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ASN Weekly Debate

Should U.S. Fans Care about the Champions League?

Everyone knows soccer fans all over the world should think the Champions League is important. What this discussion presupposes is what if maybe it's not so much?
BY Noah Davis and Ryan O'Hanlon Posted
December 07, 2012
5:21 AM
Noah Davis: Ryan. Do you, as an American soccer pay-attention-to-er, care about the Champions League? Subquestion: What about the fate of Americans in the CL?

Ryan O'Hanlon: Well, that depends on your definition of "care." I am not invested in what happens in the Champions League—whoever wins doesn't really matter to me—but I do watch and do pay attention to it. So, I guess, I'm more invested in the Americans playing in the Champions League… because I'm American, but there are barely any in it. So, here we are.

Davis: I won't lie to you (B)Ryan: That answer makes no sense. But anyway. I care because it's something to watch in the middle of the day on Tuesday and Wednesdays, but beyond that not so much. I do, however, think it's important that Americans are playing in the Champions League. And not because it gives Parkhurst, Kljestan, etc. big-game experience. That's great, but it's more because the rest of the world sees players on the United States national team succeeding—individually, if not their teams—on Europe's biggest stage.

O'Hanlon: I wonder, though. Is seeing Americans playing in the Champions League just some kind of reassurance to American soccer fans that, yes, in fact, some American players are good enough to play in the best league in the world? What I'm saying is that we know Landon Donovan and Clint Dempsey and Michael Bradley and Tim Howard are good enough to be playing—if not starting—for Champions League teams. Yet, they're not. And I'm not totally sure it matters.

Davis: But LD, Dempsey, Bradley, and Howard are the best players the U.S. has. Parkhurst, Kljestan, etc. are not. The fact that they are playing in the Champions League, and playing well, is **yes** reassuring. But it's also progress. Hell, Oguchi Onyewu isn't even on the U.S. squad, and he's starting for a team that won one of the groups. If the goal of U.S. soccer is to incrementally increase its standing worldwide, then having four guys playing in the group stage of the CL is important. That said, I still don't really care all that much about the games.

O'Hanlon: I've watched multiple games at your apartment, and based on the way your couches are set up, I know this. And sure, it's good to see those guys playing in the Champions League, but at the same time, isn't it kind of random. Like, they just happened to sign with those teams that are now in the Champions League. There are plenty of other just-as-good teams across the world that don't make it into the Champions League for one reason or another. In short: wake me up when there's 15 Americans playing in the Champions League every year—and none of them are Jermaine Jones.

Davis: But who's going to be the enforcer if there's no Jermaine Jones?

O'Hanlon: You, me, Bill Laimbeer, Judge Judy? Anyone.

Davis: Briefly, to your point about randomness: Yes, I agree to some extent. But Kljestan and Parkhurst helped their clubs get there by, you know, being there in past seasons.

But also: Bill Laimbeer.

O'Hanlon: Head coach of the NY Liberty. What up.

Davis: So Jurgen Klinsmann loves Jermaine Jones. Can you explain this? Is the solution to the U.S. national team really finding a hard-nosed-ness that they are lacking?

O'Hanlon: He's German also, and he's playing for a team that won its Champions League group? I really have no idea. But, at the same time, he generally plays well for Schalke—still gets a card every time he touches the ball, basically—but is a generally solid midfielder who isn't a complete liability. Yet, for the US, he is a liability. He's athletic, sure, but that's one thing this country isn't lacking. And he'll make hard tackles occasionally, but what's the last hard tackle you remember him making for the US that wasn't a yellow card. Defensive midfielders are supposed to help control the game, and he just puts it into a slingshot and shoots into into a garbage dumpster.

Davis: It's an interesting problem. Because I do think the U.S. could, at times, use more toughness. I think what Klinsmann said before or after or maybe at halftime of the Brazil game about the Americans needing some "bite" or whatever wasn't entirely off the mark. But sending good ol' Slingshot Jones out there to kick people and generally not seem too interested in what the other 10 people on his team were trying to accomplish feels like a regression in many ways.

O'Hanlon: We've talked about—maybe not here, but in real, actual life—how Michael Bradley and Clint Dempsey are so much better when they're playing with 10 other guys who are totally up to their speed. While that's not the specific problem here—no one who isn't a dog chasing a flashlight is up to Slingshot's speed—maybe his style's only really useful when the rest of his team can accommodate it?

Davis: Yeah, that's a fair point. But do you want to build the whole U.S. team around that style? I know you and I don't, but should Klinsmann? It seems a little bit like he does. To me, that's the wrong decision, certainly from a long-term perspective and probably from a short-term one as well.

O'Hanlon: Clint Dempsey just scored! ( I care way more about the Europa League.)

Davis: All he does is win.

O'Hanlon: But back to this, I definitely don't think you want to, and I'm not really even sure how? Just secretly Americanize everyone on Schalke? Jefferson Farfan sounds American enough, right? Peruvians won't care, will they?

Davis: Tie-in! Is Jermaine Jones the new Clint Dempsey? Great for club; less so for country. Discuss.

O'Hanlon: Jermaine Jones was Clint Dempsey before Clint Dempey and before he was even American. Yet, I still think he belongs in the squad, just not as a starter or a centerpiece or anything remotely close to that. Plus, his website is the greatest website on or off the Internet.

Davis: Don't tell that to Jozy Altidore. But I agree. So... if he's not a starter, where is he? I would be terrified to bring Jones in for defensive purposes in a close game. The team commits enough dumb fouls without him. (Granted a lot of those are his, but not all of them.) Does he just sit on the sidelines and attempt to intimidate through glares? It's going to get mighty crowded in the box with Jones, all of Klinsmann's assistants, and Jay DeMerit on the communication bullhorn we gave him a few weeks ago.

O'Hanlon: I thought he played well against Jamaica in the Gold Cup, so basically any time the U.S. plays Jamaica in D.C., he should play a part. But seriously, there's a spot for him in games where the team maybe needs to be more direct, I think, but more than anything, there just needs to be some support system behind his madness that consists of more than "Michael Bradley" whenever Klinsmann decides to play him.

Davis: So you're anti-glare plan?

O'Hanlon: No, definitely pro-glare and pro-let-him-warm-up-for-the-entire-game-and-tackle-anyone-who-comes-near.

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