Cobi Jones might have been expected to unload pretty harshly on U.S. national soccer coach Jurgen Klinsmann, at least when it came to Klinsmann’s cutting iconic player Landon Donovan from the World Cup squad.
Jones and Donovan played together on the USMNT from 2000 to 2004, and as TV and radio voice of the LA Galaxy, Jones remains close to his former teammate. He also knows what it’s like to be “the face of US soccer.” Donovan clearly held that title until Klinsmann unceremoniously trimmed him from his Cup roster in May. Back in the late 1990s, it belonged to Jones, the quick-footed midfielder.
But when I spoke to Jones over the phone for a story I was putting together on Klinsmann (it runs tomorrow), he seemed to embrace both sides of the aisle.
“I respect the decision because it was a bold move – and I definitely think there was a personal reason behind it as well,” Jones said. “When it comes down to it, it’s all personal, you know? Coaches make decisions based on their personal views of a player. I don’t think Landon ever recovered from his sabbatical. I don’t think Jurgen ever let that go.
“At the time, (Donovan) probably didn’t think it would have a long-term effect. But the nature of our game is to take chances, take risks. What’s Nike’s slogan? Risk everything.”
Jones is no stranger to Klinsmann, either. He played against him a couple times when their careers overlapped, and Klinsmann was a technical advisor with the Galaxy for a while when Jones was with the team in the early 2000s.
“He was very intense and analytical when it comes to the game, and he was a competitor,” Jones said. “The times he did train with the team, though he was retired, you could see he still had that competitive edge.”
Klinsmann has become a polarizing figure as U.S. coach, and not just for his decision to cut Donovan. He included seven foreign nationals on his World Cup roster (all from Europe), and he won’t back down from his observation that the Americans have no chance to win it all in Brazil. Some love him for his bravery and candor. Others feel he is disrespecting his adopted country.
Jones, who has played in more international games than any other player in U.S. history, weighed in on a couple of major issues for Klinsmann.
Here he is on whether the coach – who also holds the title of technical director of US Soccer – is moving too fast, or somehow changing American soccer for the worse:
“To me, I don’t think one person can de-Americanize the game, because this game is continuously evolving. The style of the U.S. is a multitude of different outlooks of the game. Jurgen is bringing in his philosophy, but every coach does that. … I understand that it’s more of a European view. You have to expect that. Jurgen is not going to be there forever. Next could be a coach from South America or Central America, and they’ll do the same thing. I don’t put much credence in style, because style will always change.
“I do believe there should always be respect for the American player. I think Jurgen has shown that respect, just in terms of his attention to MLS players, as opposed to some in years past.”
There are 10 MLS players on the current U.S. World Cup roster.
Finally, Jones wasn’t buying in to the notion that this World Cup is fairly meaningless to Klinsmann – a mere practice round – because his contract runs through 2018.
“It’s very important, regardless of his contract,” Jones said. “How many times have we talked about a contract being bought out or whatever? If the national team has a terrible World Cup, it will not be a surprise if his contract is cut and they move Jurgen on. That’s the nature of sports. I know all fans understand that. If a coach has his philosophy that he puts in place, and brings his players in, then has a terrible showing, it’s only natural that they’ll rebuild with someone else.”
Jones, by the way, will be providing World Cup analysis for Fox Sports and BeIN Sports.