Sports

Klinsmann Era Starts for U.S. Men's Soccer Against Mexico

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Before we roll up our sleeves and dig into Jurgen Klinsmann's first game in charge of the U.S. National Team -- tonight vs. Mexico -- let's try to answer a question that's gnawed at me for a while. 

Why can so many European musicians -- Klaus Meine of Scorpions as a classic example -- both write and sing in perfect English, whereas my own lyrical skills remain somewhere in the nursery rhyme level? There's countless Scandinavian bands from, err, Abba to modern punkers Iceage. There's Francophone Thomas Mars of Phoenix. Even German industrial noise-makers Rammstein where able to release an English version of "Du Hast." If you want to keep it uber-current, Gale from "Breaking Bad" rocked out a karaoke version of German Peter Schilling's "Major Tom." 

That's a question for another day. 

Let's get back to those ever tricky "winds of change." 

The Berlin Wall came down in late 1989 to usher in the end of the Soviet influence on Eastern Europe -- and Yakov Smirnoff jokes. Cosmetic change was immediate -- the wall fell and everyone was as happy as Rocky Balboa at the end of the fourth movie, mainly (history tells us) due to the increased ability for Eastern Europeans to purchase designer jeans from the West. The long-ranging effects of the fall of communism, as we know, is still being felt today across the Eastern Bloc. In other words, the flashpoint was significant, but it was only the start of the story. Over 20 years later and change has been slow, but also drastic, which serves another chance to plug an excellent book, "The Ballad of the Whiskey Robber," a great picture of post-Communist Hungary. 

Naturally, here's the point if you hadn't already guessed with my numerous German/Cold War allusions where we draw a parallel to the Berlin Wall falling and the hiring of Klinsmann to replace Bob Bradley. Okay, it's not a literal comparison. Bradley, for his dour persona, isn't a natural match for the grim, colorless portrait of communist Europe -- though his track suits would be perfect Eastern European couture. 

No, where we'll draw a line between the two is that the fall of the Wall didn't immediately rectify everything in the Eastern Bloc, nor is the anointment of Klinsmann -- Sunil Gulati's white whale -- going to usher in a new era of enlightenment for U.S. Soccer (at least not immediately.) 

If anything the way Klinsmann has been paraded around by U.S. Soccer, ESPN(*), Nike etc. he's being used as that symbol, the symbol of change, much like youth Berliners dancing atop the Wall. This isn't to mock the efforts of Klismann, but it's going to take time. A friendly in August -- even against the country's most hated rival which just humiliated them in the Gold Cup -- isn't going to be a be-all, end-all. It's the first step of a long, arduous journey. 

(*) Devil's Advocate: With the non-media friendly/telegenic Bradley still in charge would ESPN a) send "SportsNation" to Philadelphia or b) run a massive pregame and postgame? This is, after all, a pretty meaningless friendly aside from the fact it's Mexico. Personally, I'm a little ticked off this game is cutting into the World Series of Poker action, or maybe "NASCAR Now." 

Right now all the buzzwords about Klinsmann and the U.S. camp are "energy," "attacking," "offensive," "positive," "change," etc. To think, in one game with less than a week of training, the U.S. is going to be transformed from a plodding, counter-attacking, thoroughly solid team into a 10-man, swarming, pressing, collective is flat-out insane. Fortunately it seems most people associated with the team are being realistic about what the new coaching regime is going to do. 

Again, the conundrum, if there is one. How long will it take to see actual change? Or how to judge that change? In one-off friendlies? In CONCACAF qualifiers vs. minnows? In the 2014 World Cup? All the programs and revamping of the U.S. system that Klinsmann seems to be promising, are like the fall of Communism in Europe, going to take a lot of time to plant, harvest and bear fruit. 

Sometimes the winds of change blow slow. 

Miscellany: 

* Hard to believe a game vs. Mexico -- nearly at full strength -- is an afterthought. If there's a question for El Tri, can they coax another World Cup cycle out of the over-30 midfield pair of Israel Castro and Gerrardo Torrado? Their dirty work allow the Gio Dos Santos' of the world to terrorize the U.S. defense. And how long until Hector Moreno displaces Rafa Marquez as the leader of El Tri's backline? 

* Guy I'm most excited to see for the U.S. is Brek Shea. Admittedly haven't seen a ton of MLS this year, but this kid has been a stand out for FC Dallas. 

* If there's an immediate tactical decision for Klinsmann to make, it's how to use Landon Donovan. Is he a wide midfielder? A second-striker? A straight-forward? And while we're at it, why not tinker with Michael Bradley in a more advanced role, too? 

* Smart move to bring in Bill Hamid as the backup keeper. The U.S. situation in goal could rapidly decline, as hard as that might be to believe. David Yelldell, since moving to Leverkausen, has been a flat-out disaster. Brad Guzan is back at Aston Villa but pinned behind Shay Given, now. Dominic Cervi is over in Scotland, but not playing regularly. Tim Howard should be good for 2014, but beyond ... ? 

* Robbie Rogers and Ricardo Clark? Those have to be selections to appease the last remnants of Bradley support. 

* Curious, after reading all the Internet rumor mills the last week, which player (if any) ESPN's grand dame Michelle Beadle is going to end up with in the proverbial "1-v-1" scenario after the game? Best guess is Carlos Bocanegra. Ladies love the Black Mouth, no? 

* Pretty much every sports blog-ish site link that video of young American Josh Gatt ripping off a sick goal for Molde in the Norwegian Tippeligaen last week. If he a viable USMNTer? Who knows. One highlight a career doesn't make, as impressive as it was. Let's keep an eye on him, but also keep the hype machine to a minimum, too. 

* Love, love, love the reintroduction of Thomas Dooley in my life. 

* Ditto for Ian Darke, a true prince among men, especially for making 90 minutes of John "He Did Well There" Harkes tolerable. 

Lineup Guess: 

Picking this one is like trying to pick lottery numbers. 

GK -- Howard 

DEF -- Cherundolo -- Bocanegra-- Ream -- Pearce 

MID -- Donovan -- Jones -- Adu -- Bradley -- Shea 

FOR -- Agudelo 

Final Thought: 

There's a chance this match could play out a lot like the MLS All-Stars vs. Manchester United, with the U.S. playing the role of MLS and Mexico as United. The point here, is that although the players for the U.S. are familiar, it's still going to be a little different, with only a few training sessions to get acquainted with a new coach. Mexico remains settled, even with Chicharito. 

It's hard to write off a match against Mexico, but these are the circumstances. 

Who knows, many Klinsmann brings a little of that leftover pixie dust he used coaching Germany five years ago. A rousing victory would be right from the script Gulati and Nike are hoping to pen.