PHILADELPHIA -- Wednesday's mostly aimless 1-1 tie with Mexico aside, U.S. Soccer officials have submitted Jurgen Klinsmann as their answer to the confounding two-part question that has vexed the organization for decades.
1) Can an American really know soccer? Conventional wisdom is that a native Yank, raised on baseball, basketball and football, is not born to the intricacies of this no-hands sport, and thus is forever behind the curve.
2) On the other hand, can a soccer coach from distant shores really know America? Standard belief holds that U.S. athletes are less tolerant of the dictator style regularly employed in other lands, and that the U.S. system of school-based sports mystifies foreigners.
With his behind-the-bench debut in last night's international friendly here, the 47-year-old Klinsmann is seen as the sophisticated reply to those questions.
He is German, of course, a former superstar player for his national team as well as coach of Germany's third-place 2006 World Cup team. But, too, he has lived in the United States since retiring as a player in 1998, married an American and has served as an adviser to two teams in the U.S.-based Major League Soccer.
Beyond that, he once toured America in a rental car, even before he settled in the San Diego area, attending (among other curiosities) baseball and basketball games as he went.
Klinsmann's hiring ended 16 years of American-born national-team coaches -- the very time when U.S. soccer emerged from virtual chump status to a legitimate global presence. Since 1995, Steve Sampson (26-22-14), Long Island native Bruce Arena (71-30-29) and the just-fired Bob Bradley (43-25-12) steadily raised the bar.
With Klinsmann, there is hope of mining more Latino talent. Last night, he started three lightly experienced players from the Mexican league -- defenders Edgar Castillo and Michael Orozco Fiscal and midfielder Jose Torre -- none of whom distinguished himself.
There still is no evidence of a U.S. striker like the young Klinsmann -- charismatic, fast, graceful and wickedly proficient around the goal. After a long night of disconnected play, the tying American goal, in the 74th minute, came from sub Robbie Rogers, who at 16 was a development-league teammate of the already retired Klinsmann in Southern California.
"Jurgen has very positive energy and it's infectious," said veteran team leader Landon Donovan, briefly a member of Klinsmann's 2009 Bayern Munich club. "I think the guys have already taken to that well. As far as tactical things and a style and an approach to the way we play, that's going to take a while."