USMNT Soccer: A Litmus Test

jurgen-klinsmannFormer USMNT manager Jürgen Klinsmann deserves very high honors and respect for his accomplishments for U.S. soccer after just 98 matches over 5-years and a winning percentage of 63.8%, barely second only to his new successor Bruce Arena at 65.8% after 130 games. Along with Bob Bradley, these 3 managers are PARTIALLY responsible for the USMNT best most historic World Cup stints and international play since the inaugural season of the MLS in 1996… a volatile subject amongst all USSF coaches, MLS club-owners, domestic players, and U.S. soccer fans. And as usual, that success or volatility boils down to prestige, egos, dollars, and ROI’s.

But why are USMNT managers only partially responsible for success, mediocrity, or failure? The answer is three-fold:

  1. player-pool quality
  2. the strength of domestic leagues both financially and on-the-field, and
  3. the expertise of the nation’s futebol-governing body

For those U.S. fans who don’t really understand world-class futebol and how consistent world-class status is achieved on the national team level, let’s examine all three above areas historically for a better litmus test of how far USMNT soccer has progressed since 1996 and with the rehire of Bruce Arena, and whether we the fans must wait another 20-years for any significant progress.

Sidenote: this is not an exhaustive analysis with all factors considered; just these 3 primary factors.

Player-pool Quality

tab-ramos-real-betisIn the modern-era of U.S. soccer, we have four quality performances on the international stage. The farthest the USMNT has gone in all World Cup competitions was the Quarter-finals in 2002. After qualifying play finished, the U.S. ranked 8th in the world going in. 2002 is the pinnacle, the current standard to surpass. The next best ranking & performance was in the 2010 WC into the Round-of-16 ranked 12th, then the 1994 WC Round-of-16 ranked 14th, and finally the 2014 WC Round-of-16 ranked 15th. Let’s examine those four USMNT rosters and where the team’s quality was based.

2002 USMNT WC Roster — There were 12 MLS-playing players and 11 playing abroad. The most influential, most valuable players were Brian McBride (Columbus Crew), Claudio Reyna (Sunderland), Brad Friedel (Blackburn Rovers), DaMarcus Beasley (Chicago Fire), Landon Donovan (San Jose), and John O’Brien (Ajax). All six players spent 3 or more seasons on European teams except Donovan who had shorter stints. Their foreign experience was key to the 2002 USMNT success.

brian-mcbride-fulham

Brian McBride

2010 USMNT WC Roster — There were 4 MLS-playing players and 19 playing abroad. The most influential, most valuable players were Clint Dempsey (Fulham), Tim Howard (Everton), DaMarcus Beasley (Rangers), Landon Donovan (LA Galaxy), Michael Bradley (Mönchengladbach), Jozy Altidore (Hull City), and notable contributions from Carlos Bocanegra (Rennes) and Steve Cherundolo (Hannover 96) in defense. Once again, the foreign experience was key to the 2010 USMNT success.

1994 USMNT WC Roster — There were 15 domestic-playing players and only 7 playing abroad. However, this is prior to the modern era of the MLS and USSF with most players contracted full-time to US Soccer, not to domestic pro league teams. The most influential, most valuable players were Tab Ramos (Real Betis), John Harkes (Derby County), Eric Wynalda (1.FC Saarbrücken), and Marcelo Balboa (San Diego State Univ). Notice once again, the quality foreign experience for international success.

eric-wynalda-saarbrucken

Eric Wynalda

2014 USMNT WC Roster — There were 10 MLS-playing players and 13 playing abroad. The most influential, most valuable players were Clint Dempsey again (Seattle) and Tim Howard (Everton), with notable contributions from Jermaine Jones (Beşiktaş), John Brooks (Hertha Berlin), and Julian Greene (Bayern Munich). Foreign experience was again key for a surprising run out of Group G the “Group of Death”.

In 2006 the USMNT received its highest ever ranking (#4 FIFA, #2 Elo) leading up to the 2006 WC in Germany. Of that roster there were 11 MLS-playing players and 12 playing abroad. Influential key players of that team were Claudio Reyna (Man City), Kasey Keller (Mönchengladbach), and Brian McBride (Fulham)….again quality foreign experience.

Strength of Domestic Leagues
claudio-reyna-man-city

Claudio Reyna

A good indicator of how strong your domestic league ranks is by its teams and players international performances. For example, how your league performs in your federation Champions League over a long time-period both on the club & national team levels. The two competitions for CONCACAF are Champions Cup/League and the Gold Cup. Let’s examine how MLS teams, American lower league teams, and our USMNT have measured up to other CONCACAF nations and their domestic leagues, and then CONCACAF Winners compared to other FIFA federations in World Club competitions.

Champions Cup/League
Of the 12 member nations of CONCACAF, Mexico’s Liga MX teams far & away out performed any other member nation with 32 winners and 16 runner-ups since the tournament started in 1962. Distant second and third place nations are Costa Rica and El Salvador respectively; the U.S. MLS teams are barely on record. In the modern era of Champions League (2008), Mexican Liga MX teams dominate completely. The closest MLS teams? Real Salt Lake and Montreal runner-ups, in 2011 and 2015 only.

FIFA World Club Champions
Of all the six world futebol federations, UEFA dominates as winners with CONMEBOL a respectable 2nd, and CAF a distant 3rd. CONCACAF clubs have never made it to the final. Brazil and Spain are the top nations.

Gold Cup
It must be noted that the Gold Cup tournament consists of national teams with many players in European leagues as well as domestic leagues; the U.S. is no exception in the modern era.

clint-dempsey-fulham

Clint Dempsey

Mexico again edges out the USMNT in this tournament with 10 winners, 2 runner-ups, 4 third-places, and 1 fourth-place. Costa Rica and the U.S. follow with 11 and 13 top four finishes respectively. Hence, an argument can be reasonably waged that the USMNT’s Gold Cup successes come IN PART (or more) to its international experience as it did with the four World Cups of 1994, 2002, 2010, and 2014…. the last three coinciding with Gold Cup championships.

High-Quality Players in the MLS
It is a long-standing fact that Europe’s Top 5 leagues are consistently at the world’s top because of world-class marquee players, club managers, and the extravagant salaries for both. It is no different for America’s NBA or MLB…. the best basketball & baseball players in the world are truly “marquee” if they play for 3-or-more seasons in the NBA and MLB during their prime-playing years. In Europe the best leagues are arguably Spain’s La Liga, England’s Premier League, and Germany’s Bundesliga and they attract the world’s elite-class players and managers. Period. As an important contribution, domestic-born players in Spain, England, and Germany — as well as France, Italy, Turkey and a handful of other countries — greatly benefit over their formative playing years by playing with and against the best in the world! And those “world’s best” are typically in their PRIME playing years age 22 to 28. How has or does America’s MLS stack up with Europe’s Top leagues attracting “marquee” players in their prime years, their best years? Only one question is needed to determine how the MLS stacks up to Europe’s top leagues:

Since the MLS’s 1996 inaugural season, how many elite marquee world-class foreign players (i.e. the top 200-300 all-time in the world since 1996) have played or are playing in the MLS during their prime years of age 22 to 28?

The following players are another indication and comparison of how weak, mediocre, or strong the MLS has rated over the extant 20-year period. How many appearances these foreign players have made for their national team is also included giving more credence to their “world-class” status:

  1. Jaime Moreno (Bolivia) aged 22 entering MLS with 75 national team appearances
  2. Marco Etcheverry (Bolivia) aged 26 entering MLS with 71 national team appearances
  3. Giovani dos Santos (Mexico) aged 26 entering MLS currently with 116 national team appearances
marco-etcheverry

Marco Etcheverry

Of these 3 players, only Etcheverry and dos Santos had/have prior top-flight European league playing experience entering the MLS. That’s ONLY THREE PLAYERS of the last 20 MLS seasons in their prime playing years!!! Not good for our American MLS boys getting high-level world-class exposure which wins and consistently performs well in major world tournaments. Jürgen Klinsmann and Bruce Arena (our top 2 managers of all-time) understand this critical dynamic for our USMNT. Our national team’s performance record and our domestic players from the MLS on our USMNT — with no lengthy European or S. American exposure — are and have been the biggest hindrance these last 20-years, not the managers.

Financial Status of MLS
In a CNN report dated March 2015, the MLS “lost as much as $250-million in its first 5 years” and dwindling attendances after the inaugural season. However, the league’s expansion from 10 teams initially to 20 teams today is a bright spot on an otherwise slow difficult climb toward any world powerhouse stature. The product-quality on the field and in-stadium attendance has improved slightly in 20-years. A new 8-year televised media package with ESPN, Fox Sports, and Univision will bring about $90-million in revenue, which helps. There are approximately 70-million soccer fans in the U.S. and many of them are the under-30 demographic. Of the viewing audiences and game attendees, about 30% (more in the southwest and Florida) are Latino and that number increases every year. The “breakthrough” to competing with the top American sports for a bigger more fervent fan-base, and hence large corporate sponsors, is as close as it has ever been recently.

dossantos-gio

Giovani dos Santos

But the reality for the league and owners is that they have been losing money once all the ledger books are closed. And the more serious American soccer/futebol fan today demands the best on-field product possible. That is reflected by a huge influx of American television coverage and TV networks investing in the top three leagues of the world: EPL, La Liga, and the Bundesliga the last 5+ years. Even England’s 2nd Division league, the EFL Championship, is now televised in the U.S. on beIN Sports. Therefore, the serious, knowledgeable American soccer fan is here and has been since at least 1994 if not sooner! This begs the question…

Could the MLS have done better in 20-years? Yes, much better. Player development has been one area (future product or R&D if you will) the league has ignored horribly for the sake of immediate revenues & profits. It must improve quickly if the MLS is going to last another 20-years, starting with MORE top world-class players here in their prime years for 3 or more seasons! Three players only over 20-years will not cut it.

Playing Expertise of USSF

The Board of Directors for the USSF have seen near non-existent soccer playing experience since 1990. Presidents Alan Rothenberg, Robert Contiguglia, and Sunil Gulati have never played high-level soccer at anytime in their lives. The offices of Executive Vice President, Treasurer, Chairman Adult & Youth Council, or Chairman Professional Council have never possessed officers with any high-level playing experience since 1990. Why? Why none at all?

However, USSF “Athlete Representatives” serving as consultants have seen a handful of past international playing experience represented at the federation in Chicago, like John Harkes and Peter Vermes. Unfortunately, USSF Athlete Representatives have only very minor influence for USMNT’s key staffing positions. Perhaps this must change as much as national team managers?

Nevertheless, as Douglas Logan stated, first MLS Commissioner from 1995-1999…

“Starting a league is a generational proposition, and can’t be measured in 4- or 8-year horizons. Now we’re closing in on 20 years. We’re going into a second generation, and we’re picking up fans who weren’t even born when the league was born.”

Was Jürgen Klinsmann’s tenure “generational” in nature? Was it measured by “generationS” of players and performances, or merely (unfairly?) in 4- or 8-year horizons? Remarks by USSF President Sunil Gulati in the wake of Klinsmann’s termination, reflect not a move upward in world soccer prestige and competitiveness for the U.S., but a still present stagnating mentality of status quo that has plagued our USMNT since 1954…

“While we remain confident that we have quality players to help us advance to Russia 2018, the form and growth of the team up to this point left us convinced that we need to go in a different direction. With the next qualifying match in late March, we have several months to refocus the group and determine the best way forward to ensure a successful journey to qualify for our eighth-consecutive World Cup.”

Not to surpass previous accomplishments says the President, but merely “qualifying for our eighth-consecutive World Cup.What!? We qualified for the 1990 World Cup! Twenty-eight years later we should by now be serious contenders for consistent World Cup Quarter-final appearances with 2-3 generations developed, many playing in Europe. If the USSF’s and MLS’s attitude doesn’t embody mediocrity, I don’t know what does. Klinsmann wasn’t the sole problem Gulati and American soccer fans. The bigger problems are the three above!

Final USMNT litmus test? Sadly, same ole business as usual it seems.   😥

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Stay or Go?

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Nothing is so dangerous to the progress of the human mind than to assume that our views of science are ultimate, that there are no mysteries in nature, that our triumphs are complete and that there are no new worlds to conquer.
Humphry Davy

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My youth soccer head coach obviously didn’t want me to leave our U-17 team or the south Dallas league in which I had played the last eight seasons accumulating notoriety, awards, and trophies both for myself, him, and the team. But the fact remained:  in 1980 the OCSA paled compared to the NDCCCL of north Dallas-Plano. In south Dallas I was only a semi big fish in a small pond. I knew too well that if I were to have a chance to play at the highest levels possible, I had to travel over 20-miles there and back, 2-3 times a week and every weekend where the top flight players, teams, and coaches were competing; it had to be done.

If my parents and I had listened to many of the naysayers, I wouldn’t have achieved a sizable college soccer scholarship, been mentored and coached by two world-class former pro goalkeepers, started all four collegiate years, awarded MVP and All-Tournament Team in the 1982-83 NAIA National Championship tournament, awarded one NAIA Honorable Mention All-American (sophomore year), one NAIA second-team All-American (junior year), and two first-team All-American awards by the NSCAA and NAIA my final year, then I likely could not have gone on to a rewarding pro and semi-pro career the next 11-years on three foreign continents then back to the U.S., retiring in 1996.

I can gratefully and humbly say through firsthand experience that sometimes (many times?) the rewards are so worth the risks.

In the course of human endeavors of progress, better understanding, advancement, and evolving and promoting our species, we have reached another crossroads:  interplanetary exploration and colonization. Mars. Should we do it? Should we stay put or should we go?

Because of the upcoming 6-part National Geographic Channel  series Mars premiering Nov. 14, 2016, I stumbled into an intriguing discussion with a good friend of mine about colonizing the nearby distant planet. Though he is a big Star Trek fan and all for space exploration, my friend had some valid points. Here’s how the banter went:

Friend:
A crappy Earth with problems would be better than Mars, Moon Colonies, etc. The only viable solution is a nearby habitable planet very similar to Earth. If we had the technology to colonize & terraform, we certainly would be advanced enough to heal our own planet. There are too many things we are interdependent on to leave Earth behind just yet. Besides distance, even an Earth-like twin planet would have many hidden obstacles to colonization.

mars-by-the-numbersProfessor T:
Similar warnings were also given to Magellan, Dias, Drake, Vespucci, Pizarro, Erik-the-Red, Ulfsson, Herjólfsson, Zheng He, and several others. Why did they not listen? (wink)

Friend:
LOL! That’s nowhere close to being equitable. Not apples and oranges! Apples and iPhones! It’s not a warning, it’s simply thinking ahead. I am by no means well versed but I know enough that Space is even less hospitable than Mother Nature here on Earth. If you saw The Martian, read the book, then listen to the author as he explains in interviews what he had to extrapolate technology wise and fudge(!) just to make that story work.

Professor T:
Not really arguing your very valid points. But like the Serengeti wildebeests, gazelles, zebras, buffalos, etc, that annually cross the Grumeti River which they all know is FULL of hungry happy crocodiles and almost certain DEATH… yet they cross it, and many/most of those migrating animals cross multiple times in their lifetimes! Now explain to me why it is human nature and animal nature to constantly take risks, including paramount life-threatening risks!? (wink)

Friend:
You are definitely from the Berenstain Bears timeline.

Professor T:
Bwahaha! Are you implying that I enjoy children’s storybooks and such pleasure might reflect a similar intellectual capacity!!!!? Then if so, you’d be correct Sir. (wink)

Friend:
Ha, ha! No, it’s a “thing”. Google Berenstain/Berenstein Bears, Mandela phenomenon, etc. I’m just joking though.

Professor T:
By the way, as you know, I loved The Martian! Haven’t read the book yet, but the film was excellent!

Friend:
If you lived closer, I’d let you borrow my copy.

atmosphere-mars-facts

from NASA’s website http://mars.nasa.gov/

The history of human exploration is indeed littered with many failed expeditions, fatalities and disasters. Perhaps the more notable ones just on Earth were The Narváez Expedition (1527), Hudson-NW Passage Expedition (1610), The Reed-Donner Party (1846), The Franklin Expedition (1845), and the 1996 Mount Everest Party to name just five. Moving out from Earth we have the doomed space disasters of several Russian Soyuz flights, NASA’s Apollo 1 (1967) and near disasters of Apollo 13 (1970) and Gemini 8 (1966), the 2003 Colombia Space Shuttle, and of course the 1986 Challenger Space Shuttle. Why haven’t we learned that stepping outside of our cozy, known (safe?) comfort zones could turn into a debacle or fatal tragedy? What is our malfunction? (laughing)

Is there really a need for further space exploration and interplanetary colonization at the risk of more deaths? Why or why not?

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Live Well — Love Much — Laugh Often — Learn Always

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Aging and the Aged

Mom&Tori_May 2016-graduation

My daughter & Mom – college graduation 2016

As some of you may have noticed, I have not been around WordPress and my blog as much as before. Lately, finding time to imagine, consider, research, ponder, gather images, then type away in a format and style that is minimally interesting for you and acceptable quality for me has been near non-existent. Well, not true exactly. I could do it late in the evening when I’m fatigued and must nevertheless wake just before sunrise or daybreak whether my mind and body want to or not. And since my last blog-post was June 9th you can see how well that is working. What is going on you ask as you all are banging down my front door? (sarcasm) What has changed?

Answer:  Life.

Life apart from the world-wide-web. Life beyond the internet and technology. Organic life of which sometimes/often affords us little time of our own. The epilogue of one life, the pre-epilogue of another life (my life) and the prime of lives for others, loved ones. This is what has changed.

“The Earlier Revision Needs Revising”

Around 1997 shortly after marrying, Mom and her second older (and quite wealthy) husband found a luscious 2,850-ish sq. ft. Ranchita-home on 10.5 acres on top a big hill overlooking the Guadalupe River. The vistas from inside the house through 34 windows or outside on the large back-patio shaded or semi-shaded, with daily or every other day or evening southerly breezes… are the stuff of epic tranquility and living. For two hard-working retirees, it was a dream come true.

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And then as they say, Nothing stays the same.

Mom has been widowed since 2006. For a few years after her late husband’s crippling heart-attack which put him in a wheelchair and months later his decline and death, she took the time to enjoy her life more, travel, and spend more time with good friends and family. She absolutely deserved it! She bought a newly used 32-foot RV or mobile home to travel the U.S. However, while doing these five years of domestic and world touring the home and property they loved so much became increasingly neglected. Meanwhile, one of those good male friends became a “very good friend.” They traveled together everywhere. Very good at first, but whose title gradually changed over the last four years to infrequent companion given later developments. Circumstances for romance and the altar which seemed unimportant then, became very important. Nine years later it can be deduced that Cupid’s Arrow — with attached gold ring — had in the end missed its mark.

Another development of which I have shared and posted about here a number of times is that of my sister and her 35+ years of drug addiction, rehab, relapse, law-enforcement, incarceration, repeat ad nauseam. Over the last six years this has really taken a toll on Mom’s mental and physical health. While I was up in the Dallas-Ft. Worth area teaching Special Ed, the plan for Mom, my sister (who moved to the Texas Hill Country very soon after Mom and her husband moved here), and Mom’s “very good man-friend” was to begin serious preparations from the inside of the house to the outside and all over the property to sell the house soon. Of course, the very good man-friend (living over 2-hours away) was not going to be capable of helping more than 2-times a month or less — he had to maintain his cattle ranch of 1,500 acres that he does all by himself! Therefore, in reality it was up to my perpetually recovering sister and my 76-year old Mom. HAH!

Five years later and after finishing the 2014-2015 school year in DFW, I make my summer return to help out. In complete shock I find my sister has moved in with Mom! Anyone who has dealt with acute drug-alcohol addiction of over 3-decades knows that addicts MUST BE at the very least in a daily and weekly program, routine, and support group! Mom’s hilltop retirement resort is the very last place any addict needs to be living — there has been no consistent structure and set schedule for Mom since, hell… 1995! Furthermore, she is not even close to being a qualified licensed A&D counselor! Simply put my Mom not only cannot handle my sister’s addictive pathology, manipulation, and regular relapses, she’s not mentally or emotionally strong enough or cunning enough to manage an addict! On top of this defective lousy living situation, not hardly anything is getting accomplished toward the sale of the house and property.

I become infuriated.

What soon follows about two months later is my sister’s gradual ump-teenth relapse. Due to the pressing overwhelming work and tasks that must get done first in order to sell the house and property, Mom’s inability to PUSH my sister to stay consistent and accountable to an AA/NA and MHMR (mental health rehabs) program, and her hilltop retirement resort being 4-miles outside of town making Mom her only real transportation anywhere… my sister was doomed to relapse anyway! I find out a few weeks into my return that my sister actually moved-in the previous December!  By February 2016 sister has relapsed badly, again, and this time the county sheriff’s department and TDCJ (Texas Dept of Criminal Justice) are done being merciful. She is sentenced to 9-months in their penal drug-rehab program — now the only and last hope for her.

I am now BEYOND infuriated! No wonder the house and property have not been significantly maintained or prepped! I was never told because they both knew how I would react. Funny how we manifest our repeated thoughts and fears.

At the end of June 2016 while at a wine-n-snack get-together with good local friends, Mom unloads to everyone the precise timeline of her absolute move-out:  April 2017 or sooner. How did we lose 5-years when she told me in December 2015 — relative to her retirement funds and trust-fund — it would last through 2021? Everything, except Social Security and her small monthly Mobile Oil pension, runs out next April. I thought my entire upper body just dropped into my stomach when she announced her deadline. This was not good at all given how much needed to be done to and inside the house. I’m thinking to myself trying not to appear distraught to everyone… What if the house doesn’t sell for what it’s worth these next 9-10 months!?

Days later I ask Mom if she’s got any better idea and plan as to where she will move and live. She is no closer to those decisions than she was a year ago. Given everything she’s had to deal with concerning my god-damn sister, it’s understandable.

The original revised plan has to be revised again.

My original plans for a continued life up in the DFW area will have to be put on hold. My regular routine to blog, consider, research, write, and comment must also be reduced or postponed.

Aging and the Aged

The end of this life is inevitable. Everyone is approaching it the day we are born and take our first breath. The average American lifespan is around 78-years old; 76 (I believe) for a man, 81-83 for a woman. Therefore, somewhere around our 40’s is the halfway point. In the better scenarios the late 40’s. As those older dear ones and loved ones begin to pass away around you, one cannot help but reevaluate, reflect, and remember what makes us truly alive so that death isn’t so painfully unwelcomed. What should our final decade of life be? Of what should it consist?

Mom_July 2014

Mom, July 2014

These last four years I have noticed how much more my Mom has aged. If this rate continues, she is in her last 5-7 years — and that might be optimistic. And that reality forces me to pause and prepare. It forces me to reevaluate, reflect, and remember what, on a soulful level, is TRULY important. For that single reason… death should not be such a total stranger.

Over the last six years I have gotten to know my Mom in ways and to levels I likely would not have been able living 5-hours and 320-miles away 300-days a year. Many of those days have been fun and hilarious — her senility can be quite entertaining along with her sense of humor that has enjoyably not waned as a result. Though I am increasingly managing and helping her with her weekly and monthly responsibilities, these last couple years have noticeably aged me. For all intents and purposes, I am becoming a one-man team if not already there. And this will probably not change anytime soon, or it could change tomorrow… all things considered.
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Do you have aging or aged parents? What have been or what are your experiences? How does it effect your own life? Why do family members these days live so far apart? I may not be able to quickly reply to your thoughts and comments, but I am curious to read them if you’re inclined to share!

Live Well — Love Much — Laugh Often — Learn Always

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