There are two ways to go right now, two ways to look at the first 10 weeks of the Jurgen Klinsmann era:
1. He’s slowly weeding through the US player pool, identifying which players are assets and which are not, giving individuals chances to impress while taking his time in building a coherent whole.
2. He’s already identified the players he wants and is neck deep in the process of crafting his team in preparation for the start of next summer’s World Cup Qualifying campaign. Anyone who hasn’t already been called in is out in the cold. The book is shut and the roster’s 90 percent decided.
There are a lot of US soccer fans out there who are terrified that the second option is Klinsmann’s default setting.
So here’s the short con, one which I am hidebound to present upon the altar of rationality: The terror over Klinsmann’s camp roster is just fan overreaction. Fans are inveterate overreactors. It’s the reason they earned the name “fanatic.”
Because it’s such a vituperative reaction – and if you spent any time on Twitter on Thursday afternoon, you know exactly how over the top it can get – we, the “rational class,” can dismiss it. Klinsmann’s been to a World Cup semifinal as a coach, won one as a player and precisely no one who’s spent any amount of time with him thinks he’s a fool. He would not make a decision, not this decision, before filtering through all his options.
At the very heart of the discussion – shrieking, arm-flailing argument more than discussion, really – are Tim Ream and Michael Orozco Fiscal. Neither have been very good with the national team this year and Ream, by his own admission, hasn’t been up to snuff with the Red Bulls, either. Orozco Fiscal, meanwhile, has struggled to lock down a starting job back in Mexico, and his old team, the Union, have improved defensively by leaps and bounds.
The standard reactionary narrative, then, is that Klinsmann is snubbing more deserving candidates like Omar Gonzalez, George John, Geoff Cameron and *insert the MLS starter of your choice here* to save spots for “his guys," Ream and Orozco Fiscal. The coach is not choosing the best players, the guys who are having the best seasons, the guys who give him the best chance to win. His criteria is some mysterious "other," and he is diligent in its application.
But here’s the big con: Klinsmann was hired specifically to make that judgment. And it’s us – you, me, your bartender, anyone who’s invested a moment’s worth of emotion into the US national team – who have laid the groundwork for just such a situation.
The fact is, winning with the “same old tactics” and “same old style” wasn’t good enough for the US fanbase anymore. We denigrated our last two coaches, calling Bob Bradley “Robo-Bob” and Bruce Arena much worse by the time he was done in 2006, for not fielding teams that played exciting, fluid soccer. We came to loathe our protected leads, always wanting that extra push, that additional goal.
We collectively decided that we’re done with conservatism — 1-0 doesn’t cut it. Neither does 2-0, or dos-a-cero, if you prefer. We’ve got to take what we want, not just what we can get, and we’ve got to take it with panache. The previous generation made the long journey from footballing backwater to the World Cup, and now it’s this generation’s manifest destiny to become the United States of Brazil.
It’s what we’ve all asked for, and it’s a big part of the reason Klinsmann was the darling of the US fanbase from the moment he stepped down as Germany’s manager in 2006.
After all, get to the semifinals with Germany? Anyone can do that. But take Germany to the semifinals in style? That’s the man who’ll coax blood from this American stone.
And that’s where Ream and Orozco Fiscal come in. Of the US defensive pool, they’re the best with the ball on their feet (save for Cameron, who’s been playing central defense for all of three games now and probably hasn’t caught Klinsmann’s eye just yet). They’re the ones who’ll keep the ball on the ground, pick out midfield runners and keep the tempo in the US’ favor.
No more hoofing it out of trouble. Gonzalez is better than either right now, but he’s not going to change the way the US play – he’s just a younger, bigger Oguchi Onyewu. Ream and/or Orozco Fiscal might be able to make the US team look a little different, so they’re the chosen ones even if they’re being outshined at the club level.
Personally I don’t buy it. I don’t think Klinsmann is done looking at backliners, and – full disclosure – I think Ream will be the best defender in the US pool by this time next year anyway, so I’m not super bothered about this one way or the other.
I don’t think Klinsmann’s done looking at midfielders, either. Or forwards, or guys like Benny Feilhaber and Sacha Kljestan, both of whom are playing well for their clubs but both of whom appear to be outside the scope of Klinsmann's plans at the moment. All in all, I still believe the short con.
But if Klinsmann is done, if he’s made up his mind and is already crafting his chosen roster, then it’s because he wants to win with style. He wants guys who can step onto the field and play with some panache. He’s won that way before, and he knows it’s a good chunk of why he was hired now. Ream and Orozco give him the best chance to meet that goal – though at this point, maybe it’s “play” with style rather than “win” with it.
And there we have it. It's the big con: We, the fanbase, got what we wanted. Now we simply have to muster the patience to see whether or not it works.
Matthew Doyle writes the Armchair Analyst column for MLSsoccer.com.