NOTE: The headline and first few paragraphs are different than when I first posted this. I swore Alexi Lalas said something that Taylor Twellman said. But my main points stand – Klinsmann is not talking about anything new when there are plenty of new things to discuss.
Those of us who have followed soccer in the U.S. for many years have gotten used to former men’s national team player, former general manager, and current broadcaster Alexi Lalas taking up whatever opinion suited him at the moment. It’s what makes him a divisive figure, among other things. But at halftime of last night’s MLS game on ESPN2,
he outdid himself I thought he outdid himself. While he argued both sides of the Juergen Klinsmann-Don Garber kerfuffle, he Taylor Twellman pointed out that Klinsmann was hardly the first men’s national team manager to bring up issues such as where America’s top players should ply their trade to best maximize their talent. Less than a minute later, as Lalas and Taylor Twellman took the obvious line of “it’s good to have these conversations,” Lalas credited Klinsmann for asking questions that we haven’t heard before.
I initially thought Lalas had made the first point, but have re-watched the video and see he didn’t contradict himself. Even though I was initially wrong on that, an important question remains – is Klinsmann really asking questions we haven’t heard before? He also said some of these questions are ones we don’t want to hear the answers to. I disagree with that. We’ve heard all the answers and then some.
In recent weeks, Klinsmann has been lauded by some for addressing promotion/relegation, speaking “truth” to how Landon Donovan didn’t reach his true potential by staying in MLS and criticizing Clint Dempsey and Michael Bradley for making a similar decision after their years in Europe.
These aren’t new conversations. They aren’t even interesting conversations. These topics have been well worn for years. They were staples of the heyday of Big Soccer. Hell, I had to endure the “players in Europe are by default better than MLS” back in 1997 in a bar in Hanover, Pa., when some clown told me how the future of the national team rested on the shoulders of Jovan Kirovski alone simply because he played on ManU’s reserves.
Klinsmann has done nothing new. Every topic he has addressed has an easily accessible history for anyone with access to Google. Maybe they are important topics to him, but they are hardly new, and the opinions expressed by both sides are far from ground-breaking.
And this is why Lalas needs a new schtick. American soccer fans have discussed these things to death. That’s not to say there’s nothing to discuss and American soccer is sitting pretty with no obstacles on their way to world domination. Let’s just use some critical thinking skills to focus on some other things.
Like why does Klinsmann only criticize the career path of 2-3 players? If he’s such a big picture guy, why does he zoom in on Donovan (personal connection), Dempsey (spurned his advice) and Bradley (father was former coach)? Why not lambast Graham Zusi and Matt Besler for a long-term pledge to MLS? Why not wax poetic on the decisions of Mixx Diskerud of Aron Johansson? Why not tell us all the bad moves Timmy Chandler has made? Twellman did bring that up some, but we need more of this.
And why focus just on what the players do? Why not take on the culture in Europe which still makes it harder for US players to truly succeed? Why not issue a challenge to managers who ditch Americans so often at the first bump in the road? Why not take on agents who sometimes have no Plan B when their player’s first stop doesn’t work out?
Instead of people worrying about promotion and relegation – a pipe dream – why not take a look at youth programs that invest in the development academy program, but offer nothing substantive beyond the U-18 level? Why not encourage those teams to get involved in USL PRO or the NPSL? Why only focus on how MLS teams develop players?
Why simply pillory MLS for playing through FIFA international dates when that practice is actually growing in other countries? Brazil played through this break. Costa Rica had a full schedule the day after a friendly. The Copa Sudamericana played its Round of 16 during the break! Maybe the discussion should be on scheduling in general instead of “Garber sucks.”
We shouldn’t ignore the fact that a career in Europe can do good things for some players, but we also shouldn’t focus on picking the nits out of this one subject that is far more complex than the current discussion allows. And the people who pretend they are thought leaders shouldn’t pretend this is a new conversation. Maybe we need to send some of them to Europe to learn how to truly discuss the sport.