In these exclusive soccerly.com interviews with soccer analyst Alan Hinton, Seattle Sounders FC’s Clint Dempsey and Marcus Hahnemann, the trio responded to USMNT head coach and technical director Jurgen Klinsmann's comments about his players' accountability and the best place to ply their trade.
Klinsmann made an appearance at the South by Southwest (SXSW) event in Austin, Texas over a week ago. He called out U.S. players to not settle for “average” and to be held accountable by fans for their efforts.
“You talk to people overseas and they say American players are just average, nothing special,” Klinsmann said. “You want to go for a team that’s top 4-5 in the Premier League, the Bundesliga. Don’t be on the bench, play all the time. I think we just gotta keep them hungry.”
Hinton provided the sharpest rebuttal. His pedigree includes playing stints in England with Wolverhampton and Derby County as well as player and coach in the NASL and other North American leagues.
"I think it's true in many ways," Hinton said of today's players settling for the status quo. He elaborated by saying, "Going overseas, like Klinsmann wants them to, I think is wrong."
Hinton considers that Major League Soccer should be the location for current and future USMNT representatives.
He concluded that the U.S. head coach may want to have a longer term vision, for his own benefit.
“Klinsmann needs to encourage players to come back to America to play in the league (MLS) that he might need a job in one day,” Hinton said.
Dempsey returned to MLS with Seattle last year after seven years with Fulham and Tottenham. He noted that accountability rested with each player’s individual desire to succeed and the consequences of failure.
"If you're not playing well, you're not going to be picked for the national team," Dempsey said. "If you're not playing well, you're not going to be selected for your club team. So, I think you have to be as a player be accountable of yourself. That's what helps you to be better."
Hahnemann is the backup goalkeeper for the Seattle Sounders FC and played for Wolverhampton in the EPL. He knows the pressure of relegation in Europe. Hahnemann thought that if MLS adopted relegation, players on teams out of the playoffs would need little motivation to strive for improvement.
"I tell you what," Hahnemann said, "our owners (in Seattle or other teams in the relegation zone) are going to be making sure and our fans are going to be making sure that we're not on cruise control."
Here is the video to view and hear what Hinton, Dempsey and Hahnemann said:
Tim Howard has been Team USA's first choice keeper since after the 2007 Gold Cup, where he alternated starts with legendary American keeper Kasey Keller. Howard had previously traveled to the 2006 World Cup in Germany as Keller's replacement but failed to make an appearance throughout the three matches played.
The Everton keeper has since then become the undisputed starting goalkeeper for the Yanks, with Aston Villa's Brad Guzan being the only one to even come close at dethroning Howard. Guzan was a surprise pick by Chivas USA in the 2005 MLS SuperDraft and quickly became a star, making a deserved move to the Premier League in 2008.
Guzan arrived to Aston Villa as the backup for another legendary American keeper with the same first name, Brad Friedel. Since Friedel's departure from Villa and arrival at Tottenham Hotspur, 29-year-old Guzan cemented himself as the number one choice between the sticks at the Premier League club, although spent a little time as understudy to Shay Given before establishing himself fully.
Howard and Guzan will undoubtedly be Klinsmann's first choices for goalie at the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil; but who will take the reins as the third-choice keeper? With a handful of goalkeepers at Klinsy's disposal, the German tactician will surely have trouble making up his mind on whether to use Troy Perkins, Marcus Hahnemann, Sean Johnson, Nick Rimando, or even Luis Robles, as the third-string goalie.
Real Salt Lake's Rimando is by far the best choice for Klinsy, with the 34-year old leading the Stars and Stripes to a 2013 CONCACAF Gold Cup championship. Rimando has been capped 12 times and was used in every match during the Gold Cup that ended in a championship match victory over Panama.
During said Gold Cup, Johnson of the Chicago Fire was the second-string goalkeeper and had his first senior squad start with a clean slate against Costa Rica during the tournament. Johnson originally had his first senior cap as a substitute in a friendly against Chile in 2011.
Robles, at 29-years-old, is four years older than Johnson but has reached his full potential at a much later stage of his career. His only cap for the senior team was in the 2009 Gold Cup during a 2-2 draw against Haiti but his current run of form with the New York Red Bulls could very well see him get another chance at the national team's goalie position.
Since the third-choice keeper is rarely ever used, especially not in a World Cup, experience in the locker room might be what the US need instead of a young and undeveloped goalie like Johnson or Robles. With two World Cups as a third-choice keeper under his belt already (2006 & 2010), 41-year-old Hahnemann of the Seattle Sounders might be exactly what Klinsmann is looking for in a third-string keeper.
Perkins (32) from the Montreal Impact is another goalie that recently had an excellent MLS season and with seven USMNT caps already, Klinsmann shouldn't overlook this rising talent. However, with Rimando making an MLS Cup final appearance alongside his Real Salt Lake teammates, it seems as if the 2013 domestic league runner-up will win the USMNT's third-choice keeper "Russian Roulette".