Friday, June 15, 2012

Smitty's Mailbag

There has been a fair amount of controversy surrounding Jurgen Klinsmann's speech following the Brazil match. Personally I think his comments were taken completely out of context by his detractors and used to blast him unfairly. What's your take on that situation? - Cory L., Raceland, LA

For those of you who missed it, this is the quote that Cory is talking about:

We need to get an edge, be more nastier. Maybe we’re a little bit still too naive. Maybe we don’t want to hurt people. But that’s what we’ve got to do. You’ve got to do that at the end of the day. So we’ve got to step on their toes more and get them more frustrated and make a case with the referee maybe as well."
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The only issue I have with Klinsmann's statement is the line where he says we have to want to hurt people. Much like I wrote about in my Mailbag a couple weeks ago when 'Bountygate' was still all the rage, there's absolutely no room in any sport for that. Except, you know, boxing, etc. Short of that, and if you assume he didn't mean that in the literal sense, I think he's absolutely right. Too often the U.S. gets pushed around by other teams and we are never the side that dictates the tempo of the match. Nobody plays the U.S. and is intimidated by us, and that's what needs to change in Klinsmann's eyes. It doesn't have to be physically hurting people, but it does involve taking other teams out of their comfort zones. You don't want your opponents comfortable when they receive the ball, you want them to know every 50/50 ball is going to be contested, and you literally want them to feel you on them everywhere they go on the pitch. Playing physically doesn't mean you're playing to hurt someone. But it also means that you can't be worried about hurting someone or shy away from making plays because of what might happen. Jermaine 'Reckless' Jones is the epitome of this. He brings the workmanlike attitude that has been the staple of American soccer over the years, but he adds a hint of physicality and unbridled aggressiveness. Now granted, Jones takes this to the extreme, and he's a little too reckless for my taste, but he's one of the few players on the U.S. squad that really plays with an edge and that's why he's been a regular during the Klinsmann era.
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The idea of playing with an edge or a nasty side isn't unique to soccer. In baseball it means not being afraid to pitch hitters inside. In basketball, think Kevin Garnett and the Boston Celtics. Since Garnett's arrival in Boston back in 2007, the Celtics began playing with a new intensity on defense. They made sure you wouldn't get an uncontested lay-up, and after the whistle they'd make sure no practice shots went in the basket by jumping up and goaltending them. In hockey you have 'Enforcers' whose roll is literally to intimidate other teams stars while protecting their own. All of these scenarios involve making the opponents uncomfortable and getting in their heads.
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In soccer, people are somewhat reluctant to admit that there's a darker side to 'the Beautiful Game', but if you watch any of the world's top teams (Germany, Netherlands, Brazil, and even Spain) they dictate the way the match is played, and they aren't afraid to push their opponents around a little bit. If the U.S. is going to become one of the world's elite teams, Klinsmann is right. They'll need to be a little bit more nasty.

That does it for this week. As always a special thanks to everyone who wrote in. And remember, as the great G$ Meyer says Reading is for Winners, especially when you read Smitty's Mailbag.

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