The Beautiful Game
U.S. Soccer fans are buzzing over Wednesday night's friendly against Mexico, this despite the fact that El Tri handled the Americans rather convincingly in July’s Gold Cup final. In fact, Mexico has won the last three games in a row, and reclaimed regional ascendancy from the Yanks.
There’s no particular reason to think the U.S. will win. And if it does, it doesn’t really matter. Mexico doesn’t have much to prove vis-à-vis the U.S. right now.
Still the match is the top headline on soccer news websites across the country. That’s because U.S. fans have gotten what they wanted: Bob Bradley out as coach, and the German Jurgen Klinsmann in. The flirtation between the U.S. Soccer Federation and the former star striker (and World Cup winner) and German national team coach began in 2006, after Klinsmann drew much praise for leading his young team to the semifinals of that year’s World Cup.
But nothing came of the mutual interest, apparently because the U.S. federation thought he wanted too much control.
Klinsmann says he’s going to try and develop a style of play that reflects U.S. culture, just as other national teams, like those of Brazil and Spain, allegedly reflect their national cultures. We’ll see.
Klinsmann’s often inspired, slightly metaphysical ESPN commentary during the 2010 Cup breathed new life onto the embers of that failed love affair, so fans were particularly pained when Bob Bradley — he of the American Gothic look —was signed to a new four-year contract after the tournament.
But now, after the recent rout at the hands of Mexico, the change has come. Will it be change we can believe in?
Only time will tell, of course. Wednesday night's game really won’t tell us much. Klinsmann is using some veteran players, such as Landon Donovan (but not Clint Dempsey, who is about to start his English Premiere League season with Fulham). He’s also bringing in some newer faces, like midfielder Jose Torres. Surely he’ll be feeling his way along.
Klinsmann says he’s going to try and develop a style of play that reflects U.S. culture, just as other national teams, like those of Brazil and Spain, allegedly reflect their national cultures. We’ll see. We’ll settle for wins, certainly, but maybe something more exciting will one day be in the offering.
Most importantly, he offers the possibility of revitalizing America's stagnant youth development program, which lags far behind that of other countries. This is what he accomplished in Germany. He brought in members of newly multiracial Germany’s various ethnic communities, and produced a team that remains exciting today.
And perhaps having a true legend of European soccer at the helm will convince some potential U.S. team members, such as current Spanish league star Giuseppe Rossi, to play for the U.S., where they grew up, rather than for the birth country of their parents — Italy, in the case of Rossi.
Given the weakness of the region it's in, the U.S. should qualify for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. Once that happens the games will really start to count. There’s no use in trying to predict now what will happen then. The U.S. has to develop more international quality talent in short order, or the team could be a bust. But that’s why U.S. soccer hired Klinsmann.
In the meantime, American soccer fans can finally enjoy their honeymoon with the coach of our dreams.