It Seems To Me. . .
Big game against Mexico gives Klinsmann an opportunity to prove his worth.
By Robert Wagman
(Thursday, October 8, 2015) -- When United States soccer Federation president Sunil Gulati decided to pay men's coach Jürgen Klinsmann about 10 times what he had been paying his predecessor Bob Bradley, he was trying to buy two things, First, he wanted a coach who could take the men's team to the next level by winning the big matches and, secondly, someone who could organize U.S. Soccer's youth programs to guarantee a steady flow of new talent ready to move onto the senior team. He wanted those who could play at the highest level in Major League Soccer or for major club teams abroad.
Looking at the second wish first, it's still too early to make any real judgments about the youth programs. The under-23 men's team advanced to the semifinals of the CONCACAF qualifying tournament and must defeat Honduras in Saturday's semifinals to advance to the 2016 Summer Olympics in Brazil. Moreover, the U-23s are far from their strongest 11 because some players' professional clubs wo0uld not release them.
The under-17 men has qualified for its World Cup October 17-November 8 in Chile. It's too early to tell how strong it will be, but the squad under coach Richie Williams looks to be competitive.
So. let's turn to the first desire -- taking the men's team to the next level.
Klinsmann was not hired to win the CONCACAF Gold Cup. The U.S. had done that before under Bradley and Bruce Arena before him. It was not to win friendly matches; a friendly victory is always better than a loss, but at best it is only a general measure of a team's ability.
In the case of the U.S., it was not to simply qualify for the World Cup. The Americans have done that regularly. Nor was it to get out of group play at the World Cup, which the U.S. has done now multiple times. Klinsmann was hired to win the big match and that would be defined as winning a quarterfinal match at the World Cup and get to the semis. That, the U.S. has not done.
Now comes this one-off match against Mexico Saturday at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif. The winner will represent CONCACAF in next summer's Confederations Cup in Russia. This match was made necessary only because the U.S. did not win this summer's Gold Cup.
Enough said about that. This is the kind of match that theoretically might make Klinsmann 10 times more valuable than Bob Bradley.
Klinsmann has selected 16 members of the 2014 World Cup squad for the game at the Rose Bowl. In a number of cases, he has chosen seasoned international players over younger players, even when the younger player might be one of his bright young stars for the future.
An example of that was choosing World Cup forward Chris Wondolowski, 32, over Bobby Wood, 22, even though Wood is having a strong good start this season in the 2. Bundesliga.
Klinsmann will be without two of his likely starters -- German-based defender John Brooks and striker Aron Jóhannsson, both out because of injuries.
In something of a surprise, Klinsmann chose young defender Ventura Alvarado, 23, over World Cup starter Omar Gonzalez and left World Cup midfielder Mix Diskerud off his final squad.
"The competition is very, very tight," Klinsmann said. "Not having Omar Gonzalez or Mix Diskerud on this roster is not because they are not good enough; it's just because you see another player that is better in their position right now in this specific moment."
Two players missing from the September friendlies against Peru and Brazil because of injuries were flank defenders DaMarcus Beasley and Fabian Johnson. Both have healed and will be in Pasadena on Saturday, the likely two starters on the outside.
Who Mexico will be putting on the field is a bit of a mystery. Mexico coach Ricardo (Tuca) Ferretti has adopted a 5-3-2 system and it looked like veterans Rafa Márquez and Andres Guardado would be out with injuries. But the two are on the 23-man roster and both are likely to be playing.
Given Ferretti's system and the veteran side Klinsmann has assembled, a defensive match might be in the offing. Few will be shocked to see the match go to extra time and then be decided on penalty kicks.
This is clearly the most important match for the U.S. under Klinsmann and a chance to see if Gulati's millions have been well spent.