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Did the USMNT's World Cup failure foreshadow Germany's?

Saturday 30th June 2018

On November 11th, 2017, the United States lost 2-1 to Mexico in Columbus, Ohio. Four days later, they fell 4-0 to Costa Rica in San Jose. Jurgen Klinsmann was sacked. Bruce Arena returned for his second stint as USMNT boss. His second tenure began well but ended badly. A second defeat to Costa Rica, in the return leg in New Jersey, and one on the final day of qualifying to Trinidad ended the United States seven-cycle run of World Cup appearances. Arena stepped down immediately after the loss to the Soca Warriors. Shortly after, USSF president Sunil Gulati announced he would not be running for another term as head of the national federation.

Carlos Cordeiro has been voted in as his replacement and placed the US men’s team rebuilding project in former player Earnie Stewart’s hands. The former midfielder is 49, Dutch-born, and had previous executive experience with Eredivisie clubs NAC Breda, AZ Alkmaar and PSV Eindhoven. He was Sporting Director of Philadelphia Union until accepting the newly created General Manager position with the USMNT.

As is usually the case with a decline, there is no single reason for the US side’s failure to qualify for Russia. One incident along the way does stand out, however. After Klinsmann was sacked, goalkeeper Tim Howard questioned the commitment of foreign-born US internationals.

Jurgen Klinsmann had a project to unearth talent around the world that had American roots. But having American roots doesn’t mean you are passionate about playing for that country.

The vast majority of Klinsmann’s foreign recruits were of German and American parentage, the American parent typically stationed at an overseas armed forces base. Jermaine Jones, who is perhaps the most passionate player to ever pull on a US shirt, was among Klinsmann’s recruits. He took exception to Howard’s opinion.

With all the respect for Timmy, I feel it's not if you're half American or full-American. It's more what you have in here. If you go on the field and you give everything for this country, then of course sometimes there's a situation where you're not playing good. But it's normal. That can happen to everybody, and that's what you have to understand.

Jones then pointedly noted the difference between such remarks coming from outside the team and, as in this case, inside.

All the criticism that comes from outside, that's good. That's soccer. It has to be like that. But you have to see the bigger picture, and that's the whole team. There's not an American guy and a German-American. The whole team played bad, so that's the fact. To put it on this guy or this guy, I think it's not correct from nobody.

Had he still been in the national team picture a few months later, rather than injured, Jones might have pointed out that no German-American players featured in the Trinidadian debacle, although Howard did.

While a divide obviously existed in the locker room, the United States hasn’t abandoned its German-born players. Injury also sidelined Fabian Johnson, Timothy Chandler and John Brooks. Julian Green, who was born in Tampa after his father returned stateside with his German wife accompanying him, had not and still has not developed to the point where he is in the first team. Presumably, when a new coach is named, he will take a serious look at Green and, in all likelihood, rely heavily upon Brooks in central defence.

There is an interesting trend in the group. Jones, now 36, is at the end of his career. In his prime, he was a player of interest for Germany. A physical presence with raw technical ability, he didn’t quite fit their mould. The DFB hesitated. Eager to play, he accepted Klinsmann’s overtures.

None of the younger recruits, Johnson is 30, Chandler 28, Brooks 25, and Green 23, has interested die Mannschaft in the manner Jones did. Green hasn’t even impressed at club level. After being signed as a teenager by Bayern, he struggled. Eventually, he was sold to Stuttgart, loaned to 2.Bundesliga outfit Greuther Furth, where he has signed permanently.

The point is that the quality of German-American recruits has declined noticeably over the years. The question is whether that is indicative of the entire German talent pool?

Joachim Low and Jurgen Klinsmann were a tandem for Germany at the 2006 World Cup. Klinsmann, who had moved to California late in his career, had come to value American training methods and the athletic aspect of the game. Low championed the technical side.

After his philosophy was rejected by Bayern and he accepted the USMNT post, Klinsmann’s recruits were all of the athletic bent. Nevertheless, almost all developed under the same youth coaching methods and teachings as their more technically gifted brethren. A trend that affects one group should also influence the other.

Low rejected the most skilled athletic talent at his disposal when he left Manchester City’s Leroy Sane off his 2018 World Cup squad. There can be no question football’s evolution has drifted into youth and athleticism, yet die Mannschaft were able to overcome that with ease in Brazil, four years ago. In Russia, they were all at sea. The older players couldn’t keep up. The younger ones weren’t able to step up.

Every nation endures peaks and valleys in form and depth of talent. Germany appears to be on a downhill slope at the moment. Hindsight is 20-20, but might we have seen it coming had we looked harder at Jurgen Klinsmann’s USMNT project? Tim Howard, who tragically assumed patriotism rather than ability was the missing element, may have been on the right track.

Martin Palazzotto

The former editor of World Football Columns, Martin authored the short story collection strange bOUnce. He appeared in several other blogs which no longer exist. Old, he likes to bring out defunct. If outdated sport and pop-cultural references intrude on his meanderings for It's Round and It's White, don't be alarmed. He's harmless.

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