NEW YORK – Friday felt like a holiday for a lot of US national team soccer fans.
Jürgen Klinsmann's appointment as US head coach ended a five-year long saga that teased US fans into thinking the German legend could one day take over as national team manager. That quest seemed to die when Bob Bradley signed a new four-year contract last year, but that all changed when US Soccer president Sunil Gulati fired Bradley on Thursday and finally reached an agreement with the coach he wanted all along .
So exactly who is happy today? The fans and critics who have questioned Bob Bradley's status as head coach for the past five years. The folks who have always believed that a big-name European coach (specifically, Klinsmann), could help turn the United States into a world soccer power.
Now Klinsmann must do battle with the ghost he created by interviewing for and passing on the US job on two different occasions. That ghost is the Klinsmann his biggest fans believed could have done so much better than Bradley over the past five years: the Klinsmann who could have talked Giuseppe Rossi and Neven Subotic into playing for the United States; the Klinsmann who would have won the Confederations Cup; the Klinsmann who would have made Nuremberg cave and had Timmy Chandler in the Gold Cup where he would have helped Klinsmann vanquish Mexico.
You see, a coach who doesn't actually have a job stays undefeated, and often times can grow into a mythical figure. Klinsmann became that in the eyes of many US fans who remembered his rousing success with Germany in 2006 and believed he could work similar magic with the United States.
Now, instead of being a ghost who could do no wrong, Klinsmann is the man in charge and must prove that the myth wasn't a myth - that he really is capable of guiding the US national team program to new heights.
There is tangible excitement about the appointment, and not just because of Klinsmann's engaging personality and that lasting memory of his success in. There's excitement because Klinsmann is a different breed, not cut from the same coaching cloth American fans have seen for the past 16 years.
Yes, 16 years is how long it has been since the US men's national team head coach wasn't American, going all the way back to when Bora Milutinovic was in charge. During that time, the US team enjoyed some great moments under Bruce Arena and Bob Bradley, but there was always a feeling that a different philosophy might mean even better results, and an international coaching star might be able to shake up a US soccer structure that has grown a bit stale.
What's funny is that as much as Klinsmann is German, he is also American, having spent many of his post-playing career years living in Southern California. He certainly has fundamental European qualities, but he also has spent years observing MLS and the US national team set-up, so in that regard you could say he's as prepared as any "foreign" coach could be stepping into the US job.
Klinsmann will have his chance to mold the program, and he should be able to plot a path for the youth national team ranks. It is one of several things Klinsmann needs to work on.
Here are some key points Klinsmann will need to work on in the coming months and years:
Establishing a style for the USMNT
Klinsmann is a fan of attacking soccer and will have his chance to install a tactical philosophy that emphasizes creativity more than defense. The US talent pool isn't exactly stocked with top-end strikers and creative midfielders, but there are some young talents in the system. Klinsmann has the task of trying to increase the technical quality of the senior team while also implementing a system that can be taught at all youth national team levels.
Ending the talent exodus
While the United States has had its fair share of success in recruiting foreign-born players to play for the US national team, we have recently seen more cases of players being interested in playing for teams other than the United States. The most recent example was left back Miguel Ponce, who was born and raised in the United States but chose to play for Mexico. Klinsmann has the cache to impress young prospects with dual nationalities. We will see if his influence can stop US-born players from considering other countries first.
Organizing the MLS academies
One of Klinsmann's greatest accomplishments in Germany was installing new guidelines and standards that forced German clubs to invest more resources into their player development systems. The result is Germany now boasting some of the best young talent in the world. It remains to be seen just what freedom Gulati has given Klinsmann and what jurisdiction Klinsmann can reasonably expect to have over MLS teams, but the reality is until MLS teams start working with more and more kids, and producing more talent, the US talent pool will be held back.
Shaking up the player pool
As much as Bradley's tenure is being picked apart, and as much as he obviously had his favorites, Bradley gave national team looks to 109 players, and handed 60 their first national team cap, so he wasn't afraid to look in all places for new talent.
That being said, there were still players Bradley never looked at (or not often enough, for the likes of some). Klinsmann will bring a fresh perspective and will have a chance to formulate his own preferences and try new options, particularly at thin positions like left back and forward. A big part of the next year is going to be dedicated to Klinsmann identifying new players - giving some long overlooked and underutilized players a fresh start under a new coach.
These are just some of the key issues Klinsmann will be dealing with as he takes on a job he's had his eye on for a long time. It will take a while before we really start seeing the impact of the coaching change, but one thing is clear: Expectations are very high for Klinsmann, and it isn't a foregone conclusion that he will be able to live up to them.
US fans can worry about that later. Right now, it's a new era, and the coach so many wanted to see in charge is finally at the helm. It feels like a holiday for some, but time will tell if today was really worth celebrating.