July 25, 2015
by Charles Cuttone
Taking the long view with the US National Team
CHESTER, Pa.---Letís be clear. Results matter in sports. Coaches who donít get results get fired. It's plain and simple. But there are different kind of results. Yes, winning the Gold Cup, appearing in the final, even winning the third place game should mean something. Same for getting to the Confederations Cup, even though it is a contrived tournament created by FIFA to further clog the calendar and extract money from fans and sponsors.
But not winning those competitions (or in the case of the Confederations Cup not getting there) is not the end of the world. Good results in knockout competitions are tough to predict or assure. Thatís why the games are played, and thatís why the calls for Jurgen Klinsmann's head after this past week's poor U.S. performance in the Gold Cup semifinal, are premature, even uncalled for. In fact, the results Klinsmannís tenure as coach will bring will likely happen after he is no longer the teamís coach. His tenure will require a historical perspective to judge its success and significance.
Iíve not agreed with every decision Klinsmann has made. Leaving Landon Donovan off the World Cup team last year was in my opinion, a bad decision. But it was his to make. Whether it was to make a point or to give a youngster like Julian Green some World Cup experience, knowing it would be Donovanís last hurrah.
With Donovan, the U.S. was/is never going to win the World Cup under Jurgen Klinsmann, so even the arguments about whether the team progressed further under Bruce Arena, Bob Bradley or Klinsmann are moot. The U.S. getting as far as it has in the past three World Cups is already well beyond where even 20 years ago, those of us that are old enough to remember ever thought it would.
Remember, in 1990, when the U.S. qualified for the World Cup in Italy, it hadnít been to the tournament since 1950. As host four years later, the U.S. didnít have to qualify. Now, qualifying and showing well are expected.
But the U.S. is nowhere near the class of the world yet, in other words having a realistic chance at winning the World Cup. Not in 2018, but what about in 2022 or in 2026, when the U.S. could be a likely hostóunless FIFA strips Qatar of the 2022 tournament and itís here earlier. Thatís where Klinsmannís role as U.S. Soccerís Technical Director, overseeing all player development comes in.
The average age for winning the World Cup is about 27. Last yearís Germanyís World Cup winning team had an average age of 26.4. The average age of all the previous winners was 27.5. Brazilís 1962 winning team was the oldest at 30.7 years old, Argentinaís 1998 team was youngest at 27.7. The United States at 29.5 was the oldest team at last yearís World Cup.
So Klinsmannís legacy is going to be how he rebuilds this U.S. team. Sure they need to qualify for Russia 2018, and that path, at least in the early going would appear to have been made a little bit easier with Saturdayís draw, with the USMNT drawn against Trinidad & Tobago, St. Vincent/Aruba and Antigua/Guatemala winners.
But the players Klinsmann brings along between now and Russia will really determine his legacy. Look at some of them and their ages: Gedion Zelalem Ė18, Emerson Hyndmanó19, Julian Green--20, Gyasi Zardes-21, Ventura Alvarado, DeAndre Yedlin and John Brooks, all 22. Their average age at the Qatar World Cup will be---27.5.