A revelation on Jurgen Klinsmann

The U.S. men’s soccer coach is trying to impart some sort of style, a vague nation of playing “the right way” with skill and flair.

He juggles his lineups, often putting players in unfamiliar positions.

He emphasizes long-term growth over short-term details like defensive responsibilities.

He’s generally positive and upbeat, even after losses.

At last, I’ve figured it out.

Jurgen Klinsmann is coaching as if the MNT was a U-10 team.


American Outlaws and old-school U.S. soccer collegiality

The controversy about the American Outlaws and the upcoming USA-Mexico game in USA-Mexicoville (also known as Columbus) has gone through three stages:

1. Multiple reports said Outlaws from Seattle had basically taken over planning crowd activities for the USA-Mexico game. Columbus fans, who take special pride in their quadrennial duties of welcoming Mexico to a stadium with a history of inglorious moments for the visitors, were miffed. Many other U.S. fans were miffed on their behalf.

2. The Outlaws, backed by U.S. Soccer, said it was all much ado about nothing. All incorrect. Internet rumor and hearsay.

But before you could say “This reporter promises to be more trusting and less vigilant in the future” (Simpsons quote I swear I almost tweeted as soon as I saw the denials), people were calling b.s. That leads us to …

3. “Hey, if you’re going to deny something, you’d better be sure you took care of the witnesses.”

Dan Loney has summed up the situation quite well, and Bill Archer chimed in with some informative comments from his own digging around.

So as you’ve probably guessed, I’m a bit skeptical about the conclusion that this was all misinformation. Perhaps it was a misunderstanding, inasmuch as Columbus fans could reasonably be expected to interpret the conference call and other communications of the past month as anything other than, “Yeah, we’re going to tell you guys how to do things.”

And I’m with Dan in the sense that the whole notion of having “capos”  feels artificial to me. Maybe I was harsh when I suggested that it was one step away from having cheerleaders. Maybe I wasn’t.

I can draw one parallel to college basketball. The crowd at Duke’s Cameron Indoor Stadium went significantly downhill when it started to rely on “cheer sheets.” Sure, a few things were pre-planned — the Twinkies tossed on the floor upon Dennis Scott’s introduction didn’t magically appear in the ancient arena. But the best cheers sprang organically from the crowd, and Duke fans of my (long-ago) era took pride in that. Funneling a crowd’s creative power through a handful of know-it-alls in the crowd just dulls the creativity.

But something else is getting lost — something more specific to soccer.

In the mid-90s, soccer fans in this country were all in the same boat. The sport was derided, and supposedly intelligent media folks would all tell you this country would never support legitimate pro soccer.

The Internet was helping fans come together. My first experience meeting serious soccer fans was on the North American Soccer mailing list, where people shared A-League and USISL match reports along with some debate over the issues of the day.

And yes, we had plenty of issues. U.S. leagues were experimenting with every manner of rule change under the sun. Teams that fouled too much in the USISL would concede an in-game shootout attempt. Kick-ins, bigger goals and incomprehensible bonus points in the standings were all on the table.

We also had a couple of agitators, most notably the guy who ran a site with the novel concept of rounding up satellite TV listings so people could actually find soccer games to watch — maybe an A-League game on a regional network or Kyrgyzstan-Uzbekistan on some obscure channel. Valuable public service, but it’s safe to say he made his share of enemies on the list.

The reason he stands out is that the rest of the conversation was collegial. People argued rule changes — and, yes, promotion/relegation came up. But we knew we were all trying to maintain a foothold for the sport in a hostile environment. That was a group effort. List members would argue for traditional European systems, then drive to an Atlanta Ruckus game.

Perhaps I’m overromanticizing, or perhaps I’m channeling Grumpy Old Man. But I think we’ve lost a bit of our belief in common goals. And our sense of history. Or perhaps our sense that supporter culture should debated and discussed among the grass roots, not enforced from the top down.

Very Good Things in U.S. soccer

No, the U.S. soccer scene isn’t all petty arguments over turf wars, business plans and what was said in 2007. A lot of Very Good Things have happened in American soccer recently — some well-publicized, some not.

– The U.S. men won for the first time in Mexico’s Azteca Stadium last night, getting a series of increasingly stupefying saves from Tim Howard and a clever goal — a strong run and cross from Brek Shea, a nifty backheel from Terrence Boyd and the finish from Michael Orozco Fiscal. The game was a friendly, not a World Cup qualifier or Gold Cup game, but there’s no downside to smashing a psychological barrier.

– Something I mentioned in my live blog of the women’s final but deserves more attention: Abby Wambach played her guts out as always in the Olympics in pursuit of her first major international championship in eight years. Has anyone done a complete story about what it means to her to come back from the 2007 Women’s World Cup and her 2008 injury to win this gold medal? I can hardly imagine what she’s feeling, but she deserves it.

– This book snuck up on me — Gwendolyn Oxenham, another of those hyperachieving Dukies who makes me wonder why that school ever let me in the door, has released Finding the Game, a book derived from the same travels that brought us the film Pelada. If you want to take a look at soccer beyond the spotlight, look here.

– The Seattle Soundersbusiness numbers are still impressive, well after the honeymoon period should be over.

– The San Antonio Scorpions have been a tremendous success in the NASL, a league that seems to have more life than the skeptics thought. Along with other healthy USL and NASL clubs, there’s life beyond MLS in men’s soccer.

And maybe D.C. United is getting closer to a stadium deal? Maybe?


Bradley’s back

After much consideration, I hereby proclaim my official analysis of U.S. Soccer’s decision to extend the contract of men’s national team coach Bob Bradley:

Ahem …

Worry about the players, not the coach. There’s too much focus on the coach, and Bradley has proven himself capable of shrugging off that attention and not letting it disrupt the team.

Here ends my official analysis of U.S. Soccer’s decision to extend the contract of men’s national team coach Bob Bradley.

Live: USA-Australia

Watch the USA-Australia friendly with us — or, if you’re stuck somewhere and can’t watch, follow the action with us. This is basically a test run for the World Cup, when I’m tentatively planning to have a discussion like this for every game. Your hosts today are Beau Dure and Atlanta Journal-Constitution writer Doug Roberson. During the Cup, the plan is to rotate hosts. Readers, of course, can join us and chime in at any time.

By U.S. Soccer mandate, we’re obliged to tell you that the game will be broadcast live on ESPN2 at 8:30 a.m. ET.

Click here and make sure your pop-up blocker isn’t on

Book review: ‘Chasing the Game’

I’m thrilled to see two books on American soccer history being released in the same month. I’m absolutely biased in saying that, of course, because one of them is mine.

The other is Filip Bondy’s look at the U.S. men’s national team, Chasing the Game, which weaves recent and ancient history to tell the story of the team as it heads into the World Cup.

Bondy uses the same narrative device Jere Longman used in The Girls of Summer, flipping back and forth from chapter to chapter between the main story and background pieces on a particular player or some piece of history. It can be a little hard to follow, especially if you put the book down for a few days and come back to it, but it’s more interesting than giving a few chapters on history and then getting into the 2008-09 qualifying campaign.

Adam Spangler has taken Bondy to task for a few bits of questionable analysis. Such is the subjective nature of a sport that can’t be easily quantified in stats, though some news junkies may also disagree with his depiction of the Honduran political crisis of 2009. (Yes, it’s relevant to his story.)

Spangler also points out something else that brings us to the Great Dilemma of the Soccer Writer in Mainstream Media (GDSWMSM?): Am I writing for soccer fans, a more general audience or some mix of the two? Those of us who have been compelled to write an explanation of the U.S. Open Cup every time it’s mentioned in passing can empathize.

Bondy splits the difference, and it’s hard to argue with that. Heading into a World Cup, fans need different levels of edumacating. Some fans have no idea about the 1950 USA-England game or the intricacies of World Cup qualification. Some already know Landon Donovan’s and Walter Bahr’s biographies in detail.

What I always tried at USA TODAY was to include some detail, some anecdote or some quote that was unique. Bondy offers plenty of that. He fleshes out our image of U.S. coach Bob Bradley, showing him to be even more detail-obsessed than any of us imagined. For each qualifying game and each player described in detail, he has something most people didn’t know or hadn’t considered.

And Bondy is nothing if not thorough. He saw the qualifiers, and he interviewed the key participants. He goes back in history and talks with 1950 World Cup star Walter Bahr about the USA-England matchup of that year and this year. As U.S. World Cup histories go, he has a word from everyone except Bert Patenaude, who passed away 35 years ago.

Having been through the publishing process, I’m impressed that the book has come together so quickly. Six months before the review copy arrived, we weren’t even sure if the USA would make the trip to South Africa. In the book world, particularly outside the major publishing houses, six months is a tight deadline.

If the book seems rushed, though, it’s still worth the effort. It’s a great way to relive the ups and downs of qualifying while learning a bit more about what happened.

I’m again a little biased in the sense that I enjoyed reading about a few things I had witnessed first-hand, particularly the ad-hoc viewing party in which several reporters gathered around Sunil Gulati’s laptop in a Beijing sports bar to watch the USA win in Guatemala. But a lot of fans have their own memories that they’ll enjoy revisiting. And if you don’t remember anything that was written here, you need to read this book before June 12.