For 962 days, Martin Vasquez worked alongside Jurgen Klinsmann in preparing the United States national team to qualify for and compete in Brazil. Seventy-eight days before the US kicks off against Ghana in Brazil, Martin Vasquez is “transitioned” to other responsibilities, to use the press-release jargon. While reassignments of coaching staff are less interesting than tactical or personnel decisions, the level of scrutiny by US fans and the fact that Jurgen Klinsmann has some well-known coaching weaknesses means that these changes are often far more interesting than they first appear. This one in particular suggests an uneasiness behind the scenes that the easy-going German has kept under wraps.
Martin Vasquez was a serviceable defensive midfielder before retiring and joining up with Klinsmann’s coaching staff at Bayern Munich and then with the national team. As a coach the camp scuttlebutt around him wasn’t always positive. Some players called his tactical directions vague, and others failed to give Vasquez the respect someone in his position should command. However, he was there for the Gold Cup triumph, Klinsmann’s first managerial trophy, and the US’ first ever win in the Azteca Stadium. So knock him if you want, but he was part of some historic moments for the national team program.
Vasquez’s departure then is interesting mostly for the people who replaced him. His departure was secreted away in a press release where US Soccer announced that Berti Vogts and Tab Ramos would be joining the technical staff to help Klinsmann prepare for the matches against Germany, Portugal, and Ghana. Vogts, currently manager of Azerbaijan, is being brought in as an advisor, while Tab Ramos is promoted from the Under-20 national team to the senior squad staff.
For Berti Vogts, this might be the first time that US soccer fans have thought of him since he led one of the worst German teams of recent memory to a quarterfinal defeat against Croatia. Vogts then crashed and burned with Scotland before ending up in his current Eurasian gig, and some German journalists thought the job with the US was some sort of early April Fools’ joke. Vogts doesn’t seem to be particularly relevant to the game as it is played at the top top levels (read: Champions League) that Klinsmann wants the US to aspire to, but he does have first-hand experience against Germany and Portugal. Does Vogts possess some insight into beating those teams that the US staff could not have gleaned from watching video of the two teams? It seems unlikely but possible. It therefore seems possible that Vogts’ real appeal as a special consultant is that he has no relationships or ties to anyone within in the US camp aside from Klinsmann.
Tab Ramos’ only competitive coaching has been with the United States U-20 national team, which finished second in its qualifying tournament, and bombed out of the 2013 U-20 World Cup with just a draw from three games. To be fair, the US group did contain eventual winners France and third-place finishers Ghana. Ramos isn’t some sort of miracle worker that has been parachuted in. He’s a World Cup veteran and a fledgling coach with far too few games to demonstrate concrete abilities. Is that really enough to dump Vasquez for, 78 days before the World Cup? I know I probably overvalue chemistry, especially for underdog teams like the United States. It’s unclear whether Ramos is a huge upgrade from a coaching or communication sense, but Ramos does offer something that Vasquez couldn’t: a strong working relationship with the next generation of US youngsters making an impact in MLS.
Vogts’ lack of a relationship with the current squad and Ramos’ long-term relationship with the next generation should be concerning due to the fact that Klinsmann’s goals have shifted. World Cup 2014 is no longer the culmination of his cycle. Since Klinsmann signed his contract extension, that end point has moved to Russia 2018, and the 2014 World Cup is simply a signpost. To a certain extent that is fine, since the United States were long shots to win it, and were going to have a tough time even getting out of their group. To me, these coaching changes suggest that Klinsmann has decided that Russia 2018 will be his legacy, and the roster for Brazil 2014 will have a much younger flavor than many people were expecting.
To this end, he has brought in an outsider who would be seen as impartial and treated with some respect, and this expert, Vogts, will be able to tell Klinsmann that Brad Evans won’t cut it as a right back against Portgual, and that instead of WCQ contributors, Klinsmann should take Luis Gil and Julian Green, despite their lack of international experience. In short, Vogts is brought in to tell Klinsmann that this group isn’t winnable, and that he should focus on having a good squad and better draw in 2018. If that is the case, he can get a jump on things by speeding up the integration of Luis Gil, Julian Green, and DeAndre Yedlin. Ramos is important then, because he has extensive experience communicating with Yedlin and Gil to ensure they are ready to contribute right away.
This swift integration could be hugely appealing to Klinsmann. The conclusion of this World Cup cycle could see Dempsey, Donovan, Jones, Howard, Beasley, Goodson, Parkhurst, Gomez, Davis, Beckerman, and Wondolowsk retiring from international play. Even with the uneven losses in quality, that is a lot of World Cup and international experience to replace in one cycle. Some of them will stick around, but that is still a daunting challenge to pile on top of playing two of the best teams in the world plus a recurring nemesis. Looking down the road, one can see why Klinsmann may want to throw the World Cup and just focus on giving an opportunity to as many youngsters as possible. Expectations going into the tournament were low already, and the excitement over a 19-year old reserve seems to indicate that a lot of US fans are already looking toward the future. What does Klinsmann have to lose?