Jurgen Klinsmann has arguably been the most criticized coach in USMNT history. He took ahold of the national team during a time where soccer is more popular in the United States than it ever has been previously, thus putting additional pressure on the national team to perform in every friendly, qualifier and tournament.
However, Klinsmann has taken this in stride, winning the Hex to qualify for the 2014 World Cup, winning the 2013 Gold Cup, and bringing nationals into the fold that had been previously underutilized by Klinsmann’s predecessors. Despite his early success, it seems that some of the Klinsmann magic has run out.
Since the United States exited the World Cup in the Round of 16 against Belgium, the national team hasn’t exactly taken a step forward. While victories over the Netherlands, Mexico and Germany are nice, those victories came in friendlies, and must be taken with a grain of salt.
In the only competition that has mattered since the World Cup, this summer’s Gold Cup, Klinsmann mustered a fourth place finish, despite being a prohibitive favorite before the tournament. His team lost consecutive games to Jamaica and Panama, while arch rivals Mexico lifted the Gold Cup. Now, in order to qualify the Confederations Cup, the USMNT must beat Mexico on October 10 in the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California, a match where few are favoring the Americans.
Despite difficult conditions heading into the Mexico game, if Klinsmann cannot secure a victory over America’s southern rival, it should be his last game patrolling the sidelines. Both Bruce Arena and Bob Bradley were fired for losing in less prestigious games, and despite Klinsmann’s title as technical director of U.S. Soccer, should he lose against Mexico, he too should get the boot.
While there have been numerous successes from the Klinsmann era, ultimately his tenure, should he lose to Mexico, will be defined by bizarre player choices. It all started with the decision to bring Julian Green to the World Cup, but has spiraled out of control in 2015. Not only has Green fallen out of favor with all levels of U.S. Soccer, including the youth teams, but Klinsmann’s other bizarre choices have detrimentally affected the play of the national team.
In 2015, Klinsmann has brought in just two new players for competitive matches with the national team: Gyasi Zardes and Ventura Alvarado. While Zardes has been solid for the most part, Alvarado has struggled mightily, though Klinsmann keeps selecting him. Many USMNT fans blame the center back pairing of Alvarado and John Brooks for the losses in the Gold Cup. While Alvarado certainly represents a promising talent, he is clearly not ready for the international level. Why Klinsmann keeps selecting him is baffling.
Additionally, Klinsmann has rejected players that could help the national team time after time for no apparent reason. The perfect example is Benny Feilharber, a true No. 10, in great form in MLS, who Klinsmann refuses to call up to the national team. Feilharber seems like the perfect player to place in front of Michael Bradley in the diamond, but for whatever reason, Klinsmann won’t bring him in, much to the frustration of the USMNT fan base.
Ultimately, this bizarre methodology has characterized the Klinsmann era, but it has worked. The United States won the 2013 Gold Cup and advanced out of the group in the World Cup, two stated goals of the team.
Unfortunately, it has stopped working recently, and Klinsmann has reached his do or die moment as national team coach. If he can defeat Mexico, he should be lauded for the progress he has made for U.S. soccer, but if he cannot come up with a victory on October 10, it may be time for the United States to move on.