Commentary: What did USMNT manager Jurgen Klinsmann learn at MLS Cup?
It might be one of his job’s most underrated perks. US national team head coach and famously content SoCal transplant Jurgen Klinsmann lives just a short drive – by Golden State standards – from the Home Depot Center, a routine US Soccer hub and venue for last weekend's MLS Cup final.
Klinsmann made the familiar drive over from Newport Beach again on Saturday, and has ample reason to write his gas bill off as a work expense as he watched a match featuring, believe it or not, somewhere around a dozen players – maybe more, if you fancy yourself a real prognosticator – holding varying degrees of USMNT credentials or potential.
Keeping in mind that 2013 includes a compressed January training camp, several pressure-packed Hexagonal openers and a double-duty summer, here are some guesses as to what Klinsmann might have had on his mind as he looked on.
WATCH: Gonzalez goal from all angles
Omar Gonzalez: Obviously. The Cup MVP’s banner day at both ends of the field slammed a memorable exclamation point on an astonishingly rapid (a fraction of the normal healing time) and timely (keying a championship push on his return to the Galaxy lineup) return from major knee surgery. He’d been knocking on the door before his injury and has every reason to expect a call-in next month. It remains to be seen how quickly he might adapt to the international level.
Landon Donovan: He’s wearing his skin like iron, as the old song goes, and he clearly needs an open-ended break from the nonstop pace of the past decade or so. Thankfully for everyone involved, he burnished his “golden child” status in his one, overcoming an early howler to win a record-tying fifth MLS Cup title and justify his sabbatical by proving once again that he’s achieved nearly every milestone his nation has ever asked him to. Except win a World Cup, perhaps.
Dominic Kinnear: The scoreboard says he lost the tactical battle in the end. All the same, the Dynamo’s original and only coach reshuffled the plotlines for the first 45 minutes at the HDC with his effective deployment of Calen Carr, putting his team within a shout of a brave upset. LA’s triumph did not obscure the magnitude of his expertise and he remains many a pragmatic pundit’s pick as Klinsmann’s eventual successor.
Ricardo Clark & Edson Buddle: Two of several satellites revolving around the USMNT roster core, these two are “form guys” – players who can keep contributing at international level, but usually only when they’re at or near their best. Both World Cup veterans, they couldn’t quite exploit their time on Saturday’s big stage to the fullest effect as Clark’s handball drew LA’s winning penalty kick and Buddle was anonymous as a second-half Galaxy substitute.
Outside backs: A fair number of MLS wonks have lamented the league’s shortage of eye-catching wide defenders lately, which is probably linked to a general preference for tactical conservatism in many circles. This MLS Cup featured a handful of effective performers in those positions, though, all of whom just happen to be Yanks: LA's Sean Franklin and Todd Dunivant and Houston's Corey Ashe and youngster Kofi Sarkodie. And while all contributed to their teams’ efforts, there were few occasions that suggested impending competition for the likes of Steve Cherundolo or Fabian Johnson.