Where is Tab Ramos when you need him?
To paraphrase Rick Pitino, Tab Ramos is not walking through that door.
The former Celtics, current Louisville basketball coach had a famous meltdown in March 2000. In the face of a relentless Boston media that was just coming to grips with the fallibility of the Pitino-era, the man who won so many supporters during his days at Providence decided to give the press a cold dose of reality.
“Larry Bird is not walking through that door,” Pitino bemoaned after a buzzer-beating loss to Vince Carter’s Toronto. “Kevin McHale is not walking through that door. Robert Parish is not walking through that door, and if you expect them to walk through the door, they're going to be gray and old.”
Committed to being positive, Jurgen Klinsmann is unlikely to go on a similar rant, though he could just as easily give a wake-up call to an increasing number of fans who are pining for more creativity in midfield.
Tab Ramos challenges Zinho during the USA's clash with Brazil at the 1994 World Cup finals. (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
Tab Ramos is not walking through that door. Claudio Reyna’s not walking through that door. Hugo Perez, Earnie Stewart and John O’Brien are not walking through that door, and if they did, they would be gray and old.
Not that anybody following the US men’s national team is calling for those icons. It’s been so long since the United States has had that type of skill through the middle, most fans don’t remember when midfield selections were deep enough to push Stewart into a forward role.
Instead, fans are left to look at the current crop and wonder: Who can be the midfield general this team so desperately needs?
It’s a strange question, given the talent at Klinsmann’s disposal. Nobody in the player pool comes close to being the type of central, creative player that could start for a team of the US's aspirations, given a system that needed one.
Asking Klinsmann to up and find a player like that is a bit like going to a temp agency and requesting an electrician. While the people at Local Employment Service are good workers capable of meeting many needs, none have the type of specialized skills needed to install your circuit breaker.
There are no electricians among Klinsmann's choices.
Bob Bradley seemed to know this, as evidenced by his most common set-up: two forwards; four midfielders, two of whom sat deep. In that scheme, Michael Bradley developed a great knack for reading the game and knowing when to get forward even though his base position was deep, next to a Ricardo Clark or Maurice Edu.
Even at the end of the Bob Bradley era, when the coach entertained changing from his tried-and-true 4-4-2, he almost always used two anchors, playing a style that neither relied on nor especially aspired to possession. In hindsight, Bradley seemed almost cynically pragmatic about the tools at his disposal.
After six matches, nobody is accusing Klinsmann of being pragmatic (and certinaly not cynical). Brought into office on a platform of hope and change, Klinsmann was never going to mimic Bradley’s set-up, no matter the logic behind it. With no playmaking options on the horizon, perhaps Klinsmann will revert to that shape in time.
For now, the new boss is still on a fact-finding mission, carrying the same wide-eyed optimism that our other hope and change leader once held.
Klinsmann is still in his honeymoon period – seven months from when the results really matter – but early results are engendering the first, microscopic hints of an Obama-esque disillusionment.
Fans see Kyle Beckerman starting and can’t imagine where this is going. Beckerman’s a great Major League Soccer player, but if he's the answer at international level, what's the question? To the same end, the selections of Michael Orozco Fiscal and Robbie Rogers, the lack of playing time for Michael Bradley, and the continued exclusion of Omar Gonzalez have begun to smell like overcorrection.
When Maurice Edu failed to make an impact in the first half against France, the absence of Bradley was more striking than ever.
Klinsmann deserves more patience than that, but with a team that's scored twice in six matches, he may not get it.
While he has seemingly solved the defensive problems that plagued the United States earlier this year, Klinsmann was billed as the man who would change the US’s approach going forward – a man who would employ a style that relied less on opportunism and more on building play.
Nobody is talking about the US having allowed five goals in six matches (never giving up more than one). People are, however, talking about the easy day France goalkeeper Hugo Lloris had on Friday.
Slowly, fans and media are going to start mimicking the reporters that hounded Pitino. For all the talk about aesthetic improvements – playing the game “the right way” - people will slowly start focusing on the product. Where are the wins? Where are the goals? And if neither of those are coming, at least show us where the promise is, they’ll ask.
Where is the proof this revolution is leading to something tangible? Because right now, the team can’t consistently threaten goal, and it can’t seem to identify enough players who fit the coach's approach.
Hopefully, those questions can wait until June, when the games will start to count. Then, if the team fails to show the promised style, fluidity, purpose and results, we'll need to start considering whether Klinsmann will be to the US as Sven-Goran Eriksson was to Mexico.
But with the first hints of discontent starting to fester, June seems a long way off. Klinsmann is going to be asked why the much-heralded revolution has sputtered out of the gates, and while he’s been Obama-grade cool so far, he may eventually be tempted into his own Pitino moment.
No, Tab Ramos is not walking through that door, he’ll have to remind everybody. And if you’re serious about the US changing how it plays, you’re going to have to deal with it.