Imagine my disappointment when the most highly promising headline of my lifetime - Tim Howard Speaks Out Against Klinsmann - turned out to be another rehash of the dual-national question.
Oh, sure, there was this glorious, golden moment, when Howard was asked point-blank whether Klinsmann should have been kept after the 2014 World Cup:
“I think so, probably, yeah, for sure,” he said.
This would be a grand answer even for "Would you like another beer?" You have to love going from 50/50 to 100% metaphysical certitude without any intervening nouns or verbs.
Most readers of Martin Rogers' USA Today article, at least, won't have gotten that far, because Rogers did not bury the lede.
“I think it slips away because you bring in …,” Howard began, before pausing for thought. “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.”
“I know there were players that came in that it didn’t matter as much to,” Howard said. “If you get enough of those players, one or two can get found out, but if you get enough of those players you lose sight of what you are all about. While it was a good idea in theory, it had its flaws. Bruce will 100% get that back.”
We go to ESPNFC to pick up the story. Per Jeff Carlisle, Tim Howard was by this time aware that he had woken the dogs of war, and tried to toss a doggie biscuit:
"Jermaine Jones has been a rock for our national team. He's been one of the heartbeats. Fabian Johnson has been brilliant for us. So, no, that wasn't aimed at any one person in particular."
But Tim didn't back away from his larger point:
"If you tell me that the team you saw in Costa Rica, or in the Rose Bowl against Mexico, that if you saw a united, committed group then I'll call your bluff. This isn't just about Tim...I call it like I see it."
Whatever Jermaine himself was having, it was not that. Prodded by Doug McIntyre (or, just as likely, freely and enthusiastically volunteered), Jones gave Howard the business:
"It's dangerous stuff where you have to be careful what you're saying," said Jones....
"Now, where everything goes wrong and we lost the first two games, we say maybe the German-Americans are the problem.
"But when we played the World Cup, I scored. [John] Brooks scored, and it's 'oh, the German-Americans are American boys.'
"We played two bad games, yes. That's a fact. 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."
Keep in mind that Howard started all this to compliment Bruce Arena as a positive contrast to Klinsmann. One imagines that, instead of the praise, Bruce would have preferred a locker room that isn't a smoking crater.
Let's keep in mind that, outside of specific context, Howard is idiotically wrong on this. The list of dual-nationality American players is neither short nor recent. And children of American citizens are American from birth, so short of repealing the 14th Amendment, players like Jones and Johnson are as American as Stewart and Dooley (and, of course, Howard) were.
Howard's also the guy who complained that the public address announcer in Pasadena after the Gold Cup in 2011 spoke Spanish only. As if anyone there didn't know what "cuatro a dos" meant. So it's very tough to give him the benefit of the doubt.
But just for giggles, let's take a look at the lineup of the team that Costa Rica obliterated late last year, and see if anything stands out. I'm using Rob Usry's player ratings at the time, which he accurately labeled "the LOL edition," and listing them in order from highest to lowest, along with any dual nationalities they may have been infected with.
Sacha Kljestan (NR): born in Huntington Beach, but father was a Bosnian Serb. Probably American enough, but just look at the can of fresh, tasty worms.
Graham Zusi (NR): born in Florida, but helped Mexico qualify for the World Cup. Pretty suspicious.
Christian Pulisic (5.82): Wikipedia says he would have been eligible for Croatia through his grandfather. Wonder if he and Sacha ever chat about European politics.
Bobby Wood (5.66): born in Hawaii. Jokes about whether people born in Hawaii count as American citizens are...how can we put this delicately...no longer a novelty.
Lynden Gooch (4.97): Born in Santa Cruz, but his English father made him eligible for Sunderland. Poor guy.
Jozy Altidore (4.82): Can someone of Haitian descent really contribute to American soccer?
Brad Guzan (4.63): Years with Chivas USA followed by relegated Aston Villa. It's not so much whether he's American or not, it's that he's apparently been cursed by the Trickster God.
Fabian Johnson (4.18): As we have seen, Tim Howard says he is not the problem. Hey, remember when he was the problem, after the CONCACAF playoff game? No? No one remembers that? Klinsmann and Taylor Twellman told me he was a locker room cancer. Was that just my imagination?
Matt Besler (3.51): Literally born within the chimes of Children's Mercy Park, had it been built yet, and if it had chimes. Although if anti-Catholicism becomes a thing again, Besler will have to flee the country.
Michael Bradley (3.07): Nobody sane is going to question his heart. Stunk it up this game, but who didn't?
Timmy Chandler (2.94): Hold that thought.
Jermaine Jones (2.89): Howard semi-apologizing to Jermaine, but referencing this game, probably did not help soothe Jones' temper.
Omar Gonzales (2.82): Born in Dallas, but, hold that thought.
John Brooks (2.50): And, here we go.
Remember the two guys that Jermaine Jones stood up for? Fabian...and John Brooks. Brooks, who had the worst performance for an American since Carl Lewis performed the national anthem.
Meanwhile, there are Jones (whom Howard excepted from criticism, much good that did), Gonzalez, and Chandler.
Gonzalez ended his Galaxy career with a whimper, or rather many whimpers, about his motivation. But Klinsmann didn't call Omar in when he was out of form. Chandler, meanwhile, rejected call-ups like they were bad clams, wasn't fully cap-tied to the US until 2013, took up a roster spot for the 2014 World Cup but was stapled on the bench.
Here's what I think happened. Noted diplomat and genius Tim Howard, given a chance to publicly criticize Klinsmann, also took the opportunity to criticize teammates who hadn't left yet. Almost certainly Chandler, maybe also Brooks and Gonzalez, maybe others.
But Howard didn't name names...because he didn't want to cause a public controversy. *laugh track*
So, where does Bruce Arena go from here? The ideal solution is to drop Howard. But the talent pool which has produced so many great American goalkeepers seems to have gone fallow. Also, Howard didn't say anything that Arena hasn't said in public, although this was in between his stints as national team coach. Bruce Arena is just going to have to figure out for himself whether Howard brings more to the team than he takes away in locker room harmony.
I think Howard, at this point in his career, may have more to offer than Jones. But not both Jones and Fabian Johnson. And certainly not Jones, Johnson, Brooks, Boyd, Green and Zelalem, plus whoever else is unearthed in the future.
(It's no good to say that maybe Brad Guzan or Bill Hamid or Jonathan Klinsmann will surpass Howard by the World Cup, because if that happens Howard is out anyway.)
And Tim Howard might want to get off to an electrifying start for the Rapids before the next time he is called in, of course. And Arena should tell Howard to stop trying to do him favors.
The most likely outcome is that Arena will have a long chat with Jones (who will be at the January camp, assuming that the two don't meet earlier), Johnson, and the other dozen to forty players who might see themselves as "dual nationals" to smooth over troubled waters. Can the US go forward and qualify with this issue over their heads? Probably. It's only qualifying, even Sampson and Klinsmann could do it. But this has to be absolutely, positively the last time we ever hear about this stupid, silly issue.
The moral of the story? Don't subtweet.