USA men’s World Cup soccer manager Jurgen Klinsmann, like any coach, will live or die by his decisions and the prognosis isn’t good. The German-born Klinsmann, in an attempt to create ‘his’ team, discarded proven World Cuppers and selected a very inexperienced squad to compete at the highest level of the game at the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil, which started yesterday.
Klinsmann clearly favored players bred on German soccer despite their lack of international experience. The Americans will take on Ghana on Monday, and Portugal (6/22) and Germany (6/26) in a tough Group G in preliminary play. Among the American players dropped was the USA’s most successful World Cup player, all-time leading scorer Landon Donovan, who, had he been selected, would have come into this, his fourth tournament, with 59 international goals and the experience of over 120 international games. The USA World Cup team should be the country’s strongest unit and indicative of the standard of game in the country. The team should be built and molded over a four-year period to develop strong team spirit and player bonding; the players eventually should exude an intense passion to play for the country and for each other. World Cup play requires this passion and intensity, awash with national pride, to be successful. Klinsmann World Cup squad seems devoid of these intangibles.
The World Cup is not the place for inexperienced players; Klinsmann should have built the squad around the many experienced players as possible to take the strongest team to the tournament; much work was done by previous national team coaches to develop a core group of veteran players, including former captain and defender Carlos Bocanegra; defensive midfielder Maurice Edu; forward Eddie Johnson, the leading scorer in the qualifiers; and central defender Clarence Goodson. These players all have World Cup experience and, except Bocanegra, qualified the team for Brazil and then were dropped. The excruciating part in all this is that the new players are not better than those discarded. Klinsmann chose the wrong time to breakdown and rebuild.
In this instance, Klinsmann ignored proven World Cup experience for the uncertainty of novices. The situation seems more ridiculous in a juxtaposition of inexperience-versus-experience: Julian Green-Donovan; John Brooks-Goodson; Tim Chandler-Bocanegra; Aron Johannsson-Johnson; and Mix Diskerud-Edu.
Among the inexperienced players listed, only Chandler, who previously refused to play for the U.S., and Diskerud played in one qualifier; 19-year-old Green has not played a full game for the U.S. or for a first team in a major league. Green, Brooks and Chandler were picked because, according to Klinsmann, they came through German club academies, which he claims put them ahead of the American-bred player.
In the 1998 France World Cup, U.S. coach Steve Sampson introduced several new players for the tournament and dropped some veterans, including the popular and in-form captain John Harkes, before the tournament; it resulted in poor team chemistry, a winless three-game run and a quick exit from France.
Another very important intangible overlooked by Klinsmann is the psychology aspect of team management. The aforementioned veterans – except Donovan who took a sabbatical from the game – worked hard to qualify the USA, so their efforts at the World Cup would be at its highest intensity as these players would want their hard work to come to full fruition – advancing the team as far into the tournament as possible.
There is no stronger motivation than achieving this World Cup pay-off, especially since Brazil would have been the veterans’ last World Cup and last internationals. It is difficult for the German players, just recently added to the squad, to match the intensity of the veterans – an intensity that could make the difference in a successful tournament. Success in Brazil means bettering Bruce Arena’s team that reached the quarterfinals at the 2002 World Cup in South Korea/Japan. Klinsmann and the U.S. will need much luck to top 2002.
The U.S. World Cup roster: Goalkeepers Tim Howard, Brad Guzan, Nick Rimando; defenders Geoff Cameron, Tim Chandler, Matt Besler, Omar Gonzalez, John Brooks, Fabian Johnson, DaMarcus Beasley, DeAndre Yedlin; midfielders Michael Bradley, Clint Dempsey, Jermaine Jones, Graham Zusi, Alejandro Bedoya, Brad Davis, Kyle Beckerman, Mix Diskerud, Julian Green and forwards Jozy Altidore, Aron Johannsson, Chris Wondolowski.