I was overall pleased with the play of the American men's soccer team Wednesday night in their friendly match against Brazil. Despite a score of 4-1, the game wasn't really out of hand til the final few minutes. The Americans looked speedier and more in control than they had in years. They had several high-quality chances to score, and if not for a few poor defensive adjustments, the game would have been much closer.
However, any positive feelings and impressions I may have taken from the match were tempered by comments made by coach Jurgen Klinsmann afterwards. "Maybe we don't want to hurt people," Klinsmann said. "But that's what we've got to do. You've got to do that at the end of the day."
I know that Klinsmann was just highly frustrated, and I love having a men's national team coach that expects so much from the team. However, the idea that the Americans need to play in a brutish manner in order to win is both distasteful and wrong. The best teams are the best because they play the best, not because they intimidate and hurt players on the opposing side.
Knowing Klinsmann's mindset about playing rough and potentially dirty explains the presence of Jermaine Jones. Jones is the one guy on the team that I've never felt fits that well. He's played in almost every national team game since Klinsmann was named coach and I've never understood why he kept being brought along when so many other deserving young American players were left in Europe. He's not a player that I would consider to be one of our best, and he clearly has temper issues. He's been a bit of a goon and is known for playing dirty in Europe for his club team. In early January he was given an eight-week suspension for deliberately stomping on an opposing player's foot (when the player was attempting to play with a broken toe). When he returned to his club team, he was served eight yellow cards in ten games. Now that Klinsmann has finally gone public with the idea that he wants the team to play dirtier, Jones' constant presence on the team as head goon is understandable.
I love our soccer team, but I don't want them to turn into the kind of players I already revile in Europe. Not just the ones who play dirty, but the ones who also participate in what is called "gamesmanship." Examples of this are arguing incessantly with the referee and "diving" on a regular basis to try and draw penalties. When I talk to a non-soccer fan they cite this type of behavior as the main reason why they don't watch soccer. It's what I hate most about the game.
I'm sorry, Coach Klinsmann, but the Americans don't need to get nastier. They need to get better, and they are doing just that. Coaching has begun to turn this team into a more respectable unit. Don't ruin it by turning them into something they aren't.
Julie is an ardent supporter of the United States Men's Soccer team and has been largely pleased by their progress under coach Jurgen Klinsmann. She is looking forward to the beginning of World Cup qualifying in June.
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- Jurgen Klinsmann