulisic, the USMNT has a future of creative and fun, attack-heavy soccer. Not so with Arena.

Newness will score

I’m not calling for Gulati to resign. This wouldn’t make sense since we’re currently in the middle of the World Cup cycle. This kind of shakeup would just add more chaos in USMNT’s already anarchic situation.

I’m also not calling the Board of Directors to take a no-confidence vote in Gulati. He’s done nothing ostensibly wrong other than questionable soccer decisions.

Every four years, elections are held for a new president of U.S. Soccer. It’s time for someone else to step up. I’m fine with Gulati staying as a business consultant, but he shouldn’t be involved in the soccer decisions.

We need someone who is more soccer-competent and willing to make the tough decisions that push the team toward a World Cup final.  

At the end of Klinsmann’s tenure, he really liked to bring in older, less able players in lieu of those who were younger and more suitable for the job (like Jordan Morris).

Chris Wondolowski, Kyle Beckerman and players who’ve had a real impact are now referred as optional cogs.

Gulati, thank you — seriously — but it’s time for someone new in 2018. It’s time to #MakeAmericanSoccerGreatForOnce.

Opinion columnist Jorden Smith is a political science junior and president of the College Republicans. He can be reached at [email protected]

1 Comment

  • I would agree everything in this article with the exception of one comment “Arena is one of the reasons America has been stuck in a boring, get-it-done play style.” This simply is not true. Area has always created a playing style that suits his players, including the 20+ Barcelona-esq passing sequences that ended in a goal during the 2014 run to the MLS Cup.

    When you have Landon Donovan, Robbie Keane, Juninho, Marcelo Sarvas, Robbie Rogers, Husidic, Zardes, etc. working together you can do things like this

    That sequence came on the heels of a whole half of tiki-taco soccer that basically rendered DC helpless. Only Bruce Arena has accomplished anything like this with a US based team. Watch the 1997 DC United team what played a 3-5-2 based on zonal principles with Marco Etcheverry pulling the strings. Very advanced idea that played well with the team he had and led to a championship.

    I would say that the kinds of players in the player pool have dictated the kind of soccer they play. I think an argument could be made that Bob Bradley contributed to a conservative style, but not Bruce.

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