As most of the regular readers know that read this site, I am a pretty big international soccer/USMNT fan. Other than posting the odd lineup here or there for a friendly in the past few months, I haven't had a real USMNT piece up in a while. The holiday break doesn't exactly make for a news-making period. As fate would conspire, an idea landed in my lap this morning. I originally got the idea from a Grant Wahl tweet. Upon looking further, I even discovered our very own Nick Fedora had an opinion that he Tweeted on this debate. This is a bit different from a lot of stuff I post because the idea is solely coming from Twitter rather than a website or article from a website. Twitter is becoming a great source for a good debate or for looking at other viewpoints that may differ from your own. It's amazing to think how far social media has come. If only I could have used Twitter in high school and college to cite references. Ohh the ease of use and possbilities...
Getting back on track, the topic in debate is whether Jurgen Klinsmann was the wrong choice for USMNT man in charge. The original feed I am citing comes from American soccer player Preston Zimmerman. He plays in Germany for SV Darmstadt 98 in Germany. He had what I think is an interesting but completely off base idea regarding Mr. Klinsmann. I encourage anyone reading this article to look through his comments. I thought this very Twitter feed would be a great piece for me to compare and contrast the things I do and don't agree with Preston on. Just as his opinions are his, mine are the same. I just happen to feel his ideas just not accurate.
Basically, in short, he feels that Klinsmann is overlooking some American born and raised potential USMNT players, instead favoring young German players that he feels are not linked to the US very strongly by birth or tenure of time living in the US. Depending on a player's situation, they may have never lived in the US at all, sometimes only being eligible because of an American parent or a short time living here. You can certainly tell that Preston is an American through and through, and his ideas seem to be centered on the fact that some American-born-and-raised players are getting the shaft. Wanting American players is one thing, but it also seems like he is saying that a team should be based on nationality, which I completely, 100% disagree with. I don't think Preston necessarily means to say this is how a team should be determined, but it kind of came across like that to me and he certainly could have worded things better. Follow me after the break for my thoughts on his rant...
While it would be really be something to see a USMNT team comprised of 100% US born and raised talent, the reality is that the world does not work like that anymore. There is so much diversity in all places of the world, and that diversity permeates all parts of culture, including sports. The ultimate goal of the USMNT senior team (and for any team for that matter), should be to win. I am an American. I want to be the best. But I also want the best US team possible out on that pitch. And that's where one of my disagreements comes in with Preston's sentiments. A team shouldn't just be comprised of where a player is born or raised. He or she should be on a team because they earned it. I think this was one of Preston's points with his "fake American" Tweet. I think he was talking about players representing the US that don't have an idea of the badge or the team/country because they have never lived here vs. a player born and raised here. Obviously living in the US your whole life gives you a differing view of the country than only seeing it from afar. But to hold it against a player because he may never have had the opportunity to live in the US because of familial circumstances is just plain wrong. He wants a successful US team, but thinks it should only comprise of American players and regardless of who the best available players are. Preston, you can't have it both ways.
I think I see what Preston is trying to convey regarding players choosing the US only because they can't play for Germany or another national team, but again I think he certainly said it wrong if he was intending to have a different meaning. Who is he to know that's what those players are thinking? This is a country that has embraced people from many nations. Why should it be different for a soccer player? If there is actual evidence to point to a player choosing the US because that's the only national team he can play for, or for Jurgen callin on a player for that reason only, then that's one thing. But just assuming that without proof is unfair to the player and to Jurgen. Does it happen? Yes, I am sure it does. I like to give a player the benefit of the doubt until proven otherwise however.
I think Jurgen's body of work is too small to emphatically say that he is playing favorites without a shred of proof. Not to mention I think Jurgen is a professional and is going to put the best players on he pitch. That's what he gets payed to do. When was the last time you saw a soccer coach bench his best goal scorer because of the town he was born in? Consider this: of course it makes sense for Jurgen to look at German players. Although he has lived in the US for years now, I am sure that he still follows the country that he played for and grew up with. Thus, he knows the talent more intimately than most other candidates. And, let's face it. Germany is a bit more known for producing soccer players than the US. I like the fact he is looking at younger players and calling them up. The US has their fair share of young American call-ups too. Just because players like Fabian Johnson, Tim Chandler, and Danny Williams are getting chances isn't a bad thing in my opinion. Bob Bradley was not quite as youth-friendly as Klinsmann has been, which may be why these young German call-ups stick out more in Preston's mind.
Another point to which I found a bit laughable is when Preston says it would be different if the team were winning with this approach, then his words wouldn't hold weight. So at first he says that it's wrong to call up "fake Americans", but then he says it is ok if the US team were winning? That doesn't mesh to me. First of all, he has had the job for 5 months. He is trying to introduce a new system and new way of thinking. It's not like an MLB team that plays everyday. They can institute a new look in a couple of months due to daily exposure. Jurgen has had 7 matches to do this. In 5 months. I think it's a bit premature to say that everything has been a failure. Preston does have a valid point that beating teams we should be beating should not be a source of bragging per se, and I agree. But we have a new manager trying to get the best feel for a talent pool. In a short amount of time. With players than don't even get to train together every day. It's a bit much to ask to write him off after 7 matches.
Additionally, Jurgen isn't just coming and and trying to advance off the coattails of a previous US coach. He says his intentions are completely to change the landscape of American soccer. And this again ties in to Preston's sentiment that players that aren't good enough to play for Germany are choosing to play for the US instead. First of all, since when do players call themselves up? Jurgen is still the one that picks them. Second, it is comparing apples to oranges. The US is VASTLY different from pretty much every other soccer country on Earth. That's what everyone needs to keep in mind here. If the US had top prospect after top prospect vying for 25 spots in a training camp, then it would be a more valid comparison. But just because you can't make the superior German team but are still very good shouldn't rule you out of US possibility if eligible. I have said it before, and I will say it again: To truly change the soccer landscape in the US will take DECADES. If not longer. I would love for this to be wrong, but it simply isn't.
Let's take the NFL for example. Look how long it has taken it to get where it is. As a huge baseball fan and mostly baseball purist, most fans like us would agree that MLB is still the "National Pasttime". However, I can find just as many people that would make a valid argument for the NFL overtaking baseball for that title. As much as this seems like blasphemy to me, the reality is that times change and money/popularity speak louder than ever now. Imagine what it would take for the MLS to overtake the NFL/NBA/MLB. It's one thing to get a good business plan, market it properly, and build a strong business. Although there is room for improvement, the MLS is showing this in terms of growth, popularity, etc. MLS is getting more popular. But it would truly have to become a force to get us on a level of Brazil, Spain, etc. Which means it would need to be near the level of the MLB, NBA, etc. for top talent to start picking soccer over those other sports with huge paydays.
All world soccer powers pretty much have every top athlete to choose from for their respective soccer teams. Imagine having to choose between Michael Jordan, Joe Montana, or Babe Ruth. Ok, those 3 are all once in a lifetime players, but you get my point. You have your very best athletes in a whole country all vying for one team. In the US, your best players gravitate towards the large sports because of the money and exposure. Yes, you still have some soccer phenoms who love the game and stick with it, but if you are very good at soccer at a young age as well as a major American sport, which do you choose? The heart says to stick with the sport you love (soccer), but what do the dollar signs say when you find out how much you can make in a major American sport? And that's the issue. We don't get to choose from our top athletes. We get maybe the 4th-5th best guys. While that is still not shabby, it's hard to be a soccer power like that. Until players start choosing soccer over other majors sports, we will still be behind the rest of the world in terms of talent availability. Despite the awesome strides made in US soccer the past 15-20 years, I don't have to tell anyone how far off from that we are still.
So Jurgen's task is certainly tall. And he of course won't be USMNT coach forever. As long as future coaches (and Jurgen if he stays involved with US soccer, which I am guessing he will) carry on his plan, maybe we will get there someday. Maybe we won't. But for Preston to judge him through such a short period of time is a bit ridiculous. I still stand by my opinion that the real judging should start next summer when World Cup qualifying kicks off. Call me a Jurgen homer, call me a "cop out" maker, but it's true. That's when we have our veterans, that's when we have our full strength squad, and that's when the games count. Considering Jurgen has around 11 months to completely re-mold an entire national sport into a different looking entity heading into the world's biggest tournament, I would say we all could spot him a bit more time. Maybe, after the story is written, he won't have been the best choice as USMNT coach. But he could also be the one that sets us on the path to truly forging ahead in the soccer world. I will still cut him some slack.
While Preston presented some very intriguing points, I just don't agree with him at this point. It's too early to say there is a clear German-American bias going on. Just because a few players have been called up recently isn't cause to automatically assume a conspiracy. When these German youngsters start displacing veterans who should be on the team (Dempsey, Donovan, etc), then questions can be asked. But to expect a German coach to not look at German prospects that are eligible to play for the US? Of course he is going to look at them. Don't forget, when some of the US legends retire in the next handful of years, we have to have some people in place to take the reins. That means looking at as many younger players as you can that are eligible. If this includes players than haven't lived here very long or at all, then so be it. If they want to play for a country their parent or parents taught them about and showed them how to be proud about, yet because of one reason or another were never able to live there with them, should they be denied that? I don't think so.
I love nothing better than to see an out and out American like Clint Dempsey having success on the national and international levels, don't get me wrong. I am pro-USA everything, the biggest American homer out there. I support our team just like Preston does. But, I just can't agree that our new national team coach has a side bias or conspiracy going on. Give the man some time. For every young German player called up, I can point to players like Mix Diskerud and Gale Agbossoumonde, who have had looks already and I am sure will have more. To take a few players and make an example of them is ridiculous to me. Does Preston know these players? Does he know they don't truly love the US? Unless he has intimate knowledge of these players views and beliefs, I think that he is wrong to call out Jurgen and these players. What would he do if someone called out his love for the US because he played in Germany? I am guessing he would have quite a problem with that, but that's what he is essentially doing to these players: holding it against them because they weren't born and raised in the US. This article does a good job of shedding a bit of light at Jurgen's thinking on this foreign player issue. Klinsmann's job is to find and play the best players, not make sue their nationality is of a certain percentage.
I am behind anyone that pulls on a jersey with the US badge. It doesn't matter to me if they are rich, poor, lived in the US all their lives or for none of their lives. If they want to play for the US and are able to do so, that's what matters for me. If they are willing to give 100%, along with the sweat, blood, tears, joy, hard work, and the countless other things that come with it, they should not be denied that. While Preston may have been trying to show patriotism, it certainly came out wrong and came out looking petulant and whiny. Support the team above all else, rather than where the players were born and raised.