CONCACAF Cup - Mexico Trumps US

That was fun.

Oh, come on.  Sure, we lost.  We've done that before.  You thought we'd never lose ever again? Did you want nothing but beautiful, breathtaking soccer played by the world's finest performers?  Wrong national team, my friend. 

Okay, we lost to the Enemy. Maybe it was the soft bigotry of expectations that had fallen down the mineshaft, but we came back against the Enemy.  Twice.  With a bad lineup playing badly. 

We made this game an unofficial referendum on the Klinsmann regime, we devoted USMNT fans.  This has made us thoughtful, perhaps even opinionated. So it's nice to remember why we became fans of this kicky sporty thing in the first place.  There are two huge and important positives I believe every fan can take away from this.

The never give up, never surrender, never say die spirit?  The one that, depending on your point of view, either exemplifies the best of the United States of America, or is a comforting myth that masks our inadequacies?  Well, it's nice to see that's still around.  I thought we'd mislaid it sometime around the Brazil game.

That's really what I ask from our team.  I don't watch the US to see Juergen Klinsmann coach - boy, do I not ever.

If you don't believe that's important, well, look at you being all intelligent and sophisticated.  Suppose, however, that this was your first rodeo.  I'm honestly jealous of the people who had never seen a USMNT game before now, because this is one I'd put in the rotation.  Just for the cowboy myth of it all.  No, we didn't win in the end.  That's the lesson - this isn't the end.  This isn't even the beginning.

Those new fans are in for a rough ride, but they'll come back, every last one of them.  That's why we do.

More important, though, is the number of fans we have nowadays.  We can go back twenty or thirty years to put this in perspective if we feel like it, but we only have to go back to 2011.  There was a sizeable and loud section of US support, in Los Angeles County, against Mexico.  That's a milestone, my friends.  One of a series we've had over fifteen years of uninterrupted fan growth. 

No, it wasn't 50-50, or even 60-40 in the Rose Bowl.  Any more than soccer has passed basketball or baseball in the United States.  At this point, those would be nice, but not necessary.  Whenever or whatever the tipping point was, it was pointed and tipped.  The US national teams - both of them - have become sustainable, self-perpetuating, going concerns with a permanent and growing fan base.  Nothing is going to unring the toothpaste now.

We've allowed Juergen Klinsmann to overshadow the US national team program.  But the program and the fans are strong, and will get stronger.  Klinsmann hasn't even slowed that down.  This too will pass, even if right now our midfield can't.

Of course Klinsmann has failed.  And, of course, those of us who run the US Soccer Federation while teaching economics at Columbia will go to great lengths not to see this.  But this game was both a fun night of soccer entertainment and a fan support breakthrough.  Klinsmann can't stop either. 

The negatives don't outweigh these positives.  Failing to qualify for the World Cup would be the only thing that would, but even Klinsmann can't screw that up.  Not now that Mexico hired the genius behind this.  We'll be fine.

Where do we go from here?

We don't.  We follow and support.  Whether Klinsmann gets fired or not is not our call.  And, bluntly, if you want to boycott this team's directionless incompetence, you'll miss out on some fun - but more to the point, there will be others to replace you.  Might as well get with the program.

Okay, that's silly and unfair.  Has Juergen Klinsmann not undertaken to educate us?  Shall we not then express what we have learned, in a free and healthy exchange of ideas?  We sure as heck shall.  But I do want to make the point that at this point, results - short of failure to qualify for Russia - will not remove Klinsmann.

Look at it this way.  Suppose instead of a classic wonder goal, Paul Aguilar bounced his shot off Joe Bruin, Brad Guzan ends us proving he's a better keeper than I've Already Forgotten His Name Because Let's Face It We're Not Seeing Him Again, and we're off to the Confederations Cup.  Would that have made Klinsmann a good coach?  Would that have proven us sensible folk wrong?  Would we have had to put up with a carnival of "I told you so" from the misguided?  Like heck.  So it's unfair to take this close, exciting result and use it as a rhetorical club.  Not when our club closet is already amply supplied.

Now, for all I know, Sunil Gulati will celebrate Columbus Crew Day with an epiphany, and tomorrow at this time Juergen Klinsmann will resign to spend more time with Preki's family.  Consider this admission of the possibility a retraction in case it happens, because I'll have died of surprise.

What happens next is up to Michael Bradley.  He is our only remaining star, and the one man Klinsmann can not, will not, and should not drop.  He's the only proven performer in his physical prime, and among the things he has proven is his willingness to perform as hard for the man who replaced his father as for his own father.  That's literally Shakespearean.

What Bradley will need to do, then, is take the "lineups" and "tactics" Klinsmann presents to him, and make them work.  It will be a tedious and literally thankless job, but someone has to - and we're extremely lucky we now have someone like Bradley around.

Clint Dempsey is losing his epic rap battle with Father Time, Jermaine Jones started on the damn wing, and DaMarcus Beasley's replacement turned out to be DaMarcus Beasley.  When you saw that lineup, how much did you think Mexico was going to win by?  I thought 4-0, easy.

Maybe you think someone besides Bradley held that team together, especially after the first goal.  That's fine.  I'm not here to tell you what to think.

Anyway, if Bradley can do it in that situation, he can do it against the cupcakier of CONCACAF opponents.  We're not going unbeaten, but no one does in CONCACAF.  Bradley will get us through to Russia, and after that - well, it's the draw, and injuries, and God knows what else. 

That's what happens on the field.  It will be a lot more exciting than it will be beautiful.  This is the US men's national team, I assume you've met?

Off the field - well, I feel like the voice in the wilderness, or at least the voice in Disney's Wilderness Lodge.  But the time will come when we realize that national team coach and technical director are two full-time jobs that should be held by two different people.  Those two people will have to agree on many things.  But the duty of growing the talent pool, and the duty of getting results out of the existing talent pool, are both so different and so onerous that the idea of combining the two would be the product of, I don't know, a celebrity soccer egotist and a surprisingly gullible economics professor in a mutual fit of highly wishful thinking.

Klinsmann's surprisingly numerous, noisy and tiresome defenders point to the importance of his work as technical director, because his work as national team coach, regrettably, screams at the top of its lungs for itself.  There's of course as gaping a lack of tangible success as technical director as there is in national team results. However, because the US technical director job has been defined so intangibly, defenders have joyfully created and projected all sorts of magical fantasies upon it.  We can sum up these fables under the umbrella term "changing the culture."

The most generous thing we can say about "changing the culture" is that, to hear Klinsmann's defenders tell it, the job is so monstrously challenging that Hercules himself would take another try at the stables.  So why is it a part-time job, again?

To my admittedly skeptical ears, defenders of Klinsmann's efforts to "change the culture" sound so hollow as to bring into question the need for a single technical director for United States soccer in the first place.  Allow me to elaborate.

What will undoubtedly change the culture - continue to change the culture - is what is happening before our eyes.  The new fans we see at every game, and at every event, is what changes the culture.  This isn't intangible.  The new fans will spend money that will go into the national team program.  The new fans will make national team players rich(er) and (more) famous.  This will generate a larger pool of athletes enthusiastic about making a living at a fun game, which will slow down the "What if our best athletes played croquet?" hand-wringing. 

Some of those new fans will become such great fans that they expand their fanning to their local club.  That local club, whether MLS or NPSL, will have more bucks to improve the game experience - which means more bucks.  Some of those bucks will find their way to development, because someone's gotta play.  More teams and more players playing more games will...and so on.  Now, show me where Klinsmann even enters into this, let alone where he's indispensable.

Maybe Klinsmann's contribution to "changing the culture" is him reaching out to existing coaches in America.  Am I going to sit here and say asking Klinsmann to teach coaches how to coach is like asking Dracula to teach courses on suntanning?  I sure am. 

The USSDA has a Digital Coaching Center, with World Cup winners Juergen Klinsmann and Jill Ellis front and center.  I can't wait to give it a try.  I could use refreshers on Throwing Players Under the Bus and Asking Abby Politely If She Could Pretty Please Consider Coming In As A Sub.

The larger point is that Klinsmann and Ellis are extremely different people with extremely different coaching styles.  Do we teach One Culture?  If so, how?  If not, then where's the point of a technical director?

These, fortunately, are problems for the future - a future that will, at worst, look like today.  The floor is higher than ever before.  That's not comforting when you're face down on that floor in a puddle of your own sick, granted.  But the view will be great when we get back on our feet.

[EDIT - Hercules cleaned out the stables, not the tables - Jesus, Dan, get your act together.  And I think "Shakespearean" reads better than "Shakespearian," now that I've slept on it]