With the World Cup a week away, the impact of U.S. soccer coach Jurgen Klinsmann is clear: he is making the team less American. No wait, sorry, he's making the team more American. Actually, we're not sure.
Battling profiles of the former German star Klinsmann in The New York Times magazine and in The Wall Street Journal come to directly opposite conclusions on the level of American-ism that he has created on the U.S. national team. A taste:
- The Times' Sam Borden: "Put simply, Klinsmann would like to see his players carry themselves like their European counterparts — the way he used to."
- The Journal's Matthew Futterman: "It was time do what their German-born coach, Jurgen Klinsmann, had been exhorting them to do for months: It was time to play soccer like Americans."
Slate and Sports On Earth contributor Aaron Gordon nicely summarized the ¯\_(ツ)_/¯-iness of the two articles.
The question of how to define "American" is a nebulous one, particularly as it relates to a sport that is relatively short on tradition or history. Indeed, both the Times and Journal make their case admirably.
In arguing that the team has become less American, the Times cites Klinsmann's cutting of Landon Donovan, the face of American soccer for the past decade-plus. Klinsmann didn't care that Donovan was a star in the past; he isn't playing that well now, and so dropped him from the squad. "This always happens in America," Klinsmann told the Times, and related how Kobe Bryant, another past-his-prime star, was just given a huge contract from the Los Angeles Lakers for sentimental reasons. "Why do you pay for what has already happened?" The addition of five German-born players on the U.S. team — each have an American parent and thus qualify — adds to the less American argument.
The Journal, meanwhile, argues that Klinsmann's decision to switch to a more aggressive, attacking offense is the most American of all. "American nature is to take the game to our opponents. We don't want to just react to them," Klinsmann said. The U.S. team used to sit back and concentrate on defense, but no more. "For the U.S. team, [Klinsmann] felt this strategy was wrong on another level: it was un-American," the Journal writes.
In any case, there's only one way to solve this conundrum; blindly root for the red, white, and blue. USA! USA! USA!