CHRISTOPHER MCCOLLUM - Tuesday, June 26, 2012
One of the most demoralizing effects on human beings is the acknowledgment that there is no hope. This word has the power to keep (nearly) everyone on earth going for another day.
The feeling of hope gives something to look forward to; it provides motivation for staying the course and seeing yourself through day after day of life in a mental journey to your eventual dream.
A lack of hope can have grave consequences for individual and group morale, and one only need to listen to the somber tone of President Jimmy Carter's Crisis of Confidence speech from 1979 to hear what the loss of hope can mean in the face of adversity. Some believe that there can be no future if there is no hope, because there will be no reason to maintain a civilized society without future goals to strive for.
The novel Children of Men by P.D. James shows a good fictional perspective of a world without hope, and it's easy to get caught in the words and accept them as a speculative truth, and perhaps what makes it so easy is the gut instinct that it is a real possibility that without hope, there is no future.
While there may be serious ramifications in the real world, there are also consequences in the sporting world for athletes who have no hope for something better than what they have. The mind of a top-tier athlete is a curious thing; when speaking with Herculez Gomez or Michael Bradley, or watching interviews with Thierry Henry or Wayne Rooney, there are certainly differences between them all and how they conduct themselves, but a common denominator is that there is an obvious, or in Gomez's case a slightly hidden, intimidating aura of competitiveness and the innate desire to succeed.
This is where hope comes into the equation for professional athletes, as the carrot to drive this desire to new heights, taking with it the athlete in question. When there is no hope for something better, does that desire diminish?
Think about it. If a player has accomplished all that he feels he can accomplish, what is left to keep him going? Jurgen Klinsmann and the US National Team enter the picture here, as we bake in the summer heat and begin to turn our eyes towards a particular "friendly" in the Azteca on August 15.
Klinsmann is famous in some circles, infamous in others for the heavy handed approach he took with Brad Guzan and his lack of playing time last year. The brusque suggestion that Guzan get more playing time led the former Chivas USA standout to end his relationship with Aston Villa this summer in order to find playing time elsewhere, in a search that is still ongoing.
Klinsmann seemed to take this approach seriously in some regards, ending the long drought of Gomez appearances with the National Team and giving a call to Michael Parkhurst, fresh off of winning the Danish League. Then Klinsmann seems to renege on this stance by giving caps to Terrence Boyd, who has never seen a minute of first team action, despite being 21-years old.
While Boyd sat in the Under-23 league in Germany, although now moving to Rapid Vienna in Austria should improve his hopes immensely, players like Sacha Kljestan do not get a call at all, unless there's an emergency such as what happened in Italy.
Despite the Kljestan frustrations, his position in the pool is deep and no one in front of him is struggling for playing time. They may not have won a league championship and made it to the Champions League (except in the case of Jermaine Jones), but they are starting players nonetheless, and there is no shame to losing out to them.
The Boyd situation is more bothersome on its face because there are players who are getting significant first team minutes, and more than that, they are producing at a high level. Given the short amount of time that Klinsmann has with his players, and the few opportunities he gets to call them together, there is an obvious limit to whom he can call in, and when he can call them in.
Gomez seemed to be a glaring omission for a very, very long time under both Klinsmann and Bob Bradley before him, but the omission was not so glaring when looking at Gomez's statistical trends. He performed remarkably well when there was little or no opportunity to call him up, and he would slump off on occasion when a National Team camp came around. Finally, earlier this year after a blazing streak of success with Estudiantes Tecos and Santos Laguna, the stars aligned and Klinsmann had a camp at the same time Gomez was performing well. Gomez got the call, and all was right in the world. Or not.
There are others besides Gomez who are not as lucky to get a call. Respect is paid to Chris Wondolowski who lights MLS on fire season after season, and opportunities have been given to Teal Bunbury and Juan Agudelo, but the same sign of respect needs to be given to other players who are performing as well.
Kenny Cooper has benefited greatly from playing alongside Thierry Henry, but there is no denying his scoring touch, as he finds himself second in MLS this season with 11 goals, behind Wondolowski. The curious case of Cooper has been going on for several years now, as the once promising National Team forward lit up MLS with FC Dallas as a 22-year old.
He was able to transition his club success to the National Team, appearing in 10 games and scoring four goals. The goals were not meaningless, either. One was the game winning goal in a World Cup Qualifier against Guatemala, one was a game winning goal in a Gold Cup quarterfinal against Panama, and a third was against Honduras in the Gold Cup semifinal.
A move to Germany saw him appear to be on the path to a quality career, and then an injury hit, and then - nothing. Cooper's well with the National Team appeared to run dry by the time he was only 25-years old, as he has not received a call since. Is the national team's forward pool so deep that it can afford to not call up productive young players? The answer is an obvious no, which begs the question, why won't Klinsmann give him a call?
A similar case is not yet ready to be made for Chris Pontius, Connor O'Brien or Andrew Wooten, but they have the makings of a similar plot. In the case of Cooper, he was clearly a case of a player driven by hope as he returned from Germany to MLS, and failed to make a big impact with the Portland Timbers. Despite his relatively low output, his skill was still there, and the prospect of something bigger and better looming ahead has drawn him back into the top tier of the MLS upon moving to New York.
He is making a strong impact with the Red Bulls, and it stands to reason that he has some impact left to make with the National Team as well. If Klinsmann is going to talk the talk, he needs to walk the walk as well. If he disparages a player for not getting playing time, he should not be calling up others in similar situations ahead of players who are stars on their teams, with stats to back their renown.
Hope is a driving force, and Klinsmann needs to foster that force among American players, to let them know that if they produce, they will get a chance to strive for an athlete's greatest honor: representing their country.