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Jurgen Klinsmann’s Job Not On The Line vs Mexico

Billy Nayden wrote a great piece on Jurgen Klinsmann needing to defeat Mexico this Saturday. I disagree, strongly, and decided to counter. 

We’re in the midst of another international break this week and like clockwork, salty Landon Donovan has come out with another set of anti-Jurgen Klinsmann comments.

This time it happened on Tuesday when Donovan said Klinsmann should be fired if the United States fails to beat Mexico in the CONCACAF Cup on Saturday. Donovan claimed Klinsmann needs to be held accountable for poor results just like the players.

In the grand scheme of things, Klinsmann has had one bad result as the manager of the USMNT. He didn’t win the 2015 Gold Cup (let’s not harp on the fact that he came in fourth. Third or fourth doesn’t matter. What matters is they didn’t win). This past summer the U.S. slipped up in a game against a good Jamaican side. It happens. You need to move on. Everything else Klinsmann has done has either exceeded or met expectations.

While the fourth-place Gold Cup finish was disappointing for fans, lumping it in with the team’s World Cup finish is misguided. They made the round of 16 and if not for a Wondolowski miss would have made the quarter finals. How is that a poor result? Because they didn’t go any further than they did in 2010?

2014 was the first time the U.S. even progressed out of the group stage in back-to-back World Cups. Klinsmann actually raised expectations, and met them. Not to mention that nobody even thought the U.S. would get out of their group.

There were people who, unlike the FIFA rankings, have eyes and knew Portugal was not actually the fourth-best team in the world. They felt that the U.S. should make it out of the group but that doesn’t mean they weren’t in the extreme minority. When they advanced to play Belgium, the U.S. was a heavy underdog against a Belgian side that blew them out just a year before.

Klinsmann pressed the right buttons in that match, keeping it close and inserting Wondolowski late. Wondo was on the roster specifically for this purpose, snag a goal from about six yards out late to win a game. The chance fell for Wondo and he missed, that’s not Klinsmann’s fault.

Then of course there’s that Brazil game. It’s hypocritical that some people hold a friendly loss to Brazil against Klinsmann but also refuse to give him credit for the United States’ wins at the Azteca, in Italy, in Germany, and in Holland because those matches were just ‘friendlies.’

Bob Bradley did not get fired for losing the 2011 Gold Cup. Bradley was on his way out anyway. The Klinsmann rumors had already been going on even before the 2011 Gold Cup final was played. Klinsmann was always the U.S.’ top choice, Bradley was merely there as a place holder.

Then of course there’s the argument that the USMNT hasn’t progressed under enough under Klinsmann. Now besides the fact that the term “hasn’t progressed enough” is being used as a reason to fire someone just shows how far U.S. soccer actually has progressed under Klinsmann.

Taking the U.S. Men’s National Team is only half of his job. He’s here to overhaul U.S. soccer from the bottom all the way to the top. People are complaining that the product on the field isn’t what Klinsmann promised it would be. Well that’s because it takes time and the players he inherited aren’t good enough to play that way.

That’s why Klinsmann keeps plugging youth players in there. He’s looking for the next star. Besides Clint Dempsey, the U.S. doesn’t have any other game-changing players in the current player pool. Klinsmann keeps turning to youth in hopes of finding one. If he introduces 20-25 new kids to the team and hits on just four or five of them then he’s found the new core of the team for the next 10 years. Yet everyone is still more hung up on the 20 guys he brought in that stunk.

It’s hard to take a bunch of 26-32 year old players and change the way they play when they grew up playing a certain way. He’s tried to though. That’s why he changed Michael Bradley’s position and he’s sticking with it even though it’s not really working. But before you complain about him playing people out of their natural positions, it’s worth noting that Klinsmann has re-vitalized Dempsey by moving him back to playing as a supporting striker, a position Bradley never played him in.

Everyone loves to throw names like Ventura Alvarado and Julian Green out there as failed players that Klinsmann has brought in, but you need to take those risks.

Klinsmann is rebuilding U.S. soccer from the ground up. It’s going to take more than four years before we start to see what this team will become. We’ll never see it with the current generation of players like Bradley, Kyle Beckerman, Jermaine Jones (who Klinsmann has turned into a much better player). To hold current MNT results, especially the past World Cup against Klinsmann is completely unfair.

But the youth system is filled with young and exciting players. These are guys that are now growing up and learning in Klinsmann’s U.S. Soccer system. Players like Emerson Hyndmann, Gedion Zelalem, Jordan Morris and Cameron Carter-Vickers are far more exciting than anyone they had four or five years ago.

It’s understandable why people are frustrated. Fans devote 90 minutes of their time to watch their team represent the U.S. and they want to see them win — something rarely seen in 2014/15. All they want is to see the USMNT beat the teams they think their squad is better than. But you have to remember those games were friendlies where the U.S. was trying things out because that’s what friendlies are for. If you don’t want to celebrate the wins in Germany or Holland, then you can’t be upset that Colombia, Ecuador, Ireland and Denmark were getting results against them.

The goal of 2015 was for the United States to qualify for the 2017 Confederations Cup. Yes it was very disappointing that they didn’t win the 2015 Gold Cup, but even though you’re always going to be favored to win the Gold Cup, you’re not always going to win it. The U.S. still has a chance to achieve that goal.

Showing Klinsmann the door for failing to achieve one goal, after he spent four years constantly raising the bar for U.S. Soccer would be dumb and detrimental. Besides, the Confederations Cup is way overrated anyway.

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