Klinsmann supporters “Zero Must-tell”

Many in the United States may think Jurgen Klinsmann is the Zero Mostel of soccer – a technical director and head coach making a comedy of errors that only sees him grow weaker and weaker in the eyes of an ever-more educated population.

I’m one of those folks who fall into that category.  I’m disappointed. Frustrated. Amazed at how poorly US Soccer has developed players to take on simple roles in a basic 4-4-2.

  • No true number 6.
  • No true number 9.
  • No true number 10.

Seriously, after five long years you would’ve thought the U-12, U-14 and U-16 Head Coaches, within US Soccer would’ve sat down with Jurgen Klinsmann (the technical director) and plotted a training plan that addressed what skills and mentality players would need in order to fill these critical positions on the pitch!

Not happened – the base of the pyramid remains lost with no bread crumbs to follow.

I’ve already written about the latest U-12 training document from US Soccer and how it fails to include the word ‘mentality’ or the phrase ‘first touch’ anywhere.  If you’re going to coach soccer you need to immerse players in those two things…  simply for the reason that when they cross the white line if they don’t the right mentality and they don’t have a great first touch they will never succeed!

I don’t want this article to be a one-way street.  Richard Fleming wrote an interesting article the other day called “Stop looking for the soft option”.

While I don’t hail from outside the United States I did get my training in the United Kingdom.  And I firmly believe, when considering word leadership tactics are not too easily thrown about as to why teams come off second best.  It’s leadership, after all, that not only selects the appropriate tactics for the game but also selects the players they think best fit what tactics are to be employed.

From my view social media chatter only took off because those who are educated about soccer, and have voiced dissent about Klinsmann in the past, were finally recognized as knowing what they are talking about.  Social media in this country is not blessed with highly educated soccer writers – the few out there are more likely to be former players or managers who tend not to bite the hand that feeds them.

So for me, the 4-nil defeat against Argentina was not the breaking point in wanting to see Klinsmann sacked – it was the humiliating loss to Guatemala that was!

And if you’re looking for comparisons to England – just look at how quickly the English FA decided to sack Hodgson – it occurred immediately after a glaring and embarrassing loss to Iceland – another minnow who tactically dominated a much more skilled footballing nation.

That said – I’m not equating the loss to Guatemala as being equal to the England loss to Iceland – I think the loss to Guatemala was worse – 10 times as worse!

In considering the initial goals scored against the United States – every player has to do their job was Flemings’ view – agreed.  But we musn’t forget that those players have been in the US Men’s National Team fold for quite some time.  Plenty of time, I would argue, where tactical training on positional play against a stronger passing team should have been conducted.

Even with that said – a set-piece goal against is a direct reflection of poor/misplaced mentality.  The less concentration you have when your opponent takes the corner ball the less likely you are to defend well.  Team mentality and being prepared to play set-pieces is the Head Coaches responsibility.  What happened in my view is the United States played a man-to-man marking scheme when a more appropriate marking scheme would have been zonal… this way you know at least one player may end up being near a certain number ten and then near a player moving off of that number ten.

In considering the second goal against.  Again it a poor defensive play but it’s incorrect to say that wasn’t the result of poor tactical execution.  If anything, seeing Wondolowski in that position to begin with is a SHINING example of poor team tactical execution in thinking defense first and not being overly aggressive in attacking when you know – you simply know – that the opponent is extremely skilled in moving the ball quickly.

Said another way – why is Wondolowski in that position to begin with?  Because other players weren’t…  I’d offer it’s not the soft option to blame Klinsmann, I offer it’s the tough decision that needs to be made to sack him.

And let England have him…  besides, given the maturity of soccer in England, it’s more likely a phrase like “go out there and express yourself” will have greater value.

Bottom line – there has been no launch of any worthy program that sees states within the United States directly feeding a curriculum that talks to training for some of the most specialized positions on the soccer pitch.

When asked to comment, US Soccer has always declined.  And while Sunil Gulati has made himself available for some members of the press it’s near impossible to have them respond to an email request.  There has been no renaissance in US Soccer, no panaceanot in the camp of followers – I think the comedy of errors needs to stop; it’s just not funny anymore that the United States can be completely humiliated like they were against Argentina; never-mind that harrowing loss away loss to Guatemala not two months before.

If you’re into reading tea leaves surely that complete lack of understanding what tactical approaches and the players needed to execute those approaches should have been seen then!

Before continuing my rant – if you will – it’s only fair and balanced to offer a link to this article, written by an Englishman, Richard Fleming:  “Stop looking for the soft option”.

 And giving up a goal in the fourth minute does not, I repeat, does not warrant a change in game plan if you are a good head coach – a game plan when down a goal should really only change (if you had the right one to begin with) around the 60th to 70th minute of a game when substitutes are usually called upon.

Patrick Vierira offers that Mix Diskerud isn’t offering quality – what the masses mostly saw with each passing game as Mix played for Jurgen Klinsmann.  Is this just another example of how skewed Jurgen Klinsmann assessment of players really is?

good one about defending Klinsmann and his tactics not being a worthy reason to sack him since the first two goals against were player issues not tactical issues.

On the surface – for that game – perhaps Fleming is right.

But I disagree and that’s the beauty of football – lots of eyes watching lots of footy seeing lots of different things.

What I see is a lack of leadership, coupled with a consistent lack of tactics that best position less talented Americans against he likes of Argentina or Guatemala – we simply cannot ignore that devastating and embarrassing loss.  Nevermind the questionable line-up to begin with where the best dribbler and passes, probably (by statistics) the United States has ever had sat on the sideline in place of a #6 who wasn’t playing the #6, nor the #8 or #10 for that matter…

It was an omen, portent, a sign of things to come, a reading of the tea leaves, a view of how the finger bones spilled in the brass pan.

ZERO shots taken is worse than getting beat by Guatemala – I’m not sure those who don’t follow soccer a whole lot realize just how devastating that is…Wait a week or two and the dust will settle, people will forget, and we’ll breath a sigh of relief and begin to prepare for the World Cup advocating that fourth place in the COPA America was a success…

I disagree…  now isn’t time to get comfy, curl up the legs on the sofa and have a glass of wine.

If you’re in a military organization where winning is a must – I think winning in soccer is a must – then you’d get all the top brain cells together and rehash – game for game what went right and what went wrong…

And where poor leadership manifests itself you’d change leadership.

For me there’s two primary takeaways in the last six months that tell the story.

A complete lack of tactical nous against Guatemala, in Guatemala, and the United States output of zero shots taken against Argentina.

In military terms the Guatemala debacle was like Custer’s last stand – having simply no clue and making no tactical plans but just show up and think you’ll win to the game against Argentina where it’s similar to having a stealth bomber make do a fly over ISIS and fail to drop any bombs

That’s ZERO shots taken.

ZERO…….  Shots………  Taken………

For me, ZERO shots taken exemplifies a Head Coach who isn’t:

  1. Capable of creating an attacking scheme that can break down any type of defensive scheme, including a possession-based defending scheme,
  2. Capable of being able to pick the right players to get the results expected based upon initial tactics,
  3. Capable of analyzing an opponent and find the right tactics to penetrate and create, or
  4. Capable of executing (after five years) a system that maximizes internal player development regardless of what leagues players play in.

A reminder that the loss to Guatemala, in Guatemala was not a fluke – it was an early warning that the players play for our country but they don’t play for our country and our Head Coach.

You just need to listen to what they say… really listen.

I have no control over the first three – that’s for others to decide.

But I believe I can offer, from an organizational development standpoint, the United States needs to change how they identify players for selection, how they develop players from younger ages, and translate that into tactical formulas that give this team a chance at least getting one shot taken against any opponent, any place, any where, any time.

Pollution – The selection process for picking players to develop/train within the US Men’s national team is potentially rife with:

  1. Overblown scouting reports that rely on here-say,
  2. Poor statistical/analytical reasoning that compare/equate/derive that if Joe Bloggs does well in one league he’ll do well on the US Men’s National Team, or
  3. Ignorance in devising a national development plan where players with raw skills, who aren’t able to afford playing in travel leagues at the prime ages of (14-18), aren’t missed.

Soccer – across the world – is a poor-persons sport – in this country it’s a rich-persons sport.  Players begin their development thinking they are entitled to play…  I think Jurgen Klinsmann gets this part but I’m not seeing any program that looks to take this issue head-on.

Dilution – Dilute the process for picking players to develop/train/choose from for one national team.

Solution – Create six or eight inter-regional teams in the four basic locations of the United States (Northwest, Southwest, Northeast, and Southeast) where they must follow US Soccer mandated direction.  In other words, in order to participate in those inter-regional leagues teams must learn and play scripted games using the three primary formations (3-5-2, 4-4-2, and 4-5-1) where winning is NOT the end-state; the end-state is the development of players not only for the national team but those organizations can also gain income through transfer markets of professional teams.

  1. gers to play inverted.
  2. Learn to play the single and double pivot central defending midfield tactic.
  3. Learn to play a basic 3-5-2, 4-4-2 (bucket and diamond) as well as a 4-3-3 and 4-1-4-1.
  4. Teach fullbacks to overlap on the inside of the pitch as well as outside of the pitch.
  5. Play ‘x’ amount of games against each other employing those five basic formations.
  6. This way you not only have scouting reports that can compare apples to apples but you also have data analysis that too, is comparing apples to apples, at least within our own country.
  7. I’m sure they are other directions that can be provided but maximizing different styles of play means maximizing opportunities to filter those who are mentally prepared to play the game and those that aren’t.

Can the United States take an approach like this?

I think so – what it requires is discipline, direction, and leadership.

It also requires senior leadership, in US Soccer, admitting that their current process for developing the national team is flawed.

When looking to change bad habits the first step, in a road to recovery, is admitting that how things were done in the past were wrong and you need to do something to change.

It’s the old adage about riding a dead horse (our current US Men’s National Team Process)… when encountering a dead horse, do you…

  • Buy a stronger whip?
  • Develop a one new training session to improve that horse?
  • Remind ourselves that other countries ride this same horse?
  • Name the dead horse “paradigm shift” and keep riding it?  (An explanation on what has happened the last five years, perhaps?)
  • Remember all the good times you had while riding that horse?
  • Take a positive outlook – pronounce that the dead horse doesn’t have to be fed – it is less costly, carries lower overhead and therefore contributes substantially more to the bottom line of the team’s budget than do some other horses?

I’d offer you get multiple new, more flexible horses, that are ride-tested many different ways, and then you choose the best horse.

Bottom line at the bottom:

It is clear (using Iceland as an example) that you don’t need to have individual world class players to create a world class team – what you need is world class leadership!

I’m not advocating any one of these Head Coaches pictured below is ‘the’ answer – but from what I’ve seen, they ALL tactically have a plan, find the players to execute that plan, and are usually pretty good at winning with that plan.  If there team isn’t doing well with the initial game plan they will change it.

And I don’t think any of them have ever lead a team who had ZERO shots taken – no more how one-sided the talent.


Los Angeles Galaxy head coach Bruce Arena prior to playing the Philadelphia Union. The Los Angeles Galaxy defeated the Philadelphia Union 4-1 during a Major League Soccer (MLS) match at PPL Park in Chester, PA, on May 15, 2013.

Jason Kreis

Caleb Porter

Best, Chris