As someone who knew Luis when he was very overweight, I've seen first hand his transformation and have gotten occasional glimpses into the effort losing so many pounds entailed. Of course, that doesn't mean I have a true inkling of how much blood, sweat and tears all of it took. I'm still working on my first marathon (hopefully in Luis' pace group) scheduled for next year.
Yet as much as I respect Luis for putting in the work required to change his life to a healthier one, and as much as I believe Bob Bradley is an excellent ideal for the discipline that leads to effective results, I can't help but think there's more to the beautiful game than working hard.
That's honestly what encouraged me the most about watching Klinsmann in his first USA game as coach. "Grinsy Klinsy" has been teased about his enjoyment of the sport and of life itself, before, but it's both an infectious and important reminder to see his enthusiasm for the game.
Bradley's intensity was impressively intense. Then again, there's a reason why the word "tense" is part of "intense".
I'm not saying there wasn't a lighthearted side to Bradley. He's human, and actually has a clever sense of humor. His moments of levity as a coach probably had more effect on the squad partly because something special is by definition a bit rare.
Yet Bradley was definitely all about the work, and that was the mantra he continuously preached to players.
The reason that didn't always sit well with me is that I fell in love with soccer not because of love for the industry and effort the sport required, though I respect the running and stamina the non-stop action demands. But what I love are the creative, special moments. I marvel at the players who have the skill to dance with the ball, the intuition to find a teammate with a no-look pass, the precision to bury a cross into the net with one touch. I cheer for daring dribbling against multiple opponents, fearless diving headers, bicycle kicks, slick rabonas, the Cuauhtemina, the Cryuff turn, the bending freekicks, the cheeky shots through the legs.
What most encouraged me about Klinsmann's debut in the USA - Mexico friendly was seeing how he simply enjoyed the game and communicated that to his players. Klinsmann didn't just nod at the USA players who came off the field, acknowledging their effort. His genuine enthusiasm communicated to each player personal affirmation, appreciation and a whole, "ain't this grand?" vibe.
I didn't see a cohesive, mature and disciplined USA squad versus Mexico, but there was energy, especially in the second half. Most of all, there was a freedom, an exploratory nature, to their attack at that point. Yes, it needs to be less random to be effective, but it was still encouraging to see.
"Attacking, fearless, and fun" is what I texted to a former player who asked me what I'd seen to like about the USA in the match.
"Fun is the key word" he texted back.
I think it really is. Inspiration is too often overlooked as a coaching criteria. Soccer is a creative game, and to really play well, one must love to play and have fun with the ball. The USA isn't going to get better at the beautiful game simply by having more young players turn pro at a younger age. It's going to take more players kicking the ball around by themselves, trying crazy tricks and turns, dancing with the ball, taking almost-impossible shots again and again, putting in the work without ever thinking of it as work, learning and growing through the sheer fun of it all.
Klinsmann fell in love with the sport like that, and he still retains some of that spark. Hopefully, he can use that spark to light a fire in USA soccer.