Soccer Outsider: The Jurgen Klinsmann conundrum

January 30, 2013

I just learned that U.S. Men’s National Team Coach Jurgen Klinsmann is piloting a helicopter to and from U.S. camp in Los Angeles. With that, I am officially back on board with the Jurgen Klinsmann experiment. This is going to be fun, because Jurgen Klinsmann is either an eccentric visionary working on a master plan that is unknowable to my plebeian brain, or he is a straight-up crazy person. Either way: worth watching.

There were signs of Klinsmann’s eccentricity before. His odd choice of motivational speakers. His habit of playing low-level matches under the pseudonym Jay Göppingen. His decision to drive a ‘67 Volkswagen Beetle during his playing heyday in the ‘90s. His strange roster decisions (what does Michael Orozco Fiscal have on this guy?). But the decision to commute via personal aircraft puts Klinsmann in the Richard Branson stratosphere of eccentric personalities, with shades of Howard Hughes.

I was excited when Klinsmann became coach, but gradually became disillusioned. Klinsmann repeatedly selected midfields with no wingers. He wouldn’t call up Chris Pontius. Michael Orozco Fiscal and Jose Francisco Torres couldn’t play their way off the roster (though they certainly appeared to be trying). The tipping point for me was when Jozy Altidore was left off the roster for crucial World Cup qualifiers against Antigua and Barbuda and Jamaica. I was 100 percent against that decision. I understand what Klinsmann was doing; he was sending Jozy a message. But in my opinion, World Cup qualifiers are not the time to be teaching lessons. I happen to be an Alan Gordon fan, but anyone who thinks Alan Gordon is a better soccer player than Jozy Altidore is insane.

Klinsmann has adopted a distant-father-who-can-never-be-pleased approach with his players. This is the style of parenting that produced both Mozart and Michael Jackson – it is a big-time roll of the dice. Klinsmann recently said that Clint Dempsey “hasn’t made s—” (hasn’t made soup? Ever? Clint: try soup. It’s delicious). He continues to take an “I don’t care if you play on this team or not” approach with Landon Donovan, which will hopefully work with Donovan the same way it worked with Jimmy Chitwood. Klinsmann is his own man, and there is no question that he and he alone is piloting this team. What’s yet to be determined is whether the man at the controls is a visionary or a madman.

But, hey: U.S. Soccer wanted a shakeup, and they got one. They could have also gotten a shakeup by naming Gary Busey or a ferret with a jetpack as the head coach, but with Klinsmann the “genius” part of “eccentric genius” is still in play. Personally, I hope things get really weird. I hope Klinsmann books the team into a hyperbaric geosphere in Brazil. I hope the next U.S. kit is made completely of tin foil. I hope Klinsmann starts publicly encouraging players to retain their Purity Of Essence before matches. And I hope it all works. Because Klinsmann is piloting this vehicle whether we like it or not, and we’re either headed to a new horizon or to the bottom of the ocean.

More: Goff’s thoughts on the U.S.-Canada friendly

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Steven Goff | January 30, 2013