Monday, September 5, 2011

Sizing up Klinsmann's No. 2 man

Grant Wahl of Sports Illustrated comments on U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann naming Martín Vásquez as his No. 2, as well as his strengths and weaknesses-

Let me start off by saying it's rare to hear so much talk about an assistant coach for the U.S. national team. Quick, can you name the No. 2s for Bob Bradley, Bruce Arena, Steve Sampson and Bora Milutinovic? (The answers are, respectively, Mike Sorber, Mooch Myernick/Dave Sarachan, Clive Charles and Timo Liekoski). If you're looking at it from this perspective, Klinsmann's announcement this week that Vásquez will be his full-time top assistant doesn't seem out of the ordinary. The 47-year-old Vásquez, whose claim to fame used to be that he was the first person to play for both the U.S. and Mexican national teams, has a resume that's similar to previous No. 2s. He has worked as an assistant in MLS to Bradley, Preki and Sampson. He was a head coach for one season (2010) at Chivas USA, and he also was Klinsmann's top aide for just short of one season at Bayern Munich.

Yet Vásquez's hiring (which hasn't yet been sealed with a contract) becomes a bigger deal if you subscribe to the arguments of respected German writers who've followed Klinsmann's previous head coaching experiences for the German national team and Bayern.'s Raphael Honigstein broke down Klinsmann's pros and cons in a recent column, arguing that Klinsmann's choice of a No. 2 was far more important than it is for most coaches since Klinsmann was "a good manager, not a coach" -- in other words, a superb motivator and public face who delegated major tasks to his assistants. German journos would say an important part of Germany's run to the 2006 World Cup semis was the tactical acumen of Jogi Löw, who was Klinsmann's No. 2 (and who led Germany to the semis in '10). At Bayern, Honigstein argues, top lieutenant Vásquez "made little to no impression on the Bayern players." On Twitter, Honigstein called Vásquez's hiring "very bad news" for U.S. fans.

I have a lot of respect for my colleague (who's a dynamite Twitter follow here), but I'm also keeping an open mind on Vásquez with the U.S. team. Yes, Vásquez lasted only 10 months with Klinsmann at Bayern, but the team was just three points out of first place when they were fired, and the Bayern experience didn't keep U.S. soccer from hiring Klinsmann. Yes, Vásquez's one season as a head coach at Chivas USA was a losing one (8-18-4), but he would have stayed on had he not objected to what he saw as meddling by the team's owners. Vásquez was also a lieutenant at Chivas to two MLS Coach of the Year winners (Bradley and Preki), so his overall record as an assistant is pretty good.

Vásquez won't have the respect issues with the U.S. players that he had at Bayern, and he also could be a vital link to Mexican-American players who might be choosing which national team to represent. Klinsmann has said that he wants the U.S. national team to reflect the Latino population, and Vásquez will be an important part of that strategy. Klinsmann also told me last month that Vásquez has useful attributes on a day-to-day basis with the team. "Martín is a very strong implementer, a very strong communicator on the training field," Klinsmann said. "He has tremendous qualities there." Vásquez was so clearly Klinsmann's sounding board during the U.S.-Mexico friendly that it's no surprise the head coach has decided to make Vásquez his permanent No. 2.

Still, it's fair to say that there are skeptics about this appointment, and they will only be swayed by how the Klinsmann regime performs moving forward.

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