Empire XI: Consider the Past When Evaluating the USMNT

Staff Writer

When attempting to establish the status of a senior national team, it is imperative that both the past of the team and player are analyzed. As the cliche goes, we are all products of our past, but for some reason, no one has considered that saying when looking at the US Men’s National Team and trying to gauge its progress.

What makes Head Coach and Technical Director Jurgen Klinsmann’s tasks so daunting is that he has had to take the senior national team beyond their capabilities as players in order to justify his contract and his compensation. Klinsmann also has to work to remove the limiting factors throughout US Soccer in order to justify his contract and his compensation.

In short, he’s a panacea and a vaccine.

Describing US Soccer as diseased is harsh and admittedly unfair, but the structure does have internal issues that limit its capabilities. As a result, American soccer players have not developed into elite players, even though we have the economy, population and climate to develop elite players on a regular basis. Players are limited in their abilities, and we saw that with the USA’s World Cup squad.

Here are some unsettling truths about the top level of U.S. soccer.  The USA World Cup squad featured six players (including four starters) who played on the senior level for American clubs that do not currently exist in the capacity that they were when they called the clubs home. Now, add in the players impacted by the various ownership issues in MLS, such as the rebranding of the MetroStars, the relocation of the San Jose Earthquakes and the general inability for large-scale investment to go into the sport for most of the past two decades and you see an environment that limits the ability for professional players to improve and contribute.

While the senior national team has not had a major failure since 1998 (2006 was more of a disappointment), the youth national teams have had limited success as a result of the poor environment that was in place.  The U20s have only won one match in the last three U20 World Cups, including failing to qualify for the 2011 tournament, since their quarterfinal appearance in 2007. The U17 National Team has never defeated a non-CONCACAF team in the knockout stage of the World Cup and failed to qualify for the 2013 tournament; the first time it did not compete in the tournament. Throw in the fact that the USA have failed to qualify for two of the last three Olympics and it becomes clear just how mediocre we are at the young professional level.

Jozy Altidore and Michael Bradley were the only two members of the World Cup squad to have played for both the US U17 and U20 national teams. Compare that to the 16 members of the German squad who played for at least two U20 or below national teams and it becomes clear that the American players that rise through the youth ranks resemble plague survivors compared to the German players who are magna cum laude graduates and World Cup semifinalists.

As a result of those limitations, the USA needed to look for dual-nationals developed by clubs with solid infrastructure and youth coaching in order to keep the team as competitive as it was during the early 2000s.

US Soccer aspires to have the label of World Cup semifinalists as well, but it is evident that unless they catch a break in Russia, that label likely will not come as a result of Klinsmann’s efforts as head coach. Alexi Lalas’ point that Klinsmann has made the USA a better version of itself is accurate and it sums up the difficulties in evaluating Klinsmann’s body of work. If the USA fail to make it to the quarterfinals in Russia, Klinsmann will be seen as a failure as USA Head Coach. However, if in 2022 or beyond, the USA were to reach the late stages of the World Cup with players who were products of Klinsmann’s redeveloped US Soccer infrastructure, then Klinsmann would be seen as a successful technical director. The converse applies as well and it makes it very likely that the current ambivalence towards him as a figure in US Soccer will continue for at least the next four years.

What drives the current vacillating feelings towards Klinsmann is the question of whether he is actually doing anything exceptional with the US. On the exterior, a Round of 16 exit means we have a hung jury on that regard because his predecessor also reached the Round of 16. The paths towards each Round of 16 berth and their similar exits may favor Klinsmann over Bob Bradley, but ultimately, comparing the coaches detracts from evaluating the status of US Soccer as a whole since both coaches did a good job dealing with limited resources.

The fact that a prominent national sporting program like US Soccer presented its coaches with limited resources speaks to its troubled, incompetent past. The troubles have have been overcome (for the most part), but the 2014 World Cup squad had remnants of that past which is something Klinsmann could not control.

However, with players like Tim Howard, Kyle Beckerman and possibly Clint Dempsey all likely to have played in their last World Cup, the players who bravely overcame a litany of limiting factors to be part of a relatively successful World Cup squad will begin to fade away.

The next generation of players, homegrown players like DeAndre Yedlin and Wil Trapp, are coming of age and will be the first group of senior national team players to develop under the more stable youth structure that exists in MLS and in the more organized US youth national team program. Neither system is perfect but it gives players a better chance at achieving their potential.  Money works wonders for youth development, and that investment will soon begin it’s maturation process right before our eyes.

Empire XI

1. One thing to pay attention to if the DeAndre Yedlin transfer were to occur is if it is stipulated that Yedlin would move to AS Roma and be loaned to the Seattle Sounders for the rest of the MLS season, or if he would join Roma after the season. The difference between the two is that Roma would have Yedlin’s rights under the former scenario which would technically mean that if they were to loan Yedlin back to MLS, Yedlin would have to go through the allocation order since the Sounders received a transfer fee for his rights. It would be bizarre, bureaucratic and farcical if the Sounders had to do anything to make sure they could successfully re-acquire Yedlin — and MLS knows it would look bad in that scenario — so do not be surprised if we see a revision to the MLS roster rules.

2. As for Yedlin, he could either serve as Ashley Cole’s apprentice/deputy at Roma or be loaned out to a smaller club. The latter option is more likely since Italian clubs are very big on loaning young players since the loaner club can get their player playing time while the loanee club can get a favorable deal for the player’s wages for the time of the loan while also improving their team.

3. Michael Farfan is now available as a free agent after he was released by Cruz Azul just seven months after joining the club on a transfer from the Philadelphia Union. The Union do not have Farfan’s MLS rights but are allowing him to train with the club. In order to reacquire Farfan, the Union would have to put in a discovery claim and sign him like any other free agent player.

4. Obviously if there is a Michael Farfan update, there needs to be a Gabriel Farfan update — and there is one — with Gabriel joining Chiapas on a permanent deal. The Goat Parade was unable to confirm if Chivas USA received a transfer fee from Chiapas but that would seem to be the likely option after Chivas USA loaned him there back in February.

5. Chivas USA should be back in the spotlight soon since the prevailing notion within MLS circles was that we would see some information regarding a sale after the World Cup. Between now and the MLS All Star Game would be a good window for information to get out and if MLS Commissioner Don Garber can announce a sale at the All Star Game, he will gladly do so.

6. I guess Dom Dwyer got a yellow card for using a prop in his goal celebration but if he had been red carded for taking a selfie, then the commentary would not have been about the USA, but an open letter to Garber calling on Dwyer’s hypothetical red card to be rescinded. Would have been more fun to write.

7. A joke of a different kind now. Eric Wynalda may or may not have had a point or two when he appeared on the Dan Patrick Show, but any substance to the interview was lost the moment Wynalda said **** on live television. Wynalda, being a passionate guy, is not an adequate defense for someone whose job is to be on live television to act professionally on live television, even if it is for another network. He can count himself lucky that he does not work at ESPN where the scrutiny is immeasurably higher than at Fox Sports.

8. If Wynalda becomes Fox’s lead MLS color commentator, then it will be hard to take the network’s coverage seriously. It is not that Wynalda is critical of MLS or that he is working with the Atlanta Silverbacks in the NASL; it is that Wynalda has a personal vendetta against many people involved in MLS in various capacities, as well as an overt personal preference towards certain players — namely former Silverback Chris Klute. When Wynalda is asked to critique someone’s performance in MLS, the question of malevolent bias will come up and if there is to be any semblance of journalism on Fox’s broadcasts (they hired Grant Wahl for a reason), that question has to be answered by Fox limiting Wynalda’s role.

9. Tim Vickery, a soccer journalist of high quality, has a well nuanced look at Brazil’s tactical fouling strategy coming back to haunt them in the form of Neymar’s broken vertebrae. While the injury came on a clumsy challenge from Juan Zuniga, Zuniga will rightly not receive further punishment from FIFA.

10. FIFA also denied Brazil’s appeal to have Thiago Silva’s yellow card rescinded which means the captain will miss today’s semifinal against Germany. Quite interestingly, Dante will likely replace Silva in central defense where he could face as many as seven Bayern Munich teammates. The familiarity factor should help Dante but replacing the captain of the squad in a semifinal on home soil for a team that just lost its star means any error turns Dante into a scapegoat.

11. With no Angel Di Maria, Argentina’s midfield will be less involved in the attacking play as Lucas Biglia and Enzo Perez do not surge forward as dynamically as Di Maria did, but it could be a blessing in disguise. Lionel Messi’s individual playmaking ability means Argentina do not have to commit as many numbers forward to create chances as other teams usually do. As a result, Argentina can have players back and protect themselves from The Netherlands’ extremely dangerous counterattack.

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  • I like Wynalda. I’m tired of everyone being “classy”. And he should have a beef with MLS.

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