I Believe in Jurgen Klinsmann…Definitely….Maybe…..
When the USMNT walked off the field in Salvador, Brazil back in July of last year they were technically losers. Losers in the sense that they had been beaten by a clearly better Belgium team, 2-1, and were sent packing in the quarterfinals of the World Cup. But, in a ‘big-picture’ sense you could not deny that US Soccer won something that night. Look soccer is probably the one sport in the world where losing can be seen as acceptable as long as you give a great effort, and boy did they give one hell of an effort that night. Look by now you remember what Tim Howard did, what Julian Green did, and what Chris Wondolowski didn’t do. You know Clint Dempsey played the whole tournament with a broken nose, and that Landon Donovan and Jozy Altidore didn’t really play at all. You know that DeAndre Yedlin (who was seen as a questionable choice) came in and made an impact. You know guys like Kyle Beckerman, Jermaine Jones, DeMarcus Beasley, Matt Besler, Geoff Cameron and Omar Gonzalez put in some heroic shifts for the backline. Most importantly for soccer in the United States you got the sense that the future was extremely bright with Jurgen Klinsmann at the helm.
More than a year later the USMNT walked off another field. This time in Atlanta, Georgia and they were once again losers. This time however, there were no positive feelings and hope for the future. After losing to Jamaica 2-1 in the Gold Cup Semifinal, the USMNT were just losers. A lot of the heroes from the World Cup didn’t play particularly well (Beckerman and John Brooks) or simply weren’t on the field (Omar Gonzalez, Matt Besler and Geoff Cameron). The loss put an end to a pretty disappointing Gold Cup tournament for the U.S. where they looked slower, less athletic and less physical than every team they played (well, except Cuba) in group play and the knockout round. It’s even more disappointing when you realize that the U.S. women’s national team JUST WON THE WORLD CUP a couple of weeks before the Gold Cup started. The casual fan who might have been caught up in soccer fever after watching the likes of Carli Lloyd, Abby Wambach, and Alex Morgan dominate, surely lost interest after watching the anemic play from the men.
So the question remains…. Who is at fault? Many people seem to think the coach Jurgen Klinsmann. Bob Bradley, Klinsmann’s predecessor, was similarly fired for a disappointing Gold Cup finish that came after an inspiring World Cup run in 2010. What’s worse for Klinsmann is that Bradley’s team lost to a really good Mexican squad (that was capable of goals like this) and Klinsmann lost to Jamaica in the semi-finals. Don’t get me wrong, the Reggae Boyz deserved that win and were clearly the better team that day but let’s put this in perspective. Jamaica hasn’t qualified for the World Cup since 1998 (and became the first Caribbean nation to even make a Gold Cup Final) and have only beaten the United States twice in the countries ENTIRE SOCCER HISTORY. Make no mistake, this was a really bad loss for the Yanks and most of the blame has fallen on Klinsmann for a few of reasons:
- The Experiment with younger players on the backline failed. Remember earlier how I said that some of the standouts from the World Cup last year was Omar Gonzalez and Matt Besler? Well for whatever reason, Klinsmann decided to go young and opted to start Ventura Alvarado and John Brooks. The results weren’t pretty as the two centerbacks got caught out of position to much and never looked technically sound on the ball. One of the two goals Jamaica scored against the United States was the result of the two CB’s getting outjumped by Jamaica’s Darren Mattocks off of a long throw in. Klinsmann has always had an eye towards the future of US Soccer. That is one of the reasons that made him so appealing after the World Cup because all of the young players he picked (Julian Green, DeAndre Yedlin) made a positive impact when they were called upon. Unfortunately, this time it didn’t pan out and the inconsistencies between the two center backs ended up costing them. The worst part is that it seemed like Omar Gonzalez and Matt Besler had solidified that position for the first time since Carlos Bocanegra and Steve Cherundolo anchored the defense in the Bob Bradley era. It was Gonzalez and Besler that started in the historic draw against Mexico at the Estadio Azteca in 2013 and earned their spots on the team. For whatever reason, Matt Besler didn’t even make the final squad and other than starting against Cuba, Gonzalez didn’t really see the field.
- Failure to develop any Forwards other than Jozy Altidore. Jozy Altidore made literally no impact on the World Cup in 2014. Jozy has been the most consistent striker in a long line of promising attackers that failed to develop (see Juan Agudelo). In Brazil last year, losing Altidore led to a complete change in the United States attack. Clint Dempsey was forced to play up top by himself and the midfield play often wasn’t good enough to give him the service he needed. Coming into the Gold Cup, Altidore was carrying an injury and was clearly not 100%. This led to him getting dropped after the group stage. Once again it was up to other strikers to pick up the slack and it simply didn’t happen. Aron Johannson and Gyasi Zardes are good young players and are most likely the future for the US attack, but more than once they missed golden opportunities (especially against Jamaica) to score goals.
- Still a lack of a definitive style. Look no one is going to play harder for 90 minutes than the United States. That never give up attitude has been an integral part of US soccer long before Klinsmann took over, but in major tournaments that is not enough. When he came on board Klinsmann promised to overhaul the system and create a team that is fluid, creative, technical and has some flair on the ball. While there is no doubt that US can score a beautiful goal, more often than not when they play an established soccer power it is 90 minutes of losing possession and having to rely on Tim Howard, Brad Guzan or Nick Rimando to make 23536345234 ridiculous saves a game.
- How far have they really come since 2011? This is the biggest question that needs to be answered. Sure they have had some big wins in friendlies against countries like Italy, Germany, Holland, Russia, and Mexico in the Klinnsmann era, but as far as major tournaments go they have not got the job done. The style and fluid play that was promised is still lacking compared to the traditional soccer powers in the world and the fact that 4 years later Klinsmann is still ‘experimenting’ with the midfield and the defense is troubling. It doesn’t help that squad veterans like Jermaine Jones, Clint Dempsey, and Kyle Beckerman aren’t guaranteed to be around for the World Cup in 2018.
All that being said, is it really time to move on from Jurgen Klinsmann. The truth is we should all just take a step back and relax. Yes the Gold Cup is an important tournament (the coach even said it himself) and the US should be favored to win it every time, but in reality winning the Gold Cup is just a stepping stone to qualifying for the Confederations Cup and the US still has a chance to qualify for that (if they win the playoff in October against Mexico). And hypothetically say Klinsmann does get fired, who is going to replace him? One of the main reasons that it was easier to move on from Bob Bradley was because everyone knew Jurgen Klinsmann was his logical replacement. I’m not sure there is a coach out there that US could realistically sign that could generate the same excitement and hope for the future that Klinsmann has. So for right now I can say that I believe…….. But check with me again in October and maybe I won’t.