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Backpass 10-13-15: How Jurgen Explains Pablo, Or Vice Versa

The USMNT-Mexico and Colorado Rapids-Montreal Impact games were back to back on Saturday. It game me a chance to think about how similar Jurgen Klinsmann and Pablo Mastroeni are. Mostly, that's not in a good way.

First off: I didn't watch the game against Montreal Impact. Not a minute. I saw a highlight of Didier Drogba's free kick. Other than that, nothing. I was at a retreat with 29 semi-unruly fifteen year-olds from Friday on, and only got back Saturday night in time to see USA-Mexico once they were locked at 1-1.

Last year I did watch every minute of every single Colorado Rapids game. Last year it was a matter of whether we could win at all in those last five games, remember? Now, with a guaranteed last place finish, we can't do much except play some youngun's against Sporting KC on October 21 and Portland Timbers on October 25. But with the Montreal Impact game on Saturday, the only exciting youngun' the Rapids have was off with the USMNT U23 team, losing to Honduras at Rio Tinto in Salt Lake. Poor Dillon Serna. In the words of our dearly departed poet laureate Yogi Berra, it must have felt like deja vu all over again.

Anyhow, I'm not sure if I'm supposed to feel bad about not watching: it's the first game I haven't watched, live or taped, in two years. It's a nice breather, but still; I want to want to watch the game, if that makes sense. Hopefully my pessimism will subside and I'll enjoy these last couple games before the long MLS-less winter sets in. Many folks flop over to EPL without much loss, and although I have a minor rooting interest in Arsenal, at the end of the day, I support my local club.

Jurgen, Meet Pablo. I think you guys have a lot in common.

In the post-game teeth gnashing of the soccer punditocracy, Jurgen-bile was everywhere. Most of it was nothing new. I've been listening, enjoying, and agreeing with Matt Doyle's assessment of Jurgen Klinsmann's performance, or lack thereof, since shortly after he was hired. Brian Sciaretta was absolutely vicious in his prosecution of Klinsmann.
The guys on the Total Soccer Show podcast were also vicious, and also 100% accurate about Jurgen's failings since the 2014 World Cup. It illuminated the fact for me that Jurgen and Pablo Mastroeni have a lot of similarities. So. Here goes:

Similarity 1

-> Jurgen is a formerly great national team player. Pablo is a formerly great national player.

Similarity 2

-> Jurgen is essentially guaranteed that he will be the coach until Russia 2018. Pablo has been essentially guaranteed that he will be the coach through the end of 2016. Disappointing results over the past 12 months have had no impact on this for either coach.

Similarity 3

-> Jurgen has been called ‘tactically naive' repeatedly by the US soccer press. This is due to the USMNT's lack of clear and obvious tactical plan from the 2014 World Cup till now. Yes, they use the Diamond 4-4-2, but whereas the US formerly would cede possession and strike on the counter under Bob Bradley, the team lacks any identifiable game plan over the past 18 months. Pablo Mastroeni has been called ‘tactically naive' too. With a team that sorely struggles to score goals, Mastroeni stuck doggedly to a lone striker 4-2-3-1 system for much of the season, additionally employing long diagonal balls far more than was prudent. Mastroeni has advocated a defense first system, yet the team has conceded 102 goals since the start of 2014. That ties the Rapids with the Union in conceded goals. Only the Chicago Fire, with 103 goals conceded, have been worse, defensively.

Similarity 4

-> Jurgen has been criticized, rightfully, for playing players out of position. Michael Bradley, a classic box-to-box mid, was miscast as the number 10 attacking mid throughout the World Cup. Gyasi Zardes, a striker, has been stuck out on the wing. Mix Diskerud was put in last year as a defensive midfielder, which, just, no. Against Brazil in a September friendly, Alejandro Bedoya was played at CDM too. Or as the saintly Matt Doyle said in a tweet:

Although I can't find the quote, Bedoya stated after that game that he had never played defensive midfield in his life before the game against Brazil.

Pablo has been criticized, rightfully, for playing players out of position. Jared Watts spent several games at the beginning of this season supplanting Shane O'Neill in central defense. He didn't look terrible. It's also not really his position. Joe Greenspan, a towering center back, debuted in MLS against Orlando City. At right back. He got smoked. Kevin Doyle, a poaching striker, played a few games this year as the attacking mid. Dillon Powers was played out to the wing, both left and right, the past two years. Once it was apparent that Marlon Hairston wasn't going to crack the lineup as a midfielder, the team announced he was going to be tried at right back. Then he disappeared altogether. And on, and on.

Similarity 5

-> Jurgen has never admitted fault to the press. He has consistently pretended like nothing's wrong, that the lack of results is part of some "plan" or "process" that we aren't privy to. Pablo not only hasn't admitted fault, he seems to have nothing at all to say in post-game comments that explain what fans have just been watching. Klinsmann occasionally throws his players under the bus. Thankfully, to my memory, Pablo has never called out a specific player for a mistake. He has called out ‘our backline', our ‘defense', but not a specific player. So that's good. Pablo also has never laid the blame on himself: he's never blamed: ‘my tactics', or ‘my gameplan'. I appreciate that he doesn't vilify players. But Pablo also hasn't admitted that he might have screwed up in, say, not man-marking Giovinco; or not properly adjusting strategy at the half. Accountability is a managerial skill that people admire, fellas.

Similarity 6

-> Jurgen has banished a lot of players, or straight refused to call them up, for reasons nobody understands. Landon Donovan and Robbie Rodgers and Maurice Edu and Benny Feilhaber have all been dumped from the national team before their time without rhyme or reason. Lee Nguyen and Perry Kitchen and Dax McCarty and Bill Hamid and Ethan Finley have all been un-used or under-used. Jurgen has complained that there aren't enough good US players to play the system he wants; then he willfully ignores some of our best players.

Pablo, too has banished a fair number of players. Last year's backline, which struggled when Drew Moor and Shane O'Neill went down, was completely reshaped for 2015. Which is weird, because Moor and O'Neill are healthy. It's like having a car get two flat tires, then getting two new tires but deciding that the real problem requires a full engine rebuild. Huh? So Chris Klute and Shane O'Neill and Marvell Wynne have all been dispatched. The upgrades have been a mixed bag: Burling is pretty reliable, and moving Moor to right back was good. But first we had to endure James Riley there. Jared Watts was dropped on the backline out of position. Greenspan is... going to stay an Ensign for a while; he hasn't earned a cool nickname like ‘The Admiral' yet. Aside from the defense, Deshorn Brown was dumped, although I'm ok with that. Jared Watts gets spot starts here and there, but by and large has been supplanted by Lucas Pittinari, who I have spoken of before. think Pittinari is a Pablo-lunchpail guy: he's all workrate, no skill, or thought, or tactical awareness. Considering how much of the team's attacking play start with the defensive mid, he's not enough.

Similarity 7

-> Jurgen has a thing for foreign-born players from one specific country, regardless of whether they might be the best guys. Jurgen loves him some German-born players, and everyone knows it. Although Jermaine Jones was a revelation for the team in 2014, some of his fellow menschen from the fatherland, notsomuch. Julian Green and Andrew Wooten and Fabian Johnson and John Brooks and Timmy Chandler have all been frontline players for Jurgen. Some are deserving of a spot on the USMNT. Some, less so. Oh, yeah, and to get Johnson into the team, Jurgen played him (shock) out of position. Considering the problems at fullback for the USMNT, what the hell is wrong with MLS and Liga MX players? Who actually play fullback in their club team?

Pablo (really, more likely 'El Piojo', Claudio Lopez) has a small thing for players from a specific country: Argentina. Pittinari and Juan Ramirez and Luis Solignac are all from the land of empanadas and bistek pampas. Maybe these guys will pan out. Maybe that money could have been better spent on players not 10 hours away by plane. I dunno.

Similarity 8

-> Jurgen likes his players in the salty-veteran variety. Over the past year, even amidst Coach Klinsmann's tinkering, he's still playing a team long on ‘experience'. I don't care whether we lost to Mexico and can't go to the Confederations Cup: it's an oft-mentioned fact that doing well at the Confed Cup has zero correlation to success at the World Cup. I, like many USMNT fans, want to see growth, and the turning of the page. So it was pretty disappointing to see that Jurgen went with the exact same lineup as he did against Belgium in 2014, save Alejandro Bedoya, who was swapped for Gyasi Zardes (played out of position, of course). DeMarcus Beasley and Jermaine Jones and Kyle Beckerman and Clint Dempsey are all on the wrong side of 30, but Jurgen rolled them out there again. Why? How does it grow the team towards 2018 to give all the minutes to guys who almost certainly won't be there?

Pablo also likes his players in the salty-veteran variety. Bobby Burling and Marcelo Sarvas and and James Riley and Sam Cronin all were brought in this year and got a lot of time. Nick LaBrocca and Vicente Sanchez and Marc Burch are also still on the roster too, although Sanchez clearly deserves it based on his stellar play. Pablo's use of veterans I think is more excusable than Jurgen's; unless it persists. In the beginning of the season, the thinking was probably that some veteran MLS presence could help the youngsters develop, and if everything clicked, the team could improve to mid-table. Clearly, that didn't happen. Hopefully the team will shift to a more youth oriented team. If it doesn't, well, then, we know that Pablo and Jurgen have drunk the same Kool Aid.


I think there are probably other similarities, and I concede the analogy isn't one-to-one. Jurgen has far more experience and tactical know-how than Pablo. Pablo doesn't have Jurgen's problem of consistently overtraining his players, resulting in them being gassed after the 75th minute. Jurgen is seemingly far more egotistical and sure of himself than Pablo is.

Jurgen is probably beyond help. Hopefully he can get clicking with his players and tactics soon, but I fear that, short of some miracle, we're looking at another uneven road to qualifying, another under-performance at the 2018 World Cup.

I really hope that, perhaps, Pablo can be made aware of the flaws that Jurgen has displayed over the past 3 years, reflect on them, and improve them. Another bottom-table year isn't going to cut it; not with the fans, who are already calling for his head, and not with the front-office.