One of the better-written stories about new USMNT head coach Jurgen Klinnsman's deliberate effort to create an onfield identity for the US Men's National Team that somehow matches the culture of the United States of America, by Brian Straus of AOL Sporting News.
The money quote by Klinnsman:
“One of my challenges will be to find a way to define how a U.S. team should represent its country. What should be the style of play? Is it more proactive and aggressive, a forward-thinking style of play? Or is it more reacting style of play,” Klinsmann asked shortly after his appointment.
My initial thought: isn't it ambitious, or even wacky, to think you can change a national team's style of play to reflect the mentality of a country? Even if you have a year or so to do it, before the games start to (really, really) count again?
The answer: no. Coaching a national team has some factors - time, friendlies, pools of players that occasionally get together for minicamps and a relatively small number of games per year - and one key mechanism that actually do make this possible.
That mechanism: player selection. We need to remind ourselves that even in a top 10 global soccer national team, and even more so for a (for now) 2nd tier program like the USMNT, it is not abundantly clear who the XI best players - or even best XI players - are. So the adage of playing the cards you're dealt is out the window.
With every little choice Klinnsman makes- from dusting off Jose Torres to where you position a Donovan or Dempsey to which U-20 athletes you begin to take chances with - you actually, deliberately forge an identity. Straus reminds us of this in terms of the 2 best in the team:
The style born from the talents of Donovan and Dempsey indeed reflects a certain American mentality, which Klinsmann (a 13-year resident of Southern California) described as one that “never really waits and sees and leaves it up to other people to decide what is next.”
And with time to enact bigger-picture philosophies- like apparently emphasizing US-Mexican players or evangelizing soccer in, ahem, underrepresented parts of the country (like non-posh suburban locales), Klinnsman can set a tone from the top.
Here's hoping he's around more than one World Cup cycle to see some benefits of his new emphasis float to the top - while somehow NOT sacrificing what is currently the identity of the USMNT, the no-deficit-is-too-large, play-from-behind, scrappy, resilient persona the team took on during the road to South Africa 2010.