Sports

Juergen Klinsmann Hired to Coach U.S. Men's Soccer; Smart?

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So ... five years after the fact, Sunil Gulati finally found a way to wrangle in his fair-haired boy, Jürgen Klinsmann, to the U.S. soccer fold.

Call it a (possibly) good day for U.S. Soccer and an (assuredly) great day for umlauts.

However you want to look at it, in the Baker's Boy, the U.S. has a bit of the best of both worlds: a legit German legend with both a World Cup and European Championship to his name as a player, who'd probably rather be a California beach bum. At least that's how it goes in theory.

He's the European coach some people seem to think is so imperative for the U.S. to take the next step in the World Cup "process," yet he's lived in America and is familiar with the unique flower that is soccer in the States. Again, in theory.

Naturally Klinsmann's surprise hiring -- after turning down the job in 2006 and 2010 -- makes you wonder how he and Gulati were finally able to figure out a deal. In fact, the hiring only raises questions. Hopefully these will be addressed Monday at the formal press conference in New York City.

For now, all there is are questions.

Will Klinsmann be the man to turn around U.S. Soccer?

Will he be the man to snap the senior national team out of its post-2010 World Cup doldrums?

Will he be able to inspire a young generation of players like he did during the 2006 World Cup with Germany?

Will he be able to turn the U.S. striker pool into the next generation of Rudi Völlers? (Mullets not included.)

Will he have to borrow some of Joachim Loew's ever-so-stylish cardigans to get the job done?

The bottom line, there's absolutely no rational way to project how successful Klinsmann's job with the U.S. will turn out. It's going to tough to evaluate it, really, until 2014 at the next World Cup -- assuming Klinsmann doesn't pull a Sven Goran-Eriksson style flop and put the U.S. in danger of not qualifying.

And what is success for the U.S. National Team at this point? World Cup quarterfinals? Semifinals? Smashing teams routinely 5-0 in CONCACAF?

Where we'll really see if Gulati was serious with Klinsmann this time around if there are institutional changes with the way U.S. Soccer runs its show. If there is money spent on new youth development coaches and trainers, trying to establish a pattern of play starting at a young age and moving through the ranks. One man can't make all that much of a difference, can he?

More than anything, it comes down to the players. You could create a Frankenstein's monster, using parts from Arrigo Sacchi, Brian Clough, Valery Lobanovsky, Herbert Chapman and Béla Guttmann, if the player's don't improve how much can (perceived) European tactical nous really do when push comes to shove? Look at Paraguay as a recent example at the Copa America. Gerardo Martino had a smart system and disciplined pros. It wasn't a fun team to watch, but Paraguay made the tournament final, eventually being outclassed by a better skilled team -- Uruguay.

The crazy thing was, under Bob Bradley the U.S. tended to play up or play down to its opponent. It could look great against a Spain or an Argentina while completely hapless against, say, Panama.

As it stands right now the U.S. national team pool is in a bit of flux. If Klinsmann's track record with Germany counts for anything, he wasn't beholden to play the old guard of German players and took the chance on a few younger players, although Loew seems to probably have been the driving force here as we've seen with how he unceremoniously told Michael Ballack his international career is over.

How that applies to the 30+ brigade of U.S. internationals? Time will tell.

For now it's a much-needed shot in the arm for the U.S. team, for better of worse.

If there's one concrete fact from today's Klinsmann hiring, it's that it's a different approach. Gulati and the rest of the USSF are trying something ... different. (Change for change sake?) Not sure why they strung Bradley along for almost another full year with the axe dangling above his head. Regardless, as Albert Einstein put it, "Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results."

Anyway, enjoy the highlights.