Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Jürgen Klinsmann and the German feel of the United States Men's National Team

The United States Men’s National Team is going through an identity crisis. All that’s left is changing the flag from red, white and blue to the black, red and gold of Germany.

The signing of Jürgen Klinsmann as head coach of the senior team gives this team an increasingly strong German presence, one that had already begun to develop prior to the new skipper’s arrival.

Klinsmann is a former World Cup winner for Die Mannschaft, as well as a player for a European Championship winning team and a German Footballer of the Year award winner in 1994. He is one of the most famous and well-respected players in Germany’s soccer history. And as a manager he revamped the nation’s playing style and helped them finish third in the 2006 World Cup, when they hosted the tournament.

As he writes in his manifesto, Klinsmann transformed the German National Team into an offensive minded squad; attacking, being aggressive and “proactive”. To help the senior team accomplish this transformation, Klinsmann reached out to many of the German Bundesliga coaches to help implement that style of play throughout the country, creating a national identity through style of play.

It’s a style many USMNT supporters have wished their country would adopt and it seems that Klinsmann plans to implement. And he’s relying on players with strong ties to the German game to introduce it to the rest of the USA.

The team already has midfielder Jermaine Jones. He grew up in Frankfurt-Bonames with his mother and his father was an African-American soldier stationed in Germany. He played professionally in Germany from 2000-2011 before being loaned to EPL side Blackburn Rovers. Jones even made three appearances for the German National Team (under Klinsmann’s assistant-turned head coach Joachim Löw) before using a FIFA rule change to allow him to switch eligibility to the USMNT.

There is also the tantalizing prospect, Timothy Chandler. He was born in Frankfurt—also to an African-American soldier and German mother—lived in Germany his entire life and has played professionally only in Germany. He plays right fullback, but can also play on the wing.

Fans want to see more of Chandler, already labeling him the next starter at right fullback, but he was not named to the Gold Cup roster (left off due to concerns from his club team) and was an injury scratch for the Mexico friendly. Still, he figures to play a large role on the team moving forward.

Also, Steve Cherundolo and Michael Bradley, while they are not German citizens, have played in the Bundesliga during the time of Klinsmann’s influence on the club level.

Don't forget that Klinsmann was also the coach of Bayern Munich when American star Landon Donovan was on loan there in 2009.

All five players were named to Klinsmann’s first roster as head coach of the USMNT, but there’s even more ties to his German background lurking on the team, and they are with some surprising players.

DaMarcus Beasley, Ricardo Clark and Edson Buddle have all thought to be completely out of the National Team picture after the 2010 World Cup. All three, to the shock of many USMNT supporters, have been placed on the 22-man roster for the Mexico friendly, earning a chance to prove their worth to the new coach.

What do all three have in common, other than thought to be finished with the USMNT? They all have played club ball recently in Germany.

Clark has played both midfield and center fullback for Bundesliga 2 side Eintracht Frankfurt and Edson Buddle has scored three goals in 17 league appearances since joining fellow Bundesliga 2 team FC Ingolstadt 04 last summer. Beasley, though he just joined Mexican –side Puebla this summer, was a member of Bundesliga club Hannover 96 the past two seasons.

One would imagine all three are in an “Impress now or forever hold your peace” situation with the USMNT, but it isn’t far-fetched to imagine that their experiences in German soccer have earned them all one last chance.

Don’t expect the parade of German-Americans (or those playing professionally in Germany) to end soon either. Some other options still exist.

Goalkeeper David Yelldell, a German-American who has made one career appearance for the USMNT, signed with Bundesliga club Bayern Leverkusen this summer. He was briefly named the team’s starting goalkeeper in July, although he did not play in the team’s first game of the season. He could emerge as a No. 2 keeper behind incumbent starter Tim Howard.

Alfredo Morales is a 21-year-old German-American defender for Bundesliga side Hertha Berlin. Young players on top-tier teams usually get a good amount of hype from the American soccer media (think Eric Lichaj), so Morales’ name could get mentioned frequently in the upcoming years.

Luis Robles is another goalkeeper who plays in Germany. He plays for Bundesliga 2 team Karlsruher (previously with FC Kaiserslautern) and has made one appearance for the USMNT in the 2009 CONCACAF Gold Cup.

So Klinsmann (and USMNT fans) wants the team to play more offensive-mindedly, more aggressive and with more technical skill. He wants them to play more like the German National Team. So to do that he’s bringing in players with ties to Germany who have experienced the style of play Germany plays, a style Kilnsmann influenced onto German teams with support from their soccer federation in 2004.

And how bad a model could the German National team be for the United States? Historically they are one of the most successful nations to participate in the FIFA World Cup and have finished third in two straight editions of the tournament (not to mention a second-place finish in 2002, pre-Klinsmann).

The Mexico friendly will usher in a new era for the American team, the “German era”. Now it’s time to see if Klinsmann can replicate that success of Die Mannschaft in the “land of the free and the home of the brave.”

Photo Credits.
Jürgen Klinsmann: AP Photo/Mary Altaffer
Jermaine Jones: AP Photo/Stephan Savoia

Pieces of Jürgen Klinsmann's introduction as USMNT head coach. Video from YouTube.

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