The USMNT under Jurgen Klinsmann: Are the U.S. Senior and U-23 Teams too Reliant on Germany?

Seven players from the Bundesliga (including Edson Buddle of 2. Bundesliga side FC Ingolstadt) were chosen for the USMNT roster for upcoming friendlies Friday against France and Tuesday against Slovenia.  Considering that Chievo Verona midfielder Michael Bradley was playing in the Bundesliga with Borussia Monchengladbach a year ago, as was Puebla midfielder DaMarcus Beasley (although limited to four appearances with Hannover 96), it brings to nine the number of the 22 players on the current USMNT senior roster with current or very recent Bundesliga experience.

Coupled with the fact that twelve of the first 31 players selected for the USMNT U-23 camp currently being held in Duisburg earn paychecks in Germany, there is a quite visible  trend of German-based players getting nods for the U.S. national teams.  Does this trend indicate an over-reliance by USMNT Coach Jürgen Klinsmann towards including players from his home country, or is it a simply a fact that the many of the best young American players are to be found currently playing their club football in Germany?

Joe-Max Moore, Nurnberg 1995/1996

German-based players have been contributors to the modern U.S. national teams for years now.  German-bornThomas Dooley, who played at Schalke and Kaiserslautern, played for the USMNT in the 1994 World Cup, and captained the side for years.  A list of the eleven U.S. players with over 100 senior caps shows that seven — Landon Donovan (Leverkusen, Bayern Munich), Jeff Agoos (SV Wehen), Claudio Reyna (Leverkusen, Wolfsburg), Paul Caliguiri (SV Meppen, Hansa Rostock, SC Freiburg), Erik Wynalda (Saarbrucken, Bochum), Kasey Keller (Borussia Monchengladbach) and Joe-Max Moore (Saarbrucken, Nurnberg) played in Germany, and even caps leader Cobi Jones (164) trained with FC Koln before joining Brazilian side Vasco da Gama and shortly afterwards, the LA Galaxy of MLS.  Current Hannover captain Steve Cherundolo has been playing for the U.S. national side since 1999, and internationals such as Conor Casey, Clint Mathis, Brian McBride and Tony Sanneh, to name a few, played club football in Germany.

Thus there is a history of German-based players being selected for the USMNT in the last twenty years under national team coaches Bora Milutinović, Steve Sampson, Bruce Arena and Bob Bradley.  Bradley brought in German-Americans Jermaine Jones in 2009, and David Yelldell and Timothy Chandler in 2011, taking advantage of the relaxed FIFA rules regarding players with dual citizenship and Klinsmann has continued this trend by adding newly minted German-American internationals Daniel Williams and Fabian Johnson.

But the USMNT has never reflected such a strong Bundesliga influence as it does currently, with 19 of 53 players currently in American camps currently playing in Germany.  Is Klinsmann, a baker’s son from Göppingen, relying too heavily on the nation of his birth to infuse talent into the national team he now leads ?

The answer is no.  Klinsmann was brought in by the U.S. Soccer Federation to lead the senior national team for many reasons, but one of those surely had to be the contacts he has made world-wide over his years as star player and coach of the successful 2006 German national team.  Klinsmann was not only a talented striker with German clubs Stuttgart and Bayern Munich, but also was successful in England (Tottenham), Italy (Inter Milan) and France (AS Monaco), and with his upbeat personality has made a fine impression wherever he goes.  The 47 year-old is married to a Chinese-American and has lived in southern California for more than a decade, and has been courted by the USSF to run the country’s national team since 2006, so he is not a newcomer to the soccer scene in the U.S, and in fact adopted American training techniques when he led Germany to a 3rd place finish at the 2006 World Cup.  But he does want to implement a new, more attacking consciousness among his American team — a style not only more attractive to fans, but hopefully more conducive to advancement not only in the 2014 World Cup, but also in London’s 2012 Olympic Games, a competition Klinsmann emphasizes.

Currently German football is a fine representation of those stylistic attributes, not only at the national team level, but throughout the Bundesliga.  The requirement for German clubs to invest heavily in player development, along with the attacking style taught in academies, causes Bundesliga teams to generally play exciting,attacking football  —  it is not accidental that Germany consistently leads the top five European leagues in goalscoring per game (and it certainly isn’t because of a lack of quality among Bundesliga goalkeepers).  But I’ll let someone much more qualified — renowned writer Raphael Honigstein — tell the story of what happened to turn German football around after their 1998 World Cup exit to Croatia and a domestic league with 50% of the players from foreign countries, from his July 2010 Sports Illustrated article.

“In May 1999, FA vice president Beckenbauer, first-team manager Ribbeck, Bayer Leverkusen general manager Reiner Calmund and FA Director of Youth Development Dietrich Weise presented a new concept for producing young German footballers. All across the country, 121 national talent centers would be built to help 10- to 17-year-olds with technical practice. Each center would employ two full-time coaches at a cost of $15.6 million over five years. The second key point was a new requirement for all 36 professional clubs in Bundesliga and Bundesliga 2 to build youth academies.”  Success didn’t occur overnight, and in 2002-2003 60% of Bundesliga roster spots were filled by foreigners, but the collapse of the Kirch TV conglomerate which had supported the Bundesliga in 2002 left clubs in critical condition financially, leading to the release of all but the best foreign players, and opening opportunities to young, home-grown products from the academies.

Also, according to Honigstein, “the Bundesliga found that fostering talents was not only good for the balance sheet but also for the brand. Fans flocked to the stadiums to see homegrown players with whom they could identify.”  The success of the young 2003/2004 Stuttgart side that defeated Manchester United in the Chamoions League, keyed by young home-grown players such as Kevin Kuranyi and Timo Hildebrand put the stamp on the Bundesliga’s youth development plan, and we all know that in the sporting world, success is quickly copied.  As for the German national team,  Klinsmann brought in a more attacking style when he was appointed head coach in 2004 following the national team’s failure to advance from the group stages of the 2004 Euro tournament.  He now had the young German players (whether they were ethnically Turkish, Polish or Ghanian) to make it happen — a diverse national team that captured the imagination of not only the German people, but fans worldwide, with their positive play.

What Klinsmann wants … forward-thinking football played by technically skilled players who are also very aware of their defensive responsibilities … is the style he displayed while in charge of the German national team, assisted by the tactically astute current national team coach Jogi Low.  And although he’s leaning heavily towards players who have been taught that style in Germany, Klinsmann’s selections for the national team aren’t myopic.  The cosmopolitan Klinsmann has brought players from Mexico’s Primera Division and MLS, players without caps and players who haven’t been capped in years, along with the fixtures of the national team — Landon Donovan, Clint Dempsey and Tim Howard, mixing and matching, working around player injuries and finding out if and how each individual can contribute to his vision.   This edition of Klinsmann’s roster features players plying their trade not only in Germany, Mexico, the UK and US but also those playing in Portugal, the Netherlands, Denmark and Italy.  This is not an example of a coach blinded in his selections.by his national background

In an interview with Matt Hermann on this week’s Bundesliga Blitz podcast, NY Times Goal blogger John Godfrey discussed the ‘klinsmann-ization’ of the USMNT.   In the interview, Godfrey stressed the importance Klinsmann is putting on the 2012 Olympics, as many players, including established internationals like Jozy Altidore, will be eligible for age-wise.  Godfrey termed the Olympic competition (given the U.S. qualifies) as a “springboard” for lesser-known players to make their mark on the senior national team.  Asked by Hermann if the American national team’s style of play reflects a more European and/or German feel under Klinsmann, Godfrey instead dubbed the new American style “Klinsmannic,” with priorities on “possesssion out of the back, one touch football — it’s offensive minded and overlapping runs….it’s bringing offensive imagination to the game.”

Klinsmann mind isn’t closed by any stretch of the imagination concerning the makeup of his rosters for friendly games.  Whether he lifts the American national team to a new plateau of success remains to be seen, but he has a definite vision of what he wants and how to accomplish it — and if, at this point, German-based American players are ahead of the curve by learning the tactics and type of footballing at their clubs that Klinsmann feels will bring success to his side, he’s not wrong to bring these players into the fold.  Of the 44 American players cited on this week’s edition of The OT Report currently active with European clubs, 18 are based in Germany, as more and more young Americans are finding a real chance to improve their game playing for Bundesliga clubs, their reserve sides, or lower-division teams.   As Godfrey also pointed out, “Germany will be more and more of a destination for American players graduating from MLS” as the Bundesliga’s stature grows in the U.S. and games are regularly televised on GolTV.

While Klinsmann’s change of focus has yet to bring the kind of results on the field that Americans clamor for, let’s recall that Klinsmann is making fundamental tactical changes to a club that has played basically the same style since 1998, first under Coach Bruce Arena, and then under the former U-23 coach, Bob Bradley.  While both coaches were able to grow the talent depth and confidence level of the US national team, the inability to take the team to a higher plateau meant change was necessary.

France will be a tough test for Klinsmann’s squad on Friday, as they are a much more talented squad than the divided squad that was so poor in the 2010 World Cup under Raymond Domenich, while Tuesday’s rival, Slovenia, were 1-1-1 during the last World Cup and drew with the U.S. 2-2 in the 2010 tournament.  But whatever the results of the two friendlies, Klinsmann will continue experimenting with his side to find the right mix of players for the 2012 Olympics and the beginning of World Cup qualifying.

U.S. ROSTER BY POSITION Detailed Roster
GOALKEEPERS (2): Bill Hamid (D.C.United), Tim Howard (Everton)
DEFENDERS (7): Carlos Bocanegra (Rangers), Timmy Chandler (Nürnberg), Steve Cherundolo (Hannover 96), Clarence Goodson (Brondby), Alfredo Morales (Hertha Berlin), Michael Orozco Fiscal (San Luis), Oguchi Onyewu (Sporting Lisbon)
MIDFIELDERS (9): Kyle Beckerman (Real Salt Lake), Michael Bradley (Chievo Verona), Clint Dempsey (Fulham), Maurice Edu (Rangers), Fabian Johnson (Hoffenheim), Jermaine Jones (Schalke 04), Robbie Rogers (Columbus Crew), Brek Shea (FC Dallas), Danny Williams (Hoffenheim)
FORWARDS (4): Jozy Altidore (AZ Alkmaar), DaMarcus Beasley (Puebla), Edson Buddle (Ingolstadt), Landon Donovan (LA Galaxy)

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Gerry Wittmann

Gerry is the founder of the Bundesliga Fanatic. Besides loving German football, he also enjoys the NBA, collecting jerseys and LPs, his pets and wishes he had more time for fishing, bicycling and learning the bass guitar.

2 Comments

  1. Very insightful piece Gerry. Think the Germany link is probably one of the best things to happen to the US’s development, both under Klinsmann and going forward as a football nation. There is probably no better model to follow than that of Germany over the last 10 years and given the structural issues within US football it can be hugely beneficial.

  2. Germany is fairly culturally similar and they love American culture. The language barrier isn’t huge as such a large proportion of the population speak English, especially amongst the young. Not only that, unlike the Scandinavian countries, where at best you can earn a comfortable living, you can progress up the ranks and earn big money for a footballer. Therefore, it’s a natural fit for Americans to go there. The best option would be the UK but with work permit laws only allowing active internationals to move, Germany is the next best thing.

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