Posted by Jerry Hinnen
It's not an exaggeration: the dreams of thousands of U.S. Soccer fans have finally come true.
After years of flirtation on both sides, the U.S. Soccer Federation has named Jurgen Klinsmann head coach of the U.S. Men's National Team. Klinsmann replaces the largely-unpopular Bob Bradley, fired yesterday after five up-and-down years at the helm.
Ask most fans of the USMNT and they'll tell you going from Bradley to "Klinsi" represents the biggest coaching upgrade since Lou Holtz replaced Gerry Faust at Notre Dame. That might seem like an overreaction for a coach with only two meaningful stints on his resume, one as the manager of his native Germany's national team for the 2006 World Cup cycle and another at the helm of Bundesliga giants Bayern Munich.
But Klinsmann's relative inexperience does nothing to outweigh the perfect combination of credibility and familiarity his hire represents for the USA. Many internationally-recognized managers might have listened to the USSF's offers, but thanks to Klinsmann having moved with his family to the Los Angeles area more than a decade ago, none of them have anything resembling his knowledge of the U.S. player pool and American mindset.
The prospect of hiring any coach with the immediate credibility that comes with being a national hero for one of the globe's great soccer nations -- not to mention guiding that nation to a stirring, surprising World Cup semifinal berth in 2006 -- would be enough to get U.S. fans salivating. Combine that with Klinsmann's understanding of the position and the U.S. roster, and it's not possible to draw up a more appealing candidate.
Which is why USSF head honcho Sunil Gulati and Klinsmann have had on-and-off back-table discussions regarding the USMNT job for years. Klinsmann has reportedly had serious reservations in the past about his level of control regarding U.S. player development and roster construction, with Gulati allegedly balking about some of Klinsmann's demands.
But with Bradley looking more and more unfit to coach another four-year World Cup cycle following the recent 4-2 capitulation to Mexico in the Gold Cup final (not to mention the inexplicabe 2-1 defeat to Panama in the tournament's group stage), Gulati and the USSF may have felt the time had come to meet Klinsmann's conditions.
Given Bradley's documented flaws and the rarity of national team coaches anywhere lasting through two World Cups, it's worth asking what took the USSF so long. But it's also worth applauding them for making the neccessary move now. For U.S. Soccer, it's hard to imagine that Klinnsmann's arrival won't be the very definition of "better late than never."