Good Morning Generation

I’ve been waiting for this day for almost two weeks now.  What, you ask, could possibly be exciting about Wednesday August 10, 2011, a day which appears on the surface to bear no particular significance to anything, most especially the sports world?  Tonight, at 9 PM ET on ESPN the deuce, the United States Men’s National Team plays a friendly against chief rival Mexico, marking the first game of the new coaching regime under former German national coach Jurgen Klinsmann.  It’s also the first game since the disastrous 4-2 shalacking in the Gold Cup Final, a game in which the US led 2-0 over Mexico before allowing four unanswered goals and losing out on a much desired spot in the Confederations Cup.

Why so serious, you might be asking yourself about this crazy sports blogger?  The game is important because it’s going to give us the first glimpse of the brand of soccer the new coach wants to develop during his upcoming tenure.  First warning: if you’re tuning in tonight expecting immediate results and a dominating win by America, this probably isn’t the match to start your love affair with US Men’s soccer.  The Mexicans (nicknamed El Tri) are currently ranked in the top ten of FIFA’s international team rankings (as opposed to the 35th ranking of the USA) and are so deep in young talent, they’ll likely defeat us with their B-team roster.  The Americans, on the other hand, haven’t had much time to prepare with their new boss and will no doubt be overwhelmed by the sweeping amount of change that just occurred.

This game is important though because it’s the first time the Americans will be allowed to express their respective “soccer personalities,” if you will.  To make a metaphor that might help you understand, the USMNT basically just went from having Jim Tressel as their head coach to having Mike Leach.  Tressel, you may remember, was famous for having one of the most conservative brands of college football this side of the 1950s and became notorious over the years for his unhealthy amount of punts on fourth and short.  Couple that with a run-first, run-second, and pass-third offense and you had yourself one of the most boring brands of American football ever played.  That’s what the US soccer team was like under Bob Bradley. 

Bradley employed a brand of soccer known mostly for its use of the “counter-attack.”  The counter-attack style basically calls on the Americans to sit back and let the other team control the possession of the ball the whole game and only attempting to score when the other team makes a catastrophic mistake.  It is best remembered for our defenders kicking the ball as far as they could to no one in particular, happy to give up possession as long as the ball didn’t come near the goal.  While boring, Bradley, like Tressel, was excellent at employing the strategy and it mostly worked for what the United States’ goals were at the time.  What was that goal, you ask?  Basically Bradley was trying not to embarrass us on a global stage.

That’s not sufficient any longer.

Enter Klinsmann.  To give you a short resume on him, he basically reshaped the entire German approach to soccer, which was no small task given the fact that German culture has a penchant for discipline and conservative values.  He only took them to a third place finish in his lone World Cup coaching the team (while actually winning one as a player) and turned it over to his young apprentice Joachim Low.  The team, formerly known for its disciplinary approach to defensive soccer, instead chose to go with an attack-first mentality and the results were extremely well-received, despite a ton of early criticism.  Sound familiar to a certain pirate-loving former head football coach in Lubbock, Texas?  Additionally Klinsmann, like Leach, thrives on attention and publicity and will perfectly fill his role as the face of US soccer in the coming years.  Look for dozens of ad-campaigns and interviews featuring the new coach beaming his smile and using his charisma to draw you in to the team.

More important than his proclivity to the spotlight though is Klinsmann’s intent on reshaping the United States’ soccer identity in much the same way he did with Germany.  This is no small task, but it is a long overdue change that needs to be made.  Under this new philosophy, Klinsmann is going to set out in the coming months to ask all levels of US soccer (youth, high school, college, etc) to adopt the attack-first mentality he wants us playing under his leadership.  This isn’t exactly going to be easy though as Americans, like the Germans before us, are entirely prone to a more disciplined approach that tells the kids exactly where to stand, exactly what to do, exactly when to do it.  What Klinsmann essentially is asking is that our players be allowed to express their artistic talents on the soccer field rather than be punished for it.  He’s also going to try to develop a Latin-heavy approach that will look to capitalize on the hundreds of thousands of immigrants coming from the Latin world to the United States and to attempting to develop that talent (kind of like what baseball already is doing).  It’s a completely ambitious plan that requires our full support during these next couple years while we experience the growing pains of a paradigm shift.

Tonight is a big night because it quite literally represents the US Soccer Federation’s intent on going big time.  This is the US going all in on soccer, throwing all their cards on the table.  We’re tired of being a second-tier soccer country and there’s no excuse for the continuity of that afterthought mentality of soccer.  We have all the best athletes in other sports, so why doesn’t that translate in soccer?  Almost every single kid in this country played youth soccer at one time or another, so why doesn’t that continue as they age?  Klinsmann is looking to change all of that and tonight marks the start of an era.  It might not be pretty at first, but it’s going to produce a lot of highlights and hopefully, and this is what I pray for most, hopefully it will eventually produce that elusive “guy” who will endear himself to this country forever with his elite play.  Every great team has a “guy.”  Argentina has Messi, England has Rooney, Portugal has Cristiano Ronaldo, Spain has, well Spain has about ten to fifteen of them, Brazil grew to love the sport because of Pele, etc, etc. America has never had that guy.  This is the style of soccer that is going to one day produce him.

And, who knows?  We might just upset those arrogant punks tonight and Klinsmann could get an early head start on this whole process.

Generation Y, where we’re announcing our intent to sign with Besiktas during the lockout.