Before we dance on the man’s grave, let’s acknowledge that Bob Bradley served the United States Soccer Federation for four dutiful years. He did not run the program into the ground, but also didn’t take it to the heights expected. His crowning achievements will certainly be winning the group at South Africa 2010, getting to the finals of the 2009 Confederations Cup, and siring a pretty reliable midfielder in son Michael. At times his teams played down to the competition, and at others they looked completely unprepared to open important matches. The 2011 Gold Cup Final in Pasadena was certainly his Little Bighorn. Still, almost all prominent U.S. soccer journalists (Baltimorean Grant Wahl of S.I. included) maintained that Bradley would still be at the helm for the 2014 World Cup cycle.
Enter Jürgen Klinsmann, the man Bradley detractors have been clamoring for since Germany’s stellar host showing at the 2006 World Cup. The Germans looked aggressive, young, energetic, and put balls in the net with the fervor their young coach once did. Essentially, they were everything the United States lacked at the 2006 World Cup, which lead to Bruce Arena’s justified s-canning. Now, five years after they reportedly wanted him, the U.S. have their meister.
Among their many problems during the Arena/Bradley eras was the inability to finish around the net, something the German national side has had no trouble with in major tournaments. This is particularly evidenced that during this era Landon Donovan, a midfielder, became the United States’ all-time leading scorer.
Klinsmann was a ferocious finisher in his time with the West German/German national team as well as at the club level. His 47 goals as a senior international player tell you that he has a nose for the net, and will be structuring his team around players who share that quality. In other words, don’t expect to see Robbie Findley again in the stars and stripes any time soon. Heck, Klinsmann is only 46 and all he’d have to be in shape for is staying onside. Perhaps it’d be prudent for him to call his own number against Mexico on August 10th, given how many of his European-based players will be unavailable.
I have to be honest in that I was shocked when the USSF made this move, both because of the rhetoric after “Bradley’s Last Stand” about him being the coach for the 2014 World Cup cycle, and due to the fact that it seemed as if Klinsmann was going to manage the team, he would’ve taken the job in 2007. It seems as if the Federation had to stand behind Bradley after the disaster at the Rose Bowl in order to make sure they could actually get Klinsmann, who it is said rebuffed their overtures in 2007. The timing of the Klinsmann announcement, just 24 hours after Bradley’s firing, seems to support that notion.
Bob Bradley wasn’t going to coach the United States in the 2018 World Cup in Russia, and Jurgen Klinsmann might not either. It is rare for even a good international manager to stay on for more than a cycle and a half of World Cup action. Even after Germany’s excellent third-place showing in 2006, Klinsmann stepped down from the position and didn’t manage again until he joined Germany’s signature club Bayern Munich in 2008.
As for 2014 in Brazil, the goal is obviously to compete, and if possible, to win. All 175 teams still eligible for the 32-team tournament have this in mind, but only a dozen could be considered serious contenders. The United States, currently 30th in the FIFA rankings, would be considered a long shot if on the board at all in that elite dozen. Is Klinsmann’s task to win the 2014 World Cup? Well, yes, and no.
The metaphor that I’ve always been most comfortable with when talking about United States soccer is a tide coming up the beach. It gets a little bit farther each cycle, then recedes. Klinsmann’s chief task, along with obviously winning matches, is to push the tide as far up as he can during his time.
Perhaps the United States manager who will lead the Yanks to World Cup victory hasn’t been born yet. Perhaps he’s 12 years old and playing Football Manager 2011. Perhaps he’s currently coaching in the USL or MLS. Perhaps it’s Jurgen Klinsmann.
Even if it’s not, the tide is flowing in the right direction.
Dave Gilmore lives in Baltimore, works for a sports-oriented non-profit, and writes “The Win Column” for Baltimore Sports Report. He is currently working on a novel about college football. Find him on Twitter @dave_gilmore or visit his web site at davegilmorejr.com