Five years is more than enough time to evaluate a coach at any level and it is certainly enough time to evaluate the performance of Jurgen Klinsmann, the recently fired head coach and defacto Dictator of U.S. soccer at the international level. After arriving with such high hopes and expectations, he leaves behind a talented bunch of players who are adrift and rudderless due to his constant mind games as much as to his lack of cohesive playing style.
A look at the national team and it is easy to think they have enough talent to compete at the international level against any team with maybe the exception of two or three. Still, this squad, as long as it was continued to be coached by Klinsmann, was more likely to miss out on qualifying for the 2018 World Cup in Russia than it was to make the quarter finals or more.
Yes, we have a history of not playing well in Costa Rica, but in a nation as large as ours and with as many kids growing up playing soccer, there should be no reason we cannot field a team that dominates a country with a talent pool the size of any Central American nation. To lose 4-0 was a sign of a team in need of new leadership.
Klinsmann’s job was not just to coach the national team, but to over see the development of a steady and consistent flow of talent at the U23 and U18 levels and yet if you look at the performance of those squads under his reign, there should be no surprise he still relies too heavily on the likes of Clint Dempsy, Jozy Altidore, Michael Bradley, and Tim Howard after five years.
While there finally appears to be an infusion of some much needed youthful talent to the team, there is a large gap that now exists between the aforementioned established stars and the next set of up and comers. There simply is not enough talented players to bridge that gap, or if there is, Klinsmann has failed to maximize their talents.
Klinsmann has not helped his cause with his player relationships. While he did well to keep Michael Bradley as a key part of his team after his father was canned and replaced by Klinsmann, he has been unbending in his expectations of players sacrificing themselves on a year round basis to be at his beck and call. Klinsmann was never happy with Landon Donovan’s decision to take a much needed break from international play, and though he allowed him back on the squad and relied almost entirely on him to get the U.S. to qualify for the World Cup in 2014, he made a point of cutting him at the last minute which shocked not just Donovan, but the entire team and nation.
It did not help Klinsmann, just as it has not helped his predecessors that the MLS season does not line up with the other major soccer leagues around the world.
This is likely to lead to the type of burn out Donovan experienced, but in Jurgen’s eyes, this was why he felt Americans should play abroad. However, there was a major flaw in that philosophy. What good does it do if American players go abroad and sit on the bench in England, Germany, France or Italy when they can be playing full time at home? Perhaps now the MLS needs to rethink their season so it can unfold along with the other major soccer schedules around the globe.
No other U.S. coach has been given the level of support and authority Klinsmann was given. He knew the MLS schedule going in. He knew the weaknesses and challenges the national team had to overcome, and he knew he had bold expectations of his players and the results he got out of them. Now he knows he has come up short.
There is a reason few coaches remain in charge of their national soccer teams throughout the world. The weight and expectations of an entire nation tend to make the idea of sticking around for two World Cup cycles hard to achieve. However, I have to think there was a sense of being bullet proof that led to Klinsmann’s downfall as much as anything else. Who else did we have at the time of his hiring who could do the job and who wanted it?
Now that Bruce Arean is available, the United States may have just the coach needed to get this bunch to Russia next year. He has been successful with the national team in the past and has been a winner just about everywhere he has coached and at this time, the national team needs someone who knows how to win more than how to mess with players’ heads. However, if he does not take the job, where do we turn to?
Timing is everything in life. Five years ago was the perfect timing for Jurgen Klinsmann to ask for the sun and get it as part of his deal as the USMNT head coach. Unfortunately for him, the sun has set and the timing is right to part ways with him and bring in a new leader who the players will respond to while still having enough time to earn a trip to Russia for next year’s World Cup.
Top photo: Jurgen Klinsmann (Wikipedia)