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New U.S. soccer Coach Juergen Klinsmann holds off on radical changes

Team that will face Mexico on Wednesday is basically unchanged, but Klinsmann says he plans to introduce his ideas for the program step by step.

August 09, 2011|Grahame L. Jones | On Soccer
  • U.S. national team soccer Coach Juergen Klinsmann has resisted making fundamental changes to the program, so far.
U.S. national team soccer Coach Juergen Klinsmann has resisted making… (Mike Segar / Reuters )

A German toe has been dipped into the shallow pool of American soccer talent and has come up, well, all wet.

Those who have been clamoring for radical change in the makeup of the U.S. national team will be a tad disappointed at the roster pieced together for Wednesday night's friendly against Mexico in Philadelphia.

Instead of throwing the baby out with the bathwater, new Coach Juergen Klinsmann has resisted making sweeping changes and has set about his task in a measured, methodical manner.

The baby is still there, but so is the bathwater.

Only one player on the U.S. roster of 21 — backup goalkeeper Bill Hamid — has not played for the American team before. The rest are veterans of the U.S. teams pieced together by former coaches Bruce Arena and Bob Bradley over the last 12 years.

Same old, same old.

Landon Donovan, for instance, has played 136 games for the U.S., and DaMarcus Beasley and Carlos Bocanegra are closing in on the century mark.

On the other hand, Klinsmann has called up enough wet-behind-the-ears players to suggest that changes will be forthcoming.

One-third of the U.S. players in camp have very limited international experience, with fewer than 10 games apiece, and two-thirds have played fewer than 20 games.

"One of the goals of the roster for this game and moving forward is to create competition at each position," said Klinsmann, who was hired as U.S. coach on July 29, the day after Bradley — now a somewhat surprising candidate to be Egypt's coach — was fired.

"There are many players who are established as well as many players who will get opportunities, and we want there to be a healthy contest for spots on the roster," Klinsmann said.

Wednesday's game at Lincoln Financial Field (6 p.m. PDT, ESPN2 and Univision), is being taken seriously by Mexico, which came from two goals down to defeat the U.S., 4-2, in the June 25 Gold Cup final at the Rose Bowl.

Striker Javier "Chicharito" Hernandez is sidelined because of a concussion, but Coach Jose Manuel de la Torre's roster features all 10 other starters from that game. The U.S. roster includes seven of its starters.

If the cast of U.S. characters has a stale look, fans will be looking for something fresh in the way of tactics, but Klinsmann has had virtually no time to work with his team. Most of the players only arrived in camp Sunday or Monday.

"It is not ideal," Klinsmann said. "[But] it is what it is and I never complain."

Klinsmann has opted to rotate assistants for the foreseeable future and not settle on a permanent staff until qualifying for the 2014 World Cup begins next summer.

"I want to see what's out there," he said at his introductory news conference. "There are a lot of good, highly qualified coaches in the U.S. that I might not know. I need to talk to people and understand what's out there."

For the moment, longtime sidekick Martin Vasquez has been called in as Klinsmann's second in command and sounding board. Equally important in influencing the new coach will be two of the most creative players to wear a U.S. jersey — midfielders Tab Ramos, interim coach of the U.S. under-20 team, and Claudio Reyna, U.S. Soccer's youth technical director.

Klinsmann has also called upon former U.S. World Cup captain Thomas Dooley and veteran goalkeeper coach Mike Curry to assist him.

When Bradley was shown the door, fans across the country flooded message boards with their hopes for an immediate break from the status quo. But so far there are more new coaches than new players.

Klinsmann, however, is intent on taking his time.

"When you come into a situation like this, you analyze every individual, the team and the program," he said. "You build on what was built before.

"I have my own ideas for the program, and I will, step by step, introduce the ideas that I have."

Wednesday's outcome might speed up that process.

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