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.

Doug Pederson not afraid to get agressive with play-calling

Doug Pederson not afraid to get agressive with play-calling

Talk to Doug Pederson and he comes across … what’s a nice way to put it … dry?

Very nice guy. Very friendly. Very down to Earth. But not the most dynamic personality in public.

Which is why his personality on gameday has been so surprising.

Pederson is a risk taker as a playcaller. Aggressive and fearless.

Whether it’s going for it on fourth down with the lead, going for two after a successful PAT or throwing deep in a situation that doesn’t necessarily call for it, Pederson has proven to be the proverbial riverboat gambler that Chip Kelly was expected to be but never became.

“My personality is probably a little more conservative by nature, I think,” Pederson said Monday. “You'd probably agree with that.”

Pederson got a laugh with that comment because his public persona is exactly the opposite of his gameday demeanor.

It only took one day before we all got a taste of Pederson’s fearlessness.

In the season opener against the Browns, with the Eagles clinging to a 15-10 lead and a rookie quarterback making his first NFL appearance and a 4th-and-4 at the Browns’ 40--yard-line, he kept the offense on the field.

Carson Wentz responded by connecting with Zach Ertz on a five-yard gain to move the chains, and one play later, the Eagles took command on Wentz’s 35-yard TD pass to Nelson Agholor.

Six weeks in, the Eagles are 5 for 5 on fourth down. Only the Falcons have converted more fourth downs in the NFL this year, and they’re 6 for 10.

In the win over the Bears, the Eagles were 3 for 3 on fourth down, their best fourth-down conversion day in nine years.

This is the first time in 14 years the Eagles have converted five or more fourth downs through six games.

According to Pro Football Reference, the Eagles are one of only seven teams in NFL history to attempt five or more fourth down plays through six games and still be at 100 percent. The Lions are also 5 for 5 this year.

Pederson said analytics are a big part of his decision-making process, but he also trusts his instincts.

“I think it's both,” Pederson said. “But I trust our guys and I trust our offensive line and I think it sends a great message to the rest of the team, to the defense and special teams, that, ‘Hey, if we can convert this and stay on the field,’ it sends a good message.

“And on the other side of that, if you do convert, (it’s about) the message you send to the other team and the fact that you're going to stay aggressive.”

The Eagles are 29th-best in the NFL on third down at just 34 percent. But they’re one of only three teams that’s at 100 percent on fourth down.

“It's kind of a crazy deal when you're not great on third down, but you can be 5 for 5 on fourth down and convert them,” Pederson said. “It's a weird deal. But credit to the guys for the execution.

“I'm going to continue to look at it. I don't ever want to be in a position that I'm going to jeopardize the team at the time (by being too aggressive). Looking at the five fourth-down decisions this year, I don’t think they put us in any harm at that time.”

Wentz is 3 for 3 for 21 yards on fourth down, with the four-yard completion to Ertz, a seven-yard first down to Jordan Matthews in the Bears game and a nine-yard to Dorial Green-Beckham, also in the win in Chicago.

He also rushed six yards for a first down on a 4th-and-2 Sunday in the win over the Vikings. The Eagles’ other fourth-down conversion this year was Ryan Mathews’ one-yard TD on a 4th-and-goal against Chicago.

Pederson said as an assistant coach under Andy Reid, he always found himself asking himself whether he would be conservative or aggressive in crucial situations.

We’re all learning the answer now.

“Yeah, you definitely put yourself in those situations, as a coordinator and a position coach,” he said. “Putting yourself in those spots, it's a lot easier when you're not making the decision obviously to go, ‘Oh, yeah, I would have not gone for it there or not gone for it there.’

“Now, being in this position, it's my tail on the line if we don't convert.”

6 months later, Cubs' Kyle Schwarber returns for World Series Game 1

6 months later, Cubs' Kyle Schwarber returns for World Series Game 1

CLEVELAND — Chicago Cubs slugger Kyle Schwarber's rehab finished just in time for the World Series.

Schwarber will bat fifth and be the designated hitter for the National League champions in Game 1 on Tuesday night against Cleveland's Corey Kluber. Schwarber hasn't played in the majors since tearing ligaments in his left knee on April 7 in a collision with teammate Dexter Fowler.

Dallas Cowboys orthopedic surgeon Dr. Daniel Cooper operated 12 days later to repair torn anterior cruciate and lateral collateral ligaments. He was expected to miss the rest of the season but was cleared to return on Oct. 17.

Schwarber played a pair of games in the Arizona Fall League, going 1 for 6 with a double and two walks, and flew to Cleveland on Monday.