- Jurgen Klinsmann, the former head coach of the U.S. Men’s National Team and technical director of U.S. Soccer, still has plenty of suggestions for how to reform the program.
- Klinsmann suggests lengthening the MLS and college soccer seasons and is also heavily critical of the college model for developing players and the competitive strength of MLS.
- The MLS calendar and college soccer seasons have long been the subject of criticism by fans and analysts.
- But the most recent U.S. Soccer election casts significant doubt on the likelihood of serious reform of the program.
Jurgen Klinsmann had a mixed track record as the head of the U.S. Men’s National Team, getting the U.S. out of the “Group of Death” in the 2014 World Cup, but also dropping crucial points during World Cup qualification that set the U.S. on the path to miss out on World Cup 2018.
Still, coaching the national team was only part of a Klinsmann’s job with U.S. Soccer, as he also served as the program’s technical director, given the task of overhauling U.S. Soccer’s infrastructure. And despite getting fired from both roles, Klinsmann still has a lot of suggestions for reforms the federation should make, as revealed in a recent profile by Chris Ballard in Sports Illustrated.
For starters, Klinsmann was critical of the U.S. model of player development, which is still heavily reliant on college soccer.
“For 99.9% of the parents the goal is to get [their kid] a scholarship, and the U.S. is unique in the world for that, in a good way. But can that be an obstacle? For the higher end 0.1%, yes,” Klinsmann told Ballard.
And, as was the case during his coaching tenure, Klinsmann was critical of Major League Soccer as well.
“He sees inherent flaws in its structure: no promotion-relegation system (‘so, no fear, which means safe’), a nine-month schedule (as opposed to 11 in Europe) and, in his opinion, low-level competition. Expecting the top Americans to compete in MLS never made sense to Klinsmann,” Ballard wrote.
“But a path forward exists, he believes,” according to Ballard. “Expand the MLS season and respect FIFA’s international dates. Lengthen the college season. Instill a competitive desperation-your spot on the national team is never safe. Empower young talent. (Klinsmann says that if he’d seen then-19-year-old Jordan Morris three months earlier, he’d have brought him to Brazil in 2014.) Monitor chemistry.”
Granted, none of Klinsmann’s suggestions are new. The MLS season, which runs during the summer when the bulk of international team matches are played and gives players a break during winter months, as opposed to the year-round schedule players in European leagues experience, has long been a source of debate within U.S. Soccer circles. As has the college soccer system, which features a heavily congested schedule of matches that only runs for a few months (this ESPN feature has a good breakdown of the challenges facing college soccer players).
Still, it remains unclear who, if anyone, within U.S. Soccer is heeding these critiques. Recently, after long-time federation president Sunil Gulati stepped down from the role, the then-vice president Carlos Cordeiro was elected as the next U.S. Soccer president, a move that was widely seen as a victory for the status quo within the federation.
But Klinsmann, despite his missteps as a coach, is correct about there being deep, fundamental problems with the current system, issues which need to be addressed if the U.S. is ever to progress as a soccer nation.