Camaraderie. It’s something U.S. Men’s National team fans take a lot of pride in, I think. When I talk amongst fellow USMNT faithful and among my friends, it might not be spoken, but it is an underlining current. We may not have the best national team, we may not have the strongest national team, but we have a team with heart and a camaraderie like none other.
It shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone that it’s a hard thing to be called up to the national team. You’re under a different coaching staff, you come in for three or four days at a time and it’s demanded of you to switch gears quickly. Players have to not only prove themselves to their coaches, but they are expected to gel with guys they rarely see during the year. It’s not an easy task. Some teams do it better than others. Some teams make it enough to pass by.
There’s a romanticism, I think, about camaraderie in national teams. Fans want to believe that these players come in and old wounds are put aside, rivalries forgotten, jealousy is left at the door. I’m a victim of this line of thought, and I’m sure we’ve all been that way at least once. But the truth of the matter is, players are humans. There’s going to be fights and rifts and cliques and everything else you can imagine. The important thing will always be if they can get it together on the pitch, on the training grounds, and get the work they need to do, done.
If you haven’t read Brian Straus’ article today concerning the recent performance of the USMNT and the disconnect between head coach Jurgen Klinsmann and the players, you really need to stop what you’re doing and read it. It’s an excellent piece, one that has opened the Pandora’s box of debates in the US Soccer community: Is Jurgen Klinsmann the right leader for the USMNT?
I wasn’t sure if I wanted to give my reaction about the information in that story. There are two sides to every coin. Some might say this article is a blasting of Klinsmann and his staff. Some might say this is a huge amount of evidence that the players of the USMNT are close-minded and unwilling to open to change in their playing style.
My thoughts amount to this. I was very optimistic when Klinsmann came in as head coach. Bob Bradley wasn’t the most horrid coach we ever had, but I believe there had been a staleness that settled over the team. The US was lackluster at best and Bob had done what he could with them. It was time for a different tactic, not the same rut. Again, not to bash on Bob; the U.S. were mildly successful under his command and his years should not be taken for granted.
But I was ready for something new. Jurgen promised that. And hey, with his laundry list of accomplishments, I think the high expectations were founded. I knew it wouldn’t take over night. I knew it would take more than his first few months. Changes in rosters, different training exercises and more MLS players going into camps made me feel hopeful.
In the last six months though, my mentality and those of several USMNT fans I know has changed. We started reading about players spending lots of time with nutritionists and yoga instructors. A phone-book ripping preacher was another “delightful” surprise that left us spinning. What in the hell was going on? Maybe we wouldn’t have questioned it so much if it was translating to something on the pitch. But the truth of the matter was, nothing seemed to change. In fact, to me, it seemed a little worse. Not only that, it felt like something was off. You could see it on the pitch; a kind of tiredness, a bit of confusion. The January camp and horrid game against Canada, followed by last month’s dismal match in Honduras was the bottom line.
Something was up in the locker room, not necessarily on the pitch. Reading through Straus’ article, the overwhelming feeling I got as a USMNT fan was confirmation. Confirmation that players weren’t exactly getting what Klinsmann was selling. Because hell, I wasn’t buying it anymore. The biggest knock as of late has been the absence of U.S. Captain Carlos Bocanegra. I have a laundry list of my own to ramble on about how this is the epicenter of the recent dissent, but it’s not important for this point.
Change is what is needed and I honestly believe what is wanted through out the federation, its players, staff and fans. But it’s not going to happen with this squad or even in this generation. Klinsmann can challenge them, can work to gradually implement strategies that will help the play of the USMNT change.
As Straus pointed out in his article:
Teaching players to challenge their assumptions and to consider new approaches to their sport, their careers and in some cases their lifestyles is a tall task, especially when a national team gathers for only a few days at a time. Injuries, problematic club situations, deep-seated player development issues far beyond Klinsmann’s control, rough road trips and his effort to broaden the U.S. talent pool have added to the growing pains. It’s also important to note, as multiple sources stressed, that no team is completely happy and harmonious—especially after a tough loss.
But there has to be a give and a take between Klinsmann and the players. Klinsmann should expect commitment in his players and he is not out of line by asking them to trust him, to be open to this change. In turn, however, Klinsmann must recognize what the USMNT is and what it isn’t at this point in its existence. Players need more guidance than a pep talk; they need strategy. They need stability. They want to know the night before the game that they are up on deck for the start. They want to know what strategy they will be implementing. And as a few pointed out in Straus’ article, tactics seem to not be Jurgen’s cup of tea.
One paragraph rang very true to me:
“We do all this stuff. OK, it’s good for us and it’s scientifically proven. But in the end it’s a round ball. The Pelés and the Maradonas in the world weren’t doing all these things,” a U.S. player said. “I think we spend more time worrying about gyms and nutrition, and we don’t do enough of what we need to do on the field.” Another source said the players are “overtrained and undercoached.”
To me, if Klinsmann wants the players to change their style, then he must also change and part ways with assistant coach Martin Vasquez, a man who seems no better with communicating strategy and tactics than Klinsmann himself. This is what is breeding the confusion, cultivating that disconnect that is starting to show. Klinsmann thinks he’s keeping players on their toes and there for making them more effective in the long run. However the fact is, it’s not translating like that to the players. The fact that there has been 23 different line ups in all 23 games Klinsmann has coached furthers the rift and the lack to build any sort of camaraderie the team could hope to have in a short time frame.
It’s a pot of calamity that the U.S. fans have been watching anxiously come to a boil over the past few games. And now we’re heading into the second set of Hex qualifying matches. What does it all mean? Who knows, I know I don’t. I know myself and other USMNT fans will back the team to whatever ends. But I also know that now that most of our suspicions are confirmed, we’ll all be wondering what will become of our team now. And if this disconnect will turn into an American revolt.