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Jurgen Klinsmann Named US National Team Head Coach

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While the formal press conference will not be until Monday, the United States Soccer Federation announced today that the replacement for Bob Bradley will be Jurgen Klinsmann. Klinnsman's coaching career has been limited to one stint with the German team, as well as very short time with Bayern Munich. He has also holds an advisory role with Toronto FC helping them set-up their current Aron Winter/Paul Mariner coaching/talent team. USSF President Sunil Gulati says;

"We are excited to have Jürgen as the head coach of our Men’s National Team," said Gulati. "He is a highly accomplished player and coach with the experience and knowledge to advance the program. Jürgen has had success in many different areas of the game and we look forward to the leadership he will provide on and off the field."   

Klinsmann jumps straight into the fire with a match against arch-rival Mexico at Lincoln Financial Field in Philly on August 10th. With just a couple weeks in his role it would be stunning to see many changes to personnel. In September he will lead the team against CONCACAF rivals Costa Rica and then Belgium, likely with two different squads.

"I am proud and honored to be named the head coach of the U.S. Men’s National Team," said Klinsmann. "I would like to thank the U.S. Soccer Federation for the opportunity, and I’m excited about the challenge ahead. I am looking forward to bringing the team together for our upcoming match against Mexico and starting on the road toward qualifying for the 2014 FIFA World Cup."

That statement from Klinsmann sums up the issue. His appoint is not about Mexico. It is not about the Gold Cup, or the Olympics. It is about the future. It is about change. And that's also where the questions arise.

Klinsmann quite famously criticized the US Youth -> College -> Pro development system, but did so as the era was shifting to something quite new. Still in its infancy the US development system now has two tracks.

  1. Youth -> Academy -> Reserve -> Pro
  2. Youth -> Academy -> College -> Reserve -> Pro

College is not seen as the end goal for American youths, but a step to refine on-field skills, learn non-soccer life skills, get an education and then ideally turn pro. For the greatest, say a Juan Agudelo, they can skip college entirely, but as has been noted before, in a non-collegiate nation Steve Zakuani doesn't become a professional soccer player.

Already there are dozens of MLS players (see table two) who have skipped college entirely after coming through the Academy systems. Klinsmann's desired shift already started, and it did it without him. Are there issues with the Academies still? Absolutely. Not every pro team under the USSF umbrella has one yet (the two levels can be operated for just over 1 Million dollars, though teams like the Seattle Sounders spend much more). They also don't cover enough area. These United States are enormous and players will always be able to slip through the cracks. But the idea that the only path for a player is to have rich parents pay for coaching and watch their children go to college is done.

It is also notable that the youth and Academy system will only supplement talent for the 2014 World Cup. Do we really expect a National Team coach to revamp that system and have a team of 18-21 year olds and succeed? Would he get a second cycle after doing that?

The key to Jurgen Klinsmann's success will be the continued advancement of players in college, on MLS Reserve squads and the diaspora of talent that isn't getting enough playing time in 2nd, 3rd and even lower tier teams around the world. This can't just be change for change's sake, and he will face different challenges than he had in Germany. Will the USA do significantly better at Brazil 2014 due to this hire? Probably not. Ideally this starts a process for a longer window with changes that make differences for Russia 2018.