Jurgen Klinsmann may have wanted U.S. Soccer to align itself more with international norms but perhaps he bit off more than he can chew. After a week of disappointing results at both the senior and youth level he finds himself at the mercy of those who want nothing more than to see him gone.
But while the anger at Klinsmann may be justified it does not answer the broader question – just how can the United States Men’s National Team improve their fortunes?
Last Saturday was a double gut-punch for Jurgen Klinsmann and the United States Men’s National Team structure. While the last-minute loss to Mexico in the CONCACAF was certainly not the desired result, the 2-0 loss earlier in the day to Honduras in Olympic qualifying was far more devastating. It was not even really the loss that was bad as much as their lack of form and their petulant behavior.
Klinsmann came into U.S. Soccer touting his success with developing the model that rebuilt the German Men’s National Team structure. It was Klinsmann who would bring in a system that would use U.S. Soccer’s strengths – namely, training, fitness and resources – and mix it in with more traditional European strategy and development.
Now how much Klinsmann was really responsible for Germany’s resurgence is debatable. What is not is that the loss against Honduras damages that image. These are players who have spent most of their footballing careers under the guidance of Klinsmann appointees. Using that logic he is responsible for their success and, in the case of the Honduras fiasco, the lack thereof.
That being said what is not really clear is if Klinsmann is the problem of the entire USMNT structure or if he is a symptom of a greater problem. Although Jurgen, as Technical Director, is certainly responsible for developing players at the youth levels the broader problems that U.S. Soccer faces have existed for decades.
Coaches and referees with minimal to no experience teaching at the youth levels did not start in 2011. Neither did the pay to play system, that has priced out poorer families from getting a quality football education.
Perhaps the biggest flaw that Klinsmann and U.S. Soccer was that the German model does not necessarily fit where the USMNT are at. Even before their restructuring in the early 2000’s German football was much more organized and structured than the ‘Wild West’ of U.S. Soccer. Although the standards might not have been particularly high for coaching and refereeing licenses they at least existed.
The decentralised nature of how U.S. Soccer is organised is also fundamentally different from Germany. Each state has their own requirements, their own leagues, their own rules.
The United States Soccer Federation might have a standard set of rules but each state and each local league have different standards and rules. As an example, take a look at the different rules across the country for whether or not slide tackles can be used in youth leagues.
All of these inconsistencies point to a system within U.S. Soccer that is deeply flawed. It also sheds some light as to why players pulled from different parts of the country (nevermind the world) cannot achieve a simple result. The USMNT at all levels is a representation of boys and men’s soccer as a whole and the drop-off in play in major competitions is startling.
Perhaps Klinsmann was naive to think that he could truly change how U.S. Soccer – and in particular men’s soccer – operates. It is very difficult to lead change from within when those that are in power are responsible for the system that is in place.
Asking men and women who have billions of dollars invested in an organisation to change their structure and how they conduct business is a tall ask.
But this is the difficult situation that Klinsmann and U.S. Soccer find themselves in. Having set their expectations very high they now find themselves in a no-win position where even nominal success is unacceptable. It is imperative that they get out of this quagmire – but how they do it is difficult to see.