NICK LEYDEN - Thursday, March 8, 2012
Loyola Marymount coach Paul Krumpe, a veteran of the World Cup and Olympics two decades ago, believes superior coaching at the youth level has spurred the USA's development into a regional and world power.
"I think our national team has made huge strides," he told YA in a recent interview. "I mean obviously we're ranked so much higher now in the world and for a long time those guys were tanked in the top 20 or even the top 10 for a bit," he said.
For Krumpe the explanation is simple: early coaching.
"When I grew up the first 13 or 14 years of life the only people who coached me were parents, he explained. "For me the big difference now is kids are getting coached, especially the better ones at the younger ages and the bigger clubs are getting coached by people who have played the game their whole life. (It) has gotten to the point where I don't think there are any very good players coming through the system that have not played the game for someone who played at a good level," he added.
The former UCLA Bruin claims that much of that credit can go to his generation of players who have remained intimately involved with soccer in the last two decades, a fact of which he is visibly proud.
"Almost all of those guys are involved in coaching soccer now," he claimed. "There are so many of those guys that are still involved with the game it's amazing."
The versatile defender's playing career was just about as successful as possible for an American in that time, captaining UCLA to an NCAA title in 1985, playing as a professional both indoors and outdoors, and representing the USA in the 1987 Pan American Games, the 1988 Olympic Games and the 1990 World Cup in Italy.
But Krumpe does not hesitate to express his envy of those who were still in their primes when MLS began just a few years later.
"Every day I wish I would have been born about four years later," he told YA, adding, "By the time MLS started in '96 I'd been out of the game for a good four years which was too much."
"Lothar Osiander took over the LA Galaxy at the time and invited some of his former players that he knew had played at a high level to scrimmage the first Galaxy team," Krumpe recalled. "I remember for my first assignment with that group I got matched up against Eduardo Hurtado, El Tanque. At that point I was like ‘Oh man, this is way past me.' There was no way I was going to be able to keep up with the league after being out of it for four years."
Despite having to bounce between indoor leagues and folding outdoor clubs for the late ‘80s, Krumpe was able to secure 25 caps with the national team, including the pivotal World Cup qualifier in 1989 in Trinidad.
The California native remembers his time in Port of Spain well, complete with phone calls in the middle of the night and bands playing in the street outside the hotel in an attempt to ruin the Americans' night of sleep.
He also recalls the scene in the stadium vividly and believes Paul Caliguiri's World Cup clinching goal ensured the continued growth of soccer in the USA.
"I still get goose bumps when I think about walking onto that field in Trinidad," he said, adding, "It was a pretty impressive sight. And for us to go into that atmosphere and get the win was huge."
Krumpe calls that win a "program changing event" as it justified FIFA's decision to award the 1994 tournament to the USA, even though he did not fully understand its significance at the time.
"We had been threatened with ‘Hey if you guys can't qualify, if you can't make it out of your groups in 1989 to go to the 1990 World Cup than I don't think we should be rewarding the US with a free trip in 1994," he told YA. "It was a big deal and most of us were too young to realize the importance. We weren't around in 1950 the last time we played in a World Cup."
Despite earning international headlines and a permanent place in US Soccer lore, Krumpe actually believes the win in Trinidad may not have been possible were it not for similar success in qualifying for the 1988 Olympics in which the US overturned a 2-0 first leg defeat to Canada with a 3-0 win in the second leg.
Krumpe scored two goals in that decisive victory and feels that had the result gone in Canada's favor the team that eventually won in Trinidad would have been split up.
"I'm telling you if we'd been knocked out of Olympic qualifying the majority of that group would have been pushed aside and they would have brought in a different group for the '90 qualifying," he theorized. "So the fact this group had done so much to qualify for 1988 and get to the Olympics we had a little bit of experience in qualification," added the 48 year old.
Krumpe will never forget his international experiences and still feels a deep connection to the national team. He has kept posters of his Olympic and World Cup teams hanging in his office for the last 14 years, and admits to nearly breaking into tears when Landon Donovan scored against Algeria to clinch the group in the most recent World Cup.
"I think on a different scale we had a very similar thing but obviously as an American and an American soccer player those kinds of moments are what we live for and love to watch. It was great to see the success of that group, and the determination and grittiness and the fighting back and coming from behind. It reminded me a lot of the way we were," Krumpe said.
But even with all those memories, the Loyola Marymount coach may value his NCAA experiences the most.
"To be honest with you the most exciting moment of my life was probably the NCAA championship game in 1985," he explained. "That was an excellent team and something I've always been proud of. That was the first national championship for UCLA."
Krumpe returned to his alma mater in 1997 as an assistant coach and became head coach at LMU one year later, a position he has no intention of abandoning anytime soon.
"I love coaching at the college level to be honest with you. The players are still very coachable; they're very intelligent. It's interesting everyday because it seems like something new will pop up," he said.
The Lions have enjoyed a good deal of success under Krumpe, becoming a consistent threat to make the NCAA tournament and winning their first West Coast Conference title in 2010. While many of his peers would look to parlay such success into a job at the next level, Krumpe has not considered such a move.
"It's certainly a much more stable situation than an MLS gig. And although I appreciate those guys and what they do I also know that if I have a bad year I can still find a way to recover," he explained. "It's tough to do that at the MLS level. If you have a bad year you might be looking for a job."
Krumpe also expressed his admiration for the increased talent at the NCAA level and even admitted his UCLA teams would struggle against today's squads.
"The game has gotten so much faster and so much better. I know my national championship team that I played on that won in 1985 would have a tough time with speed of the game today. The college game, just like every other level, has increased. It's much faster; it's much quicker; it's much harder. Those college level games back then I don't think compare to the college level today," he declared.
As soccer in the US continues to develop and the national team fights for its place in the global elite, Krumpe is happy to do his part by coaching the next generation before they become stars.