Another international break, another round of criticism aimed at USMNT manager Jurgen Klinsmann. Following a recent string of poor results–the U.S. finished fourth at this summer’s Gold Cup and lost the CONCACAF Cup to Mexico–fans calling for Jurgen Klinsmann’s job have never been louder.
When the U.S. fell 1-0 down to St. Vincent and the Grenadines after just five minutes, those fans were sharpening their knives. Unfortunately for them, the U.S. won 6-1, but apparently some fans couldn’t let a successful match stop them from calling for the manager’s job
Let me just say I do understand where some of this is coming from. In today’s sports world coaches aren’t given much time. Fans and owners for the most part have no patience. This is magnified even more for international soccer managers who typically only get about 16 matches a year. If the fans feel you’re the better team than your opponent and you don’t win, well that’s a massive failure.
This time around though fans have been relying on two criticisms of Klinsmann. Let’s break them down.
Jurgen Klinsmann is constantly playing players out of position
Let’s call a spade a spade here. This is about Michael Bradley. It’s not about Fabian Johnson being shuffled between the midfield and right back, or DeAndre Yedlin playing a right winger. It’s not about that time Klinsmann moved Jermaine Jones to center back, or dropping DeMarcus Beasley from a winger to a left back. This is about Klinsmann insisting on turning Michael Bradley into an attacking midfielder and how terrible his form has been since the move.
It’s important to remember that when Klinsmann came up with the idea to move Bradley to the no. 10 role not only was everyone on board with it but it was also a good idea. It would allow Kyle Beckerman, the team’s best holding midfielder, to step into the team and keep Jones on the pitch. Furthermore, at the time, Bradley was the U.S.’s best player getting forward. His vision, timely runs into the box, and creativity were all remarkable. Lastly he was preparing to move to Toronto in the MLS, who were going to be playing him in the same position.
The move hasn’t worked out, mainly because Bradley’s form has been terrible. At times when he’s been dropped back to his traditional no. 8 role, he once again looked great and his deep balls were remarkable. He hasn’t been able to carry that form into the no. 10 role, but that also doesn’t make it Klinsmann’s fault that he seemingly has forgotten how to possess the ball or make a simple five yard pass to one of his teammates.
Klinsmann has experimented with several players, as many international managers have. Some of them have worked (Johnson, Beasley), while other like Jones to CB or Mix Diskerud and Ale Bedoya as holding midfielders haven’t. Other then Bradley though, Klinsmann was very quick to cut the cord when those experiments didn’t work, hardly something to criticize him about.
Jurgen Klinsmann is inconsistent with his team selection
There are several reasons why this one is completely unfair, the first of which is that no great manager has consistency in his team selection. Sir Alex Ferguson used to routinely go 150+ matches without fielding the same team in back-to-back games and he was winning league titles at that time.
It’s almost impossible for an international manager to be consistent with his team selections. International managers get about two games a month with their teams. There are several factors that contribute to not all players always being available such as current form, injuries, or in the U.S.’s case, MLS commitments. This more than anything contributes to the lack of consistency.
The other side of the coin is that Klinsmann has been experimenting with his lineup and has been begging for certain players to demand a constant spot in the team. The problem is that none of the players have been consistent either, so how can Klinsmann truly rely on them? Gyasi Zardes has been great this year, and in turn has become an automatic starter, so it’s not like Klinsmann is being consistent just for fun.
The biggest reason this is ridiculous is because he’s been doing this for the past year when the U.S. was mostly playing friendlies that don’t matter. The point of friendlies is to experiment. Klinsmann rotated his squad a bit at the Gold Cup, but that’s because the U.S. was playing every three days in 95 degree heat and humidity. Not only did he not have a choice but he also rotated the squad in units, as a measure of maintaining consistency.
When you’re an international manager it’s about the World Cup. It doesn’t matter what you do in qualifying as long as you get there. Keep in mind when Klinsmann took over the U.S. he spent a lot of early games experimenting as well, losing four of his first six matches. In the end, he was able to implement his system and get them to the World Cup.
Once he got the squad to the World Cup he started the same team as he did in the team’s final pre-World Cup friendly. From there he made one change due to injury vs. Portugal, two tactical changes vs. Germany, and one tactical change vs. Belgium. It’s hard to be more consistent than that.
It’s amazing how far soccer has come in this country that people are so upset that the U.S. isn’t winning games that don’t matter. They had a hiccup this summer in the Gold Cup, but that happens. The important thing is Klinsmann has a long-term plan and he’s sticking with it.