You know the drill at this point.
Two hot takes from 2 different sports in approximately 3,000 words (this one’s a bit longer at over 3,600, and you’ll quickly see why).
Let’s get right to it, because after this crazy weekend in sports, there’s a lot to dissect…
By Collin Giuliani – Lead NFL Writer – @CollinGiuliani
The year is 2011, and the USA is playing Mexico at the Rose Bowl for the right to go to the 2013 Confederations Cup.
The USA loses, and Bob Bradley gets fired. Fast forward four years later to 2015, and the USA is playing Mexico at the Rose Bowl for the right to go to the 2017 Confederations Cup.
The USA loses, and while Jurgen Klinsmann hasn’t been fired yet, there has been scrutiny regarding his job status.
Let’s face it- the United States did not look good at all against Mexico, despite the scoreline. Why the USA decided to play bunker ball the entire time and not show any urgency with the exception of five out of 120 minutes, I’m not sure.
Why Klinsmann decided to play Jermaine Jones out wide and then not take him off when he was clearly gassed, I’m not sure. Why the USA couldn’t string together more than three passes, I’m not sure.
The bottom line is that it can be argued that the USA and Mexico are similar in quality, and that Mexico is a team that the USA can beat. While the scoreline looked close, in essence, the game was complete domination by Mexico, and four years later, it seems as though nothing has changed for the USA, especially when you add in the fact that the team may not qualify for the Olympics.
The burning question around US Soccer is a simple one on the surface, but gets a lot harder when looking at the details.
Should Jurgen Klinsmann be fired? After the loss to Mexico, while I’m not entirely on the Fire Klinsmann bandwagon yet, if the USSF made the decision to fire him, I wouldn’t be up in arms.
When examining a coaching change, there are numerous factors to consider.
Number one, is the team better? Number two, what could’ve been different? And, number three, who do you have lined up as a replacement if you make the move?
We’ll start with number one. Is US Soccer in a better place than they were under Bob Bradley? That’s debatable. They’re certainly not worse; a lot of the German-American talent that Jurgen Klinsmann has brought on have done well for the team.
Julian Green is a player that US Soccer likely would not have gotten without the help of Klinsmann (and while he needs to go somewhere where he can get consistent playing time, he does have potential, as shown by the goal against Belgium in the 2014 World Cup).
Others, such as Fabian Johnson and John Anthony Brooks, have made contributions and regular appearances for the USA.
Klinsmann has done wonders in recruitment, so the team is definitely not worse off, especially if these younger players like Green and Gedion Zelalem can develop.
But is the team better? Not entirely.
A Redditor by the name of /u/NOTORIOUSD did a very good comparison of Jurgen Klinsmann and Bob Bradley (and Bruce Arena, but we’re only going to focus on Bradley).
Keep in mind that after the USA lost the Gold Cup Final to Mexico in 2011, I wanted Bob Bradley gone. Turns out, not much has changed. Klinsmann’s winning percentage is a hair better than Bradley’s, but in games against CONCACAF opposition, Bradley has a significantly higher winning percentage.
From a statistical perspective, the USA isn’t worse, per se, but to say that they’re better than they were four years ago when Klinsmann first took over is somewhat of a stretch.
What could’ve been different? There are a lot of questionable decisions that Jurgen Klinsmann has made as manager of the USMNT, starting with the most obvious one- not taking Landon Donovan to the 2014 World Cup. It was clear after Jozy Altidore went down that there was no help at forward; Donovan could’ve made at least somewhat of a difference over a guy like Brad Davis, who is the same age (it’s not as though Donovan got snubbed for a 19-year old who could be the future of the program).
Aside from that, though, there have been some moves that Klinsmann has been criticized for, and rightfully so. There’s the experimentation with a different back line every game.
Mexico scored three goals on Saturday from getting behind the defence; with a more experienced back line that had chemistry and not one that’s been different every single time there’s a friendly, Mexico would’ve had less goals.
There’s the decisions not to play youth guys or players that were hot in MLS at the time, and to consistently play Jozy Altidore even though he seems like a liability up front.
And then, there’s the decision to play the same style of soccer that Bob Bradley did with the counter-attack, even when there’s no need to.
Against teams such as Germany and Spain, sure… but against Mexico, did they really need to go into a 6-2-2? Not so sure about that.
There have been some great decisions that Klinsmann has made. The questionable decision to take Julian Green to the World Cup worked out. Taking John Anthony Brooks to the World Cup worked out when he scored the goal against Ghana.
Trying out DeAndre Yedlin at midfield was good; he set up the second goal, and using him as an impact sub come the 65th minute of the game might be the equivalent of giving the ball to Carlin Isles in 7s and letting him just run wild (every time Yedlin touched the ball, he was either fouled or created something/moved the ball forward).
Again, not all of Klinsmann’s decisions have been bad, but there have been quite a few leaving much to be desired.
If you fire Klinsmann, who comes in? That’s the trickiest question of them all, because there aren’t great managers just lined up out there (although Brendan Rodgers is looking for employment…).
You could always try and bring Bruce Arena back, but hiring a retread/getting a guy that was already head coach for your program rarely works out.
The name that would likely be linked is Jason Kreis, the current manager at New York City FC who did wonders for Real Salt Lake, building up the smallest market in MLS into a Western Conference powerhouse.
He wouldn’t necessarily be a bad hire, but options are thin when looking at it initially. It’s not like when Bob Bradley was fired and Jurgen Klinsmann was linked to the job from the get-go.
This time, it’s a bit different, and not as clear cut, black and white that it was four years ago.
What would I do? The USA is in a World Cup qualification group with Trinidad and Tobago, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, and Guatemala.
It’s about the easiest group you could possibly draw. All the USA has to do is finish top two in the group to advance to the hexagonal, which won’t be a problem whatsoever.
I’m not looking at wins and losses for this one, because quite frankly, the USA should walk away with a win in every single game at home, and a sweep of St. Vincent and the Grenadines (although you never know with the way these fields in the Caribbean play; they’re not well conditioned, to say the least, and the USA has had a history of struggling on the road to such teams).
I’m looking at the quality of play. Are we being creative, or are we playing bunker-ball against teams ranked in the 100s? Are we creating chances, or are we looking outmatched and weak in the back like we normally do?
How does the USA look? If they look flat, or don’t finish in first place, then Klinsmann must go.
Right now, his seat is warming up. He’s not going to get fired just yet, but he’s on thin ice. It may be different in other soccer nations, but the USA is an entirely different culture.
Play the way that you’ve been playing for the past few months against teams like St. Vincent and the Grenadines, though, and you leave Sunil Gulati with no other options.
There’s something special about prime-time football. I don’t care what day of the week it is- prime-time football is incredible, and the presentation of the game on different networks adds to the marvel of it.
Prior to 2012, there were no such thing as Thursday Night Football games for the entire season (only in the mid-2000s did you start seeing football on Thursdays on days other than Thanksgiving, and that came at the end of the season), and while some have criticized the move for player safety and saturation issues (and for forcing people to check their fantasy line-ups three days earlier than normal… but that’s an entirely separate issue), I love it.
It makes the week go by so much faster, it gives more teams an opportunity to be shown in prime-time, and the ratings have been great.
A game between the Houston Texans (arguably the worst team in football) and the Indianapolis Colts (led by a 40-year old quarterback named Matt Hasselbeck) got more than 15 million viewers this week.
For comparison, six of the seven games of the 2014 World Series got less than that (baseball isn’t king any more, and it hasn’t been for quite some time). That rating of 15 million viewers was on a bad night, as the ratings are millions higher for marquee matchups between good teams.
Then, you’ve got Sunday Night Football on NBC. How can you not love the presentation that NBC does?
You’ve got the incredible remake of “I Hate Myself For Loving You” sung by Carrie Underwood, you’ve got commercials that are actually high quality (such as the Toyota commercials at halftime) and not annoying (like the DISH commercial where “This Is How We Do It” plays in the background and as the girl is trying to explain the product, you can’t hear a thing because the music is so much louder than the voice), and you’ve got Al Michaels and Cris Collinsworth, which is the best announcing duo out there.
There’s something about watching the 1:00 and 4:00 games, then watching Football Night in America to capture every highlight that you missed, and then watching a common game where everyone at the sports bar/everyone on Twitter is watching and reacting to the same exact thing that you are.
For the English readers, imagine Match of the Day if it was live (side note- I’m going to do a future 2 for 3K on how bad you guys have it with regards to Premier League television when compared to the USA, and why the policy of blacking out the 3:00pm games has to go).
And, on Monday night, you’ve got Monday Night Football on ESPN.
Between Jon Gruden’s tidbits, C’Mon Man during pregame (showing the bloopers of the week; at times, though, I wish they would bring back Jacked Up, which highlighted the best hits of the week… but the NFL told ESPN to stop showing that due to player safety reasons), the theme music (and before he said some stupid things, the Hank Williams theme song that may have been the best football song ever created) and the play-by-play by Mike Tirico, MNF does an incredible job with presenting the game.
It wasn’t always like this- prior to the 70s, the idea of playing football on a day other than Sunday was absurd, and a few years ago, Tony Kornheiser was the color commentator in a 3-man booth (it was as bad as it sounds now; as much as I love Pardon the Interruption, color commentating isn’t made for everyone).
Basically, prime-time football is awesome.
As a Jags fan, I haven’t had too many opportunities to watch my team in prime-time. I’ve never heard Carrie Underwood sing the name of the Jaguars, I’m always accustomed to watching the 1:00 games (I’ve never had to wait all day for Sunday night), and seeing the Jaguars play a night game is the exception, not the norm.
Why do I bring all of this up about prime-time football? Because there’s one problem with it that’s become really apparent this year. It’s not the quality of play, it’s not the saturation of the sport, and it’s not anything regarding the presentation.
The same teams are playing all the time.
This may mean nothing to you, because again, this is a predominantly European website. I’m one of the few guys that writes about the NFL on here, so I’m going to provide some perspective.
Imagine that you’re a fan of a team in the Football League Championship (so you’re not a glory hunter).
Sky Sports only shows one Championship game a week. Imagine that you’re a fan of Birmingham City or Sheffield Wednesday– not a big team, but a team that’s doing pretty well in the league thus far. Imagine that you were never shown on national television because every other week, regardless of how good they were doing, QPR was the game of the week.
Or imagine that even though they barely avoided relegation last year, that the first three Games of the Week for the Championship involved Fulham (I am a Fulham fan, and became one after Khan bought the team because of my love for the Jaguars that I regret every Sunday, so I know this far too well). Would that seem wrong?
Would that get boring real fast if only the London teams, no matter how good or bad they were, consistently got the nationally televised games?
That’s sort of the way it is in America with the NFL.
It’s a bit different in the NFL, because while you can only see one Championship game a week on TV, you can see three different prime-time games and three different Sunday afternoon games a week in the NFL, and you can buy the Sunday Ticket to watch your team or any game out there. Still, with three primetime games a week, we’re seeing the same teams week after week take up these spots.
Is it because Carrie Underwood only wants to record the names for ten teams? Is it because the schedule makers don’t want to see different teams every week? It’s starting to get really old, and the schedule shows just that.
In week 2, the Denver Broncos and Kansas City Chiefs played on Thursday night, and the Green Bay Packers played on Sunday night.
In week 3, the Broncos played on Sunday night, while the Chiefs and Packers played on Monday night. Keep in mind that the Kansas City Chiefs did not make the playoffs this season, and after five weeks, have just one win.
After playing on Sunday night in week 3, the Detroit Lions played on Monday night in week 4. The Pittsburgh Steelers played in week 4 on Thursday night, and will take on the San Diego Chargers tonight in the Monday Night Football game.
The New York Giants just played on Sunday night, and next week, will play on Monday night. Keep in mind that the Giants did not make the playoffs last year (6-10), and yet, four of their first six games are in primetime. The Indianapolis Colts played on Thursday night this week; next week, they will play on Sunday night.
In week 6, the Philadelphia Eagles play the New York Giants on Monday night; in week 7, they play on Sunday night against the Carolina Panthers, who themselves will play on Monday night in week 8 against the Indianapolis Colts.
From weeks 6-9, the Philadelphia Eagles have 3 primetime games, even though they did not make the playoffs last year. The reason they don’t have a primetime game in week 8? They’re on a bye week.
In week 9, the Cincinnati Bengals play on Thursday night; they will then play on Monday night in week 10 against the Houston Texans.
The Green Bay Packers and Detroit Lions play on Thanksgiving this year, and will then meet on Thursday night the week after.
The New England Patriots have a Monday night game in week 11 against the Buffalo Bills, and then will play a Sunday night game in week 12 against the Denver Broncos.
And, the Cincinnati Bengals go from having a Sunday night game in week 15 to having a Monday night game in week 16. Notice anything disturbing about the schedule in terms of picking the same teams over and over again, some of which aren’t even that good and are being picked purely because of the market in which they play in?
The Arizona Cardinals are regarded by many as one of the best teams in football. They were incredibly last year before Carson Palmer went down, and were still a top five team before Drew Stanton got hurt.
They get three prime-time games this year. Meanwhile, Washington was one of the worst five teams in the league last year, and are regarded as a train-wreck of an organization by many.
They get the same number of prime-time games as the Arizona Cardinals do. The New York Giants get five prime-time games this year after a 6-10 campaign, the maximum number. For comparison, the New England Patriots, who won the Super Bowl last year, get the maximum.
This wouldn’t be a problem if the league either spaced out the games or gave more teams prime-time games.
Yet, there are still teams receiving one prime-time game, and that prime-time game is a Thursday night game on NFL Network (a channel that not many people get).
There are 52 prime-time games every year (16 on Thursday night, 17 on Monday night, 17 on Sunday night, 2 on Thanksgiving). That means that there are 104 teams that can be chosen for games; the average number of appearances of a team in a prime-time game is more than 3 when the maximum number of appearances is 5.
Even with this many games and possibilities, the league decides to show the same teams twice in a row, or three times in four weeks?
The league decides to keep some teams shunned from the prime-time scene altogether except for the Thursday night games on premium cable? Doesn’t seem too fair. I’m not suggesting that the Titans should get the same number of prime-time games as the Patriots, but by all means, evening out the field could go a long way.
How would I fix this? Number one, change the rule regarding how many prime-time games a team has to have.
Under the current rule, every team has to play at least one prime-time game. While I love that, let’s take it a step further- every team has to play at least one home prime-time game.
Fans of the Tennessee Titans who only have a prime-time game at Jacksonville this year, or fans of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers who have a prime-time game at St. Louis and that’s it, you’re going to be happy with this one.
There’s a certain atmosphere about prime-time games that’s incredible; doesn’t matter how good or bad the home team is. The crowd is different on a Thursday night at 10:00 than it is at a Sunday afternoon at 2:30, even if it’s the same exact game. Every team should experience that once a season.
Teams can still only have one prime-time game, but it would have to be at home.
Number two, no team can play on prime-time for two weeks in a row. The exception to the rule is weeks 15-17; when we know the play-off picture and the season is winding down, put the best games on without worrying about teams.
The problem now is that the best games aren’t being put on; the best markets are being put on, and it’s not fair to the other teams who don’t get any prime-time exposure or the small market teams that are actually good that deserve prime-time games.
Number three, games can be flexed into Sunday night a week in advance.
You don’t need two weeks to flex a game. Nobody that’s flying down for a 1:00 football game is booking a flight for Sunday night, and a notice of two weeks isn’t needed to flex a game any more with the way the world and the league operates now.
And, number four, don’t announce a Sunday night game for the final 3 weeks of the season. Normally, the league doesn’t announce a Sunday night game for week 17 until that week; don’t schedule anything in the final 3 weeks unless it’s on a week-by-week basis. The reason for this is to ensure the best games possible are being played in prime-time. Instead of wondering if games are bad enough to get flexed out, by not scheduling anything, you wonder what games are good enough to get flexed in. It’s how it should be.
Prime-time football is incredible. The way the NFL presents itself on television is one of the primary reasons as to why it is the king of sports media in the USA.
There’s an awe behind the prime-time games that makes it unlike other games; as someone who normally only gets to see one prime-time game a year for my team, I can assure you that a game against Tennessee on Thursday Night Football feels significantly more important than a Sunday afternoon game against Tennessee at 1:00.
However, there is definitely a noticeable problem with regards to what teams are playing at what times. After bombarding us with FanDuel commercials every five minutes and having a different promo code every single commercial break, it’s the least the NFL can do to make the games more watch-able.