Following a run of defeats against winnable teams, Jurgen Klinsmann was relieved of his duties as head coach and technical director of the United States Men’s National Soccer Team. The slide started in the Concacaf Gold Cup in 2015, when the team was humiliated in the semifinals to a Jamaica team ranked significantly below them. Concerns grew, and Klinsmann came under fire for poor tactics and player selection. At the time, the result was regarded as a one-off event, and Klinsmann was allowed to continue in his position. A 2-1 defeat to Mexico was regarded in the same light before a 4-0 humiliation at the hands of Costa Rica led to Klinsmann being shown the door.
A year later the USA participated in the Copa America Centenario with big hopes. The team did reasonably well, and only lost to South American superpowers Colombia and Argentina. The Yanks finished in fourth, tying their best ever finish in a Copa. Just like during the Gold Cup, questions surrounded Klinsmann regarding tactics and player selection. Klinsmann, in an excuse that he would become known for, defended himself and threw everyone under the bus for a lack of effort.
Pressure began to build on Klinsmann when the Americans dropped a match in a venue that was supposed to be their fortress; the Mapfre Stadium in Columbus. A late goal from the ageless Rafa Marquez gave El Tri their first win in Columbus, ending a streak of 2-0 wins at the venue by the Yanks. Klinsmann sent out the Americans in an unfamiliar 3-5-2 formation, with questionable personnel choices like the injured Jermaine Jones starting over an in-form Sacha Klestjan and young talents being ignored in favor of limited veterans like Timmy Chandler. The Americans stumbled out of the gate and conceded early to Miguel Layun before an injury to Tim Howard gave Jones and Michael Bradley a chance to plead with Klinsmann to change the formation, which he did. A reversion to a standard 4-4-2 led to the Americans equalizing; however some clever substitutions from El Tri boss Juan Carlos Osorio made sure that the outcome would never be in doubt. This result left Klinsmann on the hot seat; losses to El Tri are never tolerated, and the ever-present questions plaguing him returned.
This pressure came to a head in Costa Rica. The Americans had never won in San Juan, and this trend continued, as Los Ticos played the Americans off the pitch in a 4-0 cakewalk. The players looked unmotivated and uninterested in grabbing a victory, and in the post match rather than accepting that he had made a mistake in selecting players like Omar Gonzalez who sometimes looked like he was taking in the sights of Costa Rica in his wanderings about the pitch, he put the blame squarely on his players. US Soccer grew tired of this trite excuse, and handed Klinsmann his walking papers.
It is vital that we look at Jurgen Klinsmann’s reign in charge of US Soccer for what it was, good and bad. Klinsmann led the Yanks to a victory in the 2013 Gold Cup, and led the Americans into the Round of 16 in the 2016 World Cup, where they rode a brilliant Tim Howard performance to a near upset of Belgium. However, Klinsmann’s legacy is secured by a different element; his ability to spot, recruit, and integrate talent was phenomenal. Under Klinsmann, young players like Christian Pulisic, Lynden Gooch, Cameron Carter-Vickers, Matt Miazga, and Julian Green were elevated to the first team and given a chance. In addition, players with dual-citizenship were enticed to play under one of the finest players of his generation, like John Brooks, Jermaine Jones, Fabian Johnson, Aron Johannsson and others. Many of the dual-citizens are mainstays of the national team and the young talent identified and given a chance have cemented themselves as the future.
Klinsmann was succeeded by Bruce Arena in a much debated move. Many feel that Arena will leave out talented players in favor of “Americans” because they are dual-citizens. He has controversially said that “players on the national team should be–and this is my own feeling–they should be Americans. If they’re all born in other countries, I don’t think we can say we are making progress.” Arena was skewered for this comment, and he later walked them back, but questions remain.