By Charles Boehm – WASHINGTON, DC (Apr 7, 2016) US Soccer Players - With disaster averted in last week's World Cup qualifying home win over Guatemala, the USMNT has returned to club duty until preparations for Copa America begin in late May.
The USMNT news cycle, however, has effectively reached 24/7 status, or something close to it, with millions of fans thirsty for content to consume. So the next few weeks of coverage will be marked by running evaluations of the fitness and club form of next month's most likely call-ups, and speculation about who's on Jurgen Klinsmann's mind and in his plans.
How do we know? Because he told us so.
Dispensing with the media conference calls of past USMNT regimes (and occasionally, the current USWNT technical staff), US Soccer has made a custom of interviewing Klinsmann with their own list of questions and topics, then distributing the video clips to their media list via email.
Other than attributing the video to USSF's in-house production company, outlets are free to use it. Writers and analysts can digest the substantial bank of quotes from the head coach as they formulate their columns and news articles. The clips normally end up on the federation's website for fans to consume directly.
This week's edition of Klinsmann soundbites revolved around the recent performances of leading US soccer players:
- Fabian Johnson's return from injury: “It was great to see him being back in his club side … he had a very good game against Hertha Berlin”
- John Brooks' injury status: “He was still not 100 percent … hopefully we see him back next weekend”
- Timmy Chandler has “a shot, maybe, at Copa America” thanks to his improved club form, while “we're still waiting for” Alfredo Morales
- Mexico-based players: “We've got to be patient” with those not getting regular playing time, though William Yarbrough “is doing really well at Club Leon”
- Clint Dempsey's strong displays for Seattle: “You want your players to stand out, to make their mark”
- Jordan Morris' rocky start at the professional level: “It's important that we are patient … over time he will settle”
- Brek Shea's “up and downs” for Orlando vs Portland, as he scored “a beautiful goal” but also earned a yellow card for a brutal tackle that subsequently drew a one-game suspension
- His England-based contingent: “It's great to see Geoff Cameron starting for Stoke,” DeAndre Yedlin is “trying everything to keep Sunderland up” while Brad Guzan and relegation-bound Aston Villa are in “a very, very tough situation right now,” and Matt Miazga's “huge milestone” in making his debut for “such a prestigious club as Chelsea” after Olympic playoff disappointment
- His revelation that U-23 players like Miazga, Ethan Horvath, Kellyn Acosta, and Morris are “legitimate” candidates for his Copa America squad because of the failure to qualify for the Olympics
Like so many aspects of the federation's current modus operandi, the wisdom of this approach is in the eye of the beholder. As you can see, Klinsmann is sharing timely information here. If we assume he's speaking sincerely, the coach is dropping potentially significant hints about his future selections. It's hard to beat the convenience this format offers for time-pressed, overworked journalists. And it's certainly much better than nothing.
This system also suits Klinsmann personally. He speaks often of the importance of educating US fans, but isn't the type to slog through lengthy, inconvenient media availabilities – and that's understandable, given some of the dreary and/or bewilderingly useless questions that have at times been posed to him in press conferences. He does also post regularly from his personal Twitter account, and takes time to connect with fans via Facebook Q&As with the help of the federation's communications staff, both admirably progressive entries into social media.
But something is missing in this formula. Even if the questions raised in Klinsmann's distributed clips largely overlap with what reporters would ask him, the format removes any trace of surprise or spontaneity.
The topics – and depth of their treatment – are pre-selected. Klinsmann is able to rehearse his answers if he so desires and the federation maintains full control of the proceedings at all times. No one intrudes with less-savory subjects. Nobody gets to ask about FIFA and CONCACAF corruption, or how the technical staff’s accountability for the program's second consecutive failure to qualify for the Olympics. Though fuller access occasionally happens via roundtables or conference calls, usually only a tight group of veteran journalists representing a small number of media outlets receive an invite.
Control: It's been a recurring theme around the USSF lately. Consider the Women's National Team's increasingly bitter struggle for a collective-bargaining breakthrough. Or, the fed's ongoing power play in the youth realm, where they have asserted their organizational and financial muscle with a my-way-or-the-highway approach to player development in recent years.
On the latter front, frustrations have elevated to the point that in February a broad-based group of leading youth organizations took the unusual step of publicly calling USSF to task for its failure to connect, collaborate or even notify them in advance on several hugely important policy decisions. They requested a “formal, institutionalized communications process to ensure that an ongoing dialogue is established.”
Control has been a priority for most of Klinsmann's tenure, especially in the wake of the 2013 Sporting News article that highlighted the confusion and discontent behind the scenes during 2014 World Cup qualifying. Like most top-level coaches, he holds strong convictions and does not hesitate to take an active role in his players' lives, whether it's during USMNT camps or beyond. He's committed to his methods and conclusions, and expects those around him to follow suit.
That's all quite understandable. Still, in rocky times like the present, the overall impression is of Klinsmann as a carefully guarded celebrity coach, not the change agent and beacon of reform. Remember what Klinsmann represented when he took the job.
In the 1960s, political scientist Bernard Cohen helped build the theory of agenda-setting, noting that the media “may not be successful much of the time in telling people what to think, but it is stunningly successful in telling its readers what to think about.”
His words prophesied the influence and ubiquity of modern journalism, and provide us with a fitting reminder at this juncture in Klinsmann's tenure: The USMNT's coach doesn't expect everyone to agree with him, but he's not interested in having a discussion on anyone else's terms, either.
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