JÜRGEN KLINSMANN is STILL WRONG
I wanted to do an article about the American Can-Do Spirit and then reality turned it into a story of good ol' fashioned greed....
Last week I went to Mapfre Stadium, the exclusive home of MLS's Columbus Crew and watched a high school soccer game between the Avon Eagles and St.Vincent/St. Mary's (Akron) Fighting Irish. It was a perfect Friday night for soccer.
I remember watching the pregame with the Avon coach drilling shot after shot into the upper corners of the goal while his goalie was trying his damnedest to stop 'em. I would bet money that the coach of Avon had played college soccer. The point is, it was nice that the Crew had a high school soccer night. I don't write about nice stuff often here, so it was a rare night of the warm and fuzzies. As I watched the Avon squad play fundamental ball and move the action seemlessly across a wide, professional-sized field, I remembered my time in youth soccer...
The best soccer coach I ever had was Tony Minjarik Sr. Back when I was a young and impressionable 9 year old, I joined the Eagles. The Brunswick Eagles, to be clear. Looking back, that team was stacked, with Minjarik's two sons leading the way to crushing victory after crushing victory. But those boys were clearly American boys and their Father rode them kind of hard, Minjarik Sr. was 100% Czechoslovakian. He even told us the story of his family coming to America on the boat with a pregnant wife in tow and no money in his pocket.
I remember showing up to practices in ratty t-shirts and oversized shorts on fields with overgrown grass and rusty goals. Tony would tell us that we were spoiled American kids. Back in the old country, he learned about soccer in vacant lots with broken glass and rocks littering the pitch. And they didn't have goals, they used chalk on the sides of brick walls. And their ball growing up, it wasn't a fancy ball filled with air, the Czech kids had to use wads of rolled up, tube socks as a ball.
Each story painted a picture of a young Tony, loving soccer in the shadows of cold-war Eastern Europe. His boys would roll their eyes at their Dad, but I, I was amazed when he told the stories of escaping the Russians and coming to the glorious American shores.
And he would mix his English in with his native tongue. A lot. I think he encouraged the American kids, but may have been swearing at his sons in the other language. But he preached a certain way of playing soccer. Controlling possession and ball movement. He taught me the love of the game and the philosophy behind what was supposed to be going on.
Years later, I was lucky to get on the High School team. I really was, I don't deny it. The older
Minjarik brother had graduated High School but the younger brother was going to be playing with me for a third time. He would have been the best player on the team, but he quit the soccer team after the first game to be the field goal kicker for the football team. I think it broke his Dad's heart. With Young Minjarik off the team, the best player, by default, was Danilo. His parents were straight from Serbia. Danilo's contribution to the Varsity team was breaking it. The local paper at the time asked him, "how does it feel playing soccer in America?" And instead of using any semblance of logical thought, he replied "I feel like a man amongst boys."
One quote tore that team apart.
So most of my High School soccer memories were of sitting on the bench while the good players bickered. The best halfback was the German kid. We had a great goalie, he was the Russian kid. The point is, the team never gelled and we were bounced out in the first round of the State playoffs despite superior talent. I honestly don't think the Serbian kid wasn't all that heartbroken, he went back and kept playing for his Serbian Club team.
Why dredge up the past? All of the best kids from my high school soccer team had parents from Europe, but that was 30 years ago. All those kids from a generation ago, all of them had American kids. And I feel the analogy from my childhood is relevant today because it is time for the American Kids to decide the fate of American Soccer.
Jurgen Klinsmann's philosophy as the coach of the United States was that players had to go to Europe to play to be able to compete for the World Cup on the American National Team. Back in the 90's, that may have been true. That team was loaded with first generation Americans who were driven by the successes of their Fathers in other countries. The NASL didn't do enough to cultivate American talent (even though it oddly cultivated Canadian talent) and there weren't really viable American soccer options by 1994. Now that Major League Soccer has a foothold in the American Sports Psyche, it is time to continue to build, invest, and reap the rewards of MLS. Klinsmann's philosophy was pertinent, for American Soccer, at the turn of the millennium. Not now. Now is the time to put up or shut up.
These were the Top 10 Soccer Leagues in 2014.
These were the Top 10 Finishers in the 2014 World Cup.
9-16. Mexico, United States, Greece, Nigeria, Algeria, Switzerland, Chile, Uruguay
5-8. Belgium, Colombia, Costa Rica, France
Notice any similarities? It's not a direct correlation, but you notice trends. Klinsmann wanted the U.S. to be Germany, but they're not. The U.S. is the U.S. How has being, arguably, the best league in the world been treating England for the past 20 years in World Cup matches?
The future is now to build American soccer with its American roots. Elect someone like Langdon Donovan the President of U.S. Soccer and name someone like Caleb Porter the U.S. National Team Coach. Give Americans an American Vision and an American Identity.
The United States is at a competitive disadvantage when it comes to youth soccer when making comparisons to Germany. Many of the best German athletes are soccer players. Many of the best American athletes are playing basketball and football. The Germans have better structure at the youth levels up to the Bundesliga. The Americans have a patchwork at all levels.
But the United States has the numbers and fertile local breeding grounds. When America's best athletes go to basketball and football, it's because bigger, stronger, faster means something. Make being better the focus of U.S. Youth Soccer. Play the hand that you're dealt as Americans, and make sure you're raising a generation that has the passion to be better and put those kids together.
Getting knocked out of the 2018 World Cup sucks. But don't think of it as a death knell, think of it as getting a wake up call. Again, if you look at the Top 10 Leagues again, you'll notice that Serie A was ranked slightly higher than MLS in 2014. Right now, as I type, Italy is sweating bullets as they have a home and away series with Sweden to go to the Cup. What happens if Italy loses and they're sent home? Serie A was one of the best soccer leagues not all that long ago. You didn't hear Klinsmann preaching that the U.S. needed to be more like Italy. When you look up corrupt soccer leagues, without fail, African Countries like Nigeria or Congo always come up, and minnows like Albania too, but also historically great soccer nations like Italy. After following the drama of Parma F.C. for the past decade, I'm not convinced that any European League is on stable enough footing for consistent success over the next decade....
....which brings us back to MLS. They need to control what they can control.
Over-expansion is one of the factors that killed the NASL. MLS is on the cusp of making the same mistakes as the NASL. It's hard not to cash those $150 million dollar expansion team checks.
Right here is where the article was meant to end. Things may not be great today, but....
...I had a warm feeling about the future of American Soccer, sitting in the historic Mapfre Stadium on October 13, 2017. Mapfre is where so many great American victories took place. Now you can argue that the romantic version of Mapfre doesn't quite match up the reality of Mapfre, and I'll listen to that argument, Mapfre is a no-frills venue in the shadows of Columbus. But Mapfre was the first soccer specific stadium in the MLS era, symbolic of the American Renaissance in soccer after the 1994 World Cup, and it only opened 18 years ago.
Then, literally days after watching the high school match, Scumbag Owner Anthony Precourt announced that he wanted to move one of MLS's founding teams to Austin, Texas. You can find lots of angry articles about Precourt's move that are better than what Beacon of Speech could provide, like here, here, or here, but this is where MLS needs to draw a line in the sand. If the Crew move to Austin, that means Commissioner Don Garber needs to be fired, also. Replace him with Alexi Lalas. Commissioner Don Garber assumed office the same year Mapfre opened. No one should be more appreciative of Columbus than Garber. Don't forget, though, Garber cut his teeth with the NFL's business plan (for 16 years), there is NO way Precourt should have had an out clause to go to Austin when he bought the Crew.
Here's what needs to happen. Garber makes Precourt sell to a local Columbus buyer, OR, Precourt gets to move to Austin, Columbus gets an expansion franchise, WITHOUT PAYING AN EXPANSION FEE, and Garber is fired immediately.
Hell, make Precourt sell to a local investor, then fire Garber anyhow. Maybe Klinsmann knew that the reason that the MLS was an inferior league was due to the leadership at the very top. I'm sick of second guessers fondly remembering the Klinsmann Era. Right now Klinsmann himself is looking in the mirror admiring everything great...about Jurgen Klinsmann.
One of the problems with my big mouth is that people accuse me of being all talk and no action. Okay, let's address that. I am not qualified to be the coach of the USMNT. I am not qualified to be the president of the USMNT. I am not qualified...wait a minute. Am I qualified to be the Commissioner of MLS? Don Garber's resume was paper thin, for soccer, when he was hired. I have more soccer on my resume than Don Garber did. He's been a steady guiding hand for a generation, but now is not the time to go with the NFL business model, basically blackmailing cities to keep their own soccer teams.
With that said, the whole Columbus situation shows that Garber's vision is no longer what the vision of U.S. Soccer should be. So here is the Fred Hunt 10 point plan if hired as the Commissioner of MLS:
10. MLS expansion will be capped at 24 Teams. Forever.
9. My new best friend is the new President of the USMNT (because Gulati will have been fired.) We will have frequent collaborations on what is best for U.S. Soccer.
8. MLS season will not end in December when no one is watching U.S. Soccer.
7. USL will be strengthened. The endgame will be MLS as the top tier, USL will be the second tier, and USL 2 as the third tier. There will be relegation and promotion between the three leagues.
6. MLS will have a new playoff structure.
5. USL will coordinate its schedule with the MASL to give lower-level American players a 12 month a year soccer option.
4. I don't want to hear about playing in Europe anymore. When America can consistently beat the Costa Ricas, Panamas, and Honduras' of the world, year in and year out, then we'll worry about Europe.
3. Canada is our partner, Mexico is still our rival. (Except in the MASL)
2. The 5 best players in MLS need to be household names.
1. Youth Soccer teams need to be playing in these stadiums before, at halftime, and after all MLS games. And MLS stadiums need to open their doors to college and high school teams as often as possible.
I could go on and on, but we'll stop here. I can barely get a normal job, let alone one as the Commissioner of MLS.