Klinsmann Era Begins Here in Philly

Klinsmann Era Begins Here in Philly

Philadelphia will be the center of the American soccer world tonight as Jurgen Klinsmann makes his debut as coach of the U.S. national team against regional rival Mexico (9PM/ESPN2). I don’t think I am going out on a limb here by stating this will be the most heavily scrutinized friendly in the history of U.S. Soccer.

 It’s a perfect storm of soccer storylines, and it will all come to head this evening at Lincoln Financial Field.

The New Coach

Fans of the USMNT watched U.S. Soccer Federation President Sunil Gulati very publicly and very unsuccessfully fall all over himself in an effort to hire Klinsmann – twice. The sticking point centered around the amount of control Klinsmann wanted over the entire U.S program, from the national team on down to the youth levels.

It’s hard to say what finally persuaded Gulati to cede to Klinsmann’s demands, but the 4-2 loss to Mexico in the Gold Cup Final was almost certainly the breaking point. A little over four weeks after that humiliating and deflating loss at the Rose Bowl Gulati formally introduced Klinsmann as his new coach.

So, who is Jurgen Klinsmann? What can you expect from him? How will his tenure as coach differ from Bob Bradley? Well, as a club player he played in the top flight in Germany (VfB Stuttgart), Italy (Inter Milan), France (AS Monaco), and England (Tottenham Hotspur). He’s won a UEFA Cup (with Inter Milan), and a World Cup (West Germany, 1990). To put it simply, he was a world class player with a gift for putting the ball in the back of the net.

If you are so inclined, check out this profile of Klinsmann, written by Sports Illustrated’s Alexander Wolff prior to the 1994 World Cup.

He went on to coach Germany to a third place finish in the 2006 World Cup. En route, he was credited with introducing a flowing attacking style to the traditionally staid defensive-minded German team.

Klinsmann’s style, both tactically and personally, could not be any more different than his predecessor. Bradley was tight-lipped, and whether by preference or necessity played a defensive counter-attacking style. Klinsmann seems completely at home in the spotlight and appears to enjoy the back and forth with the media. He’s stated that he wants to bring a similar free-flowing, possession oriented, attacking style to the US program.

This is not to say Bradley did a poor job. In fact, under the circumstances I don’t know how much more you could have reasonably expected from him. I am simply highlighting the differences between the two.

Now, it’s one thing to say that you want to implement a positive possession-heavy style. It’s another thing to execute that style in light of the current US player pool. Klinsmann’s style demands attacking play from the flanks. He needs his outside backs to make overlapping runs. He needs his midfielders to run at people on the flanks. This could be a problem considering: 1) the US strength is in the center of the midfield, 2) they’ve been searching for a left back forever and 3) Their best right back (Steve Cherundolo) will be 35 years old when the next World Cup rolls around.

What You Can Expect Tonight

Klinsmann met his team for the first time on Sunday. Yes, this past Sunday. To expect him to completely change the style of play in four days is absurd. Would a result be nice? Sure. Is it worth getting bent out of shape if they don’t win? No way.

Realistically, the two most telling takeaways from this whole exercise is/will be his roster selection and choice of formation. In keeping with his desire to introduce more a more Latin influence to the team he’s brought in a number of players who play in the Mexican first division, who presumably are more familiar with the players on the Mexican roster (Jose Torres, former Union player Michael Orozco-Fiscal, DaMarcus Beasley,  and Edgar Castillo).  

He’s also called in previously out of favor players like Freddy Adu (who prior to the Gold Cup semifinal and final couldn’t sniff a national team call), Heath Pearce, and Kyle Beckerman. Youth was also served as players like Brek Shea, Tim Ream (who was benched following a shaky performance during the Gold Cup group stage), and Bill Hamid were brought in.

Perhaps the most interesting roster choice, from a storyline standpoint, was that of Michael Bradley – the son of the just fired Bob Bradley. How will he adjust to playing for the man who replaced his father? The change could liberate him as claims of nepotism (which were wholly unfair) will no longer hound him. National team stalwarts Landon Donovan, Tim Howard, Cherundolo, and Carlos Bocanegra provide a veteran presence.

Due to either club obligations or injuries you will not see Clint Dempsey, Timmy Chandler, or Maurice Edu. Mexico will be without Chicharito, who is recovering from a concussion suffered during Manchester United’s North American Tour.

Formation-wise the conventional wisdom says that Klinsmann will trot out his preferred 4-3-3. If that’s the case perhaps we’ll see a lineup of: Howard (GK), Castillo (LB), Ream (CB), Bocanegra (CB), Cherundolo (RB),  Jermaine Jones (Center Midfielder), Bradley (Center Midfielder), Torres (Attacking Midfielder), Break Shea (left wing), Donovan (right wing), and Buddle (striker).

What Will the Crowd Be Like?

Last I saw the advance sales were in the 25,000 range. No matter where in the United States the Mexican team plays they always seem to have more support. This was obviously true in Los Angeles for the Gold Cup Final, where at a minimum the crowd was 80/20 Mexican.

I’d imagine this will be a pro-Mexican crowd, but nowhere near the extent we saw in LA.

I’ve debated this topic with a few people on Twitter, but the powers that be (US Soccer and the Eagles – who obviously own and operate Lincoln Financial Field) have done a terrible job of marketing this game. You couldn’t go more than ten minutes on sports talk radio or Comcast SportsNet without hearing or seeing a promo for the July 23rd Real Madrid/Union game.

This game? I’ve barely seen banner ad on the various soccer websites I frequent. Also, the tickets are expensive. After all of the fees/price gouging the cheapest ticket is $46.75, and that’s for a seat in the upper level behind the goals. Also, the game is taking place just two weeks after 57,0000+ people shelled out money to see Cristiano Ronaldo and Real Madrid. Finally, the game is at 9PM on a Wednesday night.

This will be third time the USMNT has played in Philly/Chester over the last 15 months. So, why play this game in Philly? Perhaps the Eagles, fearful of losing precious preseason gate money due to the NFL lockout, pushed to host the game to offset potential losses.

Perhaps there will be a strong walk-up crowd, but I am skeptical there will be more than 30,000 in the building. It’ll look awful on television, but what can you do?

If nothing else, and for better or worse, we’ll always be able to say that the Jurgen Klinsmann era began here in Philadelphia.

Bryan Colangelo on Joel Embiid setback: 'We're reacting in a way that's proactive'

Bryan Colangelo on Joel Embiid setback: 'We're reacting in a way that's proactive'

The timetable for Joel Embiid's return to the court keeps getting murkier.

Embiid was ruled out indefinitely on Monday and will now have an MRI on his injured left knee (see story). He initially suffered a bone bruise on Jan. 20 and it was revealed on Feb. 11 that he had a minor meniscal tear.

The Sixers previously had a plan of rest and rehab in place and targeted a March 4 return for the big man. 

"With respect to what's developed over the last couple of days, it's quite simple, Joel developed a little bit of swelling and soreness," Sixers president Bryan Colangelo said during Monday's edition of Philly Sports Talk. "We're reacting in a way that's proactive. We wanted to be more communicative with our fans. We wanted to make sure that there's less question about whether or not he would be available. This is literally changing out for the next two games now to out indefinitely."

That's a quick change of events. As recently as Friday, Embiid was on track to be back in uniform this week.

"I was in a situation where the latest update on Friday was that he was doing well through his planned progression toward returning to play," Colangelo said. "In recent days, his training has developed a reaction with swelling and soreness, and thus we wanted to take a step back, put him on ice for a minute and make sure that we do everything possible, including getting another scan done."

Embiid initially suffered the injury against the Portland Trail Blazers on Jan. 20. The rookie sensation missed three games before coming back vs. the Houston Rockets in a national TV matchup on Jan. 27. He has missed all 13 games since facing the Rockets.

Even with Embiid’s diagnosed tear of his meniscus and recent flaring up of the knee after rehab sessions, the Sixers are being supremely cautious when it comes to any potential procedures. The team is not in a rush to put the center back under the knife after he missed the first two seasons of his career because of a pair of foot surgeries.

"With all due respect, medical injuries are injuries that require care and attention," Colangelo said. "When I take information that comes from the medical team, including doctors and the training staff and the physiotherapists, we apply it as instructed and we do that to protect the athlete. In a case of jumping into someone's knee to operate, when the circumstances are known but the conditions and how he's reacting to certain things are still unknown, I think you go through the planned progression of steps as prescribed and evaluated by doctors."

The quick decision to label Embiid out indefinitely is a sharp contrast to prior updates on the phenom. Just last week, Embiid lamented how the Sixers never announced a true timetable for his return (see story).

Now just days later, Embiid has a prognosis that could technically keep him out for the remainder of the regular season. 

Embiid has proven his worth in 31 games this season by averaging 20.2 points, 7.8 rebounds and 2.5 blocks in 25.4 minutes a night. But with only 23 games left on the schedule, will he suit up again this season?

"Out indefinitely means just that. It's indeterminate at this point," Colangelo said. "I think we're all hopeful to get him out there. It would be beneficial for the fans to see him again. It would be great for us as a unit to have him out there as we continue to strive toward winning as the season concludes.

"But at the end of the day, the health and performance of our athletes is first and foremost. We don't want to jeopardize the long-term health."

Rays 7, Phillies 2: Mackanin calls Eickhoff 'a pretty darn good pitcher'

Rays 7, Phillies 2: Mackanin calls Eickhoff 'a pretty darn good pitcher'

BOX SCORE

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Phillies right-hander Jerad Eickhoff pitched two innings, allowed a hit, a run, walked one and struck out two in his spring debut on Monday.

Afterward, manager Pete Mackanin was asked what he believed Eickhoff's ceiling was.

"He's a pretty darn good pitcher right now," Mackanin said.

Indeed, he is.

In his first full season in the majors last year, the 26-year-old right-hander led the Phillies' starting staff in ERA (3.65), starts (33) and innings pitched (197 1/3).

He delivered 20 quality starts and became just the fourth Phillie in the last 20 years to make 33 starts and record a 3.65 ERA or better, joining three pretty good pitchers named Cole Hamels, Roy Halladay and Curt Schilling. He walked just 1.92 batters per nine innings and that was fourth-best among NL starters.

"Eickhoff is the kind of guy you can count on," Mackanin said. "He throws strikes. He knows what he's doing."

Eickhoff is intent on building on last year's success in 2017. The guy has a Halladay-like work ethic. He arrived in Clearwater on Feb. 1 and got right to work. After his two innings of work on Monday, he put in a couple of hours in the weight room and on a back field running.

"I just have to continue working," he said. "I have a very high standard for myself as a lot of us in here do. We want to be the best players that we can be."

Eickhoff is working on improving his changeup this spring and his overall goal is to make every start -- as he did last season.

"That's the priority -- make every start," he said. "That's always a priority for me.

"I'd also like to incorporate the changeup a little more and use my slider and curveball and not get heavily reliant on one or the other, which happened several times last year and I think got me into trouble at times. So incorporating both for the duration of the season and just being more crisp with execution and location is my goal.

"I'm always looking to get better. I think the sky is the limit. I'm going to continue working, whether it's being Greg Maddux-esque with command or having a good breaking ball, or throwing a changeup like Maddux and guys like that did. There's always something I'm working on and trying to develop and sharpen up."

Eickhoff lines up to start the second game of the regular season behind projected opening day starter Jeremy Hellickson.

The game
The Phillies lost to the Tampa Bay Rays, 7-2. The Phils are 2-2 on the spring.

Maikel Franco had two hits, including his third homer of the spring. It was a long drive to left field on a 1-2 fastball. He also had a single to right field.

"The thing I like early in the spring from him is he's going deeper into counts," Mackanin said. "I think he's working toward a good year this year."

Stassi impresses
Non-roster player Brock Stassi, a candidate to win a job as a reserve first baseman and outfielder (see story), did not play in the game. He, however, has a single, double and homer in the first three games.

Mackanin gushed about Stassi’s defense when asked about it Monday.

"He's one of the best first basemen I've seen in a real long time," Mackanin said. "He has no need to improve on his defense and I like the way he swings the bat. He's a real solid baseball player so he's a guy I really want to get a good look at."

Pitching matters
Starting pitchers Jake Thompson and Zach Eflin are both projected to pitch at Triple A. Both have been slowed early in camp because of health reasons, but are progressing well. Thompson has a sore right wrist and Eflin is recovering from a pair of surgeries to address tendinitis in both knees.

Both pitchers will continue to throw in the bullpen this week and ramp up to live batting practice next week. There is plenty of time for both pitchers to get their arms ready to open the season. However, the Phillies may decide to take a cautious approach with Eflin and let him build some more strength in his knees before they turn him loose. He could stay in Florida for a couple of extra weeks before joining the Triple A club.

Up next
The Phillies host the Baltimore Orioles on Tuesday. Clay Buchholz will make his first start of the spring. Here is the Phillies' posted starting lineup for the game:

1. Freddy Galvis, SS
2. Howie Kendrick, LF
3. Odubel Herrera, CF
4. Maikel Franco, 3B
5. Michael Saunders, DH
6. Tommy Joseph, 1B
7. Chris Coghlan, RF
8. Cameron Rupp, C
9. Scott Kingery, 2B