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Michael Lewis

Michael Lewis

November 21, 2016
Klinsmann's comments are insulting to an educated American soccer public

Linda Cuttone/Sports Vue Images
By Michael Lewis Editor

I must admit, I feel a bit insulted this Monday morning.

Actually, make that quite insulted.

If you hadn't read Jurgen Klinsmann's comments in today's The New York Times, here they are again:

“The fact is, we lost two games," Klinsmann told Times reporter Sam Borden in a telephone interview Sunday night. "There is a lot of talk from people who don’t understand soccer or the team.”

Of course, Klinsmann is talking about the latest two World Cup debacles by the U.S. national team, the 2-1 home loss to Mexico and a 4-0 trouncing by host Costa Rica in which the Americans were taken to school by a country that has a population all of four million.

I would like to think after 40 years I have learned a thing or two about the beautiful game, whether it has been watching thousands of games live or on TV, whether it was hard learning -- ie taking a referee course -- or just by osmosis.

I would like to think I am not alone in this that many fans, coaches and players know something about the game as well.

That's it, put down your detractors after two of your most startling results in recent World Cup qualifying memory. In the 2-1 loss at the home of dos a cero -- Columbus, Ohio -- Klinsmann decided to deploy a 3-5-2 in a disastrous first half before captain Michael Bradley and fellow midfielder Jermaine Jones convinced the coach to return to a a more familiar 4-4-2 in the second half. We allow know what transpired as former Red Bulls bad-boy Rafa Marquez headed home a corner kick in the 89th minute on missed coverage as the Americans suffered their first qualifying defeat on U.S. soil in 15 years.

In Costa Rica, the Ticos took the red, white and blue to school, particularly during a nightmarish 10-minute span in the second half in which they turned the game upside down by connecting for three goals.

What we saw on many levels was not a pretty sight, the most glaring of which was a U.S. team that was going through the motions and had lost its desire. This from a team that has been proud of a reputation that it never gives up. Guess there is always a first time for everything.

In the Times' story, Klinsmann claimed otherwise.

“There was nobody giving up at that time,” he told the newspaper. “That was a normal emotional situation when things go wrong. When they get the second goal there, it was like a knock in your neck. I played those games many, many times. The whole stadium goes bananas. It’s totally human to put your head down for a second. And then they counter us for two more. Those games will always happen. We just couldn’t stop it, but the players did not stop trying.”

Now, I have been covering sports for more than four decades -- all sports, not just soccer, (although I have concentrated on the latter the past 30 years) and I have seen many teams not playing for their coaches -- aka as losing the team.

Now, I might not be the first or last work on soccer tactics, but I know good soccer from bad soccer and I also know when someone is giving a spin or two. You might call that my journalistic "spidey instincts" honed through the years.

There have been theories, rumors and even stories written about Klinsmann's lack of tactical know-how, how assistant coach Joachim Loew was the true brains of the operation when Jurgen-led Germany finished third in the 2006 World Cup, a competition that the Euro nation hosted.

Under head coach Loew since then, the Germans finished third at South Africa 2010 and won the whole enchilada in Brazil in 2014.

Now, I don't know whether U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati will lower the boom on Klinsmann or retain him as coach, but there is little doubt that the U.S. national team head coach still has a lot to learn about American soccer and the socer public. We're not that backwater country of three decades ago. We are a lot more sophisticated.

Do we as a soccer nation have much more to learn?

No doubt about it.

At least we are humble enough recognize that.

It is unfortunate that some people don't.

And one last thing:

Did Reuters realize that Erik Kirschbaum, who wrote the Sunday story about Klinsmann, was the co-author of a book by the USA coach, "Soccer Without Borders?" And did it fear that the story could be sympathetic to Klinsmann or perhaps not give a true representation of the interview?

According to MacMillan Publishers website, "Soccer Without Borders:"

"Journalist Erik Kirschbaum lays out Klinsmann's vision for making the U.S. men's soccer team a dominant world power for the first time in its history."

This morning I have a little less respect for Reuters during a time when traditional news media can ill afford to score own goals.
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