Op-Ed: Time To Fire Klinsmann? That Came and Went in October 2015

Jurgen Klinsmann's US just suffered the program's worst loss in qualifying in over 50 years. Is it time to make a change?
Jurgen Klinsmann’s US just suffered the program’s worst loss in qualifying in over 50 years. Is it time to make a change?

Jon Levy

Premise: After two bad losses of different types the US must fire manager and technical director Jurgen Klinsmann, who’s been outcoached, and at this point, exposed, in his national team tenure.

My Take: Don’t fire Jurgen Klinsmann.

Rationale: This will not be a defense of Jurgen Klinsmann. If you’re looking for that, look elsewhere.

Jurgen Klinsmann should have been fired on the night of October 10th, 2015. That’s if you’re on the West Coast. If you’re on east coast time give him another day. Jurgen survives to see the calendar turn to October 11th, 2015 before getting canned.

If you want to indict US Soccer President Sunil Gulati, indict him for not firing Jurgen then. Indict him for allowing the USMNT manager to fail and fail, again and again, after the shameful failure of the 2015 Gold Cup, which saw the US lose a match on home soil to Jamaica, a country that before Klinsmann, the United States had never lost to before. Indict Sunil for enabling Jurgen to miss out on the 2017 Confederations Cup by losing to Mexico, led by an interim coach, on American soil October 10th, 2015. Indict Sunil for appointing a technical director who stated qualifying for the Olympics was “our biggest priority” and then helplessly watched his Under-23 team lose to an under-talented Honduras squad on the same day as the CONCACAF Cup debacle. And for the uninitiated, that technical director was and is also Jurgen Klinsmann, and that loss to Honduras all but sealed the American U23’s missing out on a second Olympic Games under his direction. I’ll spare you the suspense; the team didn’t pull out a miracle in the Olympic playoff against the most talented Colombian side in a generation.

Jurgen hasn't delivered on the bold promises of his introductory press conference. That would be okay if he were still grinding out results. He isn't.
Jurgen hasn’t delivered on the bold promises of his introductory press conference. That would be okay if he were still grinding out results. He isn’t.

October 2015 was a great time to fire USMNT manager and US Soccer technical director Jurgen Klinsmann. The move would have been completely justified for the reasons outlined above, but more importantly, World Cup Qualifying hadn’t even started yet. And don’t give me the “who are you gonna get that’s better than Klinsmann?” argument. That might hold water if Klinsmann had sparked the kind of on-field revolution he promised in his first pressers. If we ever saw this, promised by the Californian by way of Germany on the day he took the job, August 1, 2011:

“Studying your culture and having an American wife and American kids, mainly right now my understanding is that you don’t like to react to what other people do. I think this is maybe a starting point. I think America never really waits and sees and leaves it up to other people to decide what is next. I think America always likes to decide on its own what is next. This guides maybe towards a more proactive style of play where you would like to impose a little bit the game on your opponent instead of sitting back and waiting for what your opponent is doing and react to it. It always depends, also, on your opponent. If you play Brazil or Argentina, you might play differently than maybe a country in CONCACAF, but it is a starting point if you say we want to start to keep possession, we want to start to dictate the pace of the game, we want to challenge our players to improve technically in order to keep the ball. “

But that kind of play and exponential growth hasn’t been achieved, and if the argument is that it’s coming as a result of his technical directing of the overall program, can I at least watch my team’s up and comers in the Olympics? Like once? But I digress. The point is, it wasn’t going to take Jose Mourinho to replace Klinsmann. Oh, and by the way, he was available then. Yeah, we probably couldn’t have tricked him into taking to job as an ego-trip, but I’d have made the phone call.  Furthermore, I’d have thrown a job offer at everyone that’s a tactical upgrade, from David Moyes, to Jason Kreis, to Dick Advocaat. That would have been a great time for a new manager with some new ideas. Bruce Arena, Chepo De La Torre, it barely matters. All the managers I’ve name-dropped would have brought something to the table, and October 2015 would have been an ideal time for that transition. We called for the move loudly on this site at the time, but this isn’t a self-righteous blog post built on “I told you so.”

Rather, it’s a reminder that now is absolutely not a good time to fire Jurgen Klinsmann.

We’re not staring forward or backward at Copa América. We’re in the thick of the damned “Hex.” And we don’t have a point to show for it. And, yes, that’s down to Klinsmann more than any underperforming player. But the fact that we’re not a fifth of the way into a club soccer season could, and should, save Jurgen’s job. The USMNT doesn’t have 20 or 30 games left to avoid relegation, or climb back into the hunt for Europe of the playoffs. This team has eight games left to try and accrue all the points it needs to make the World Cup. And one of those games is at Azteca, where the Americans have never won in qualifying.

Just as we’re not a struggling club team hoping to make a new appointment and turn its season around, we’re not Mexico either. US Soccer does not bring a manager in and tell him, “Hey, you’re gonna have to win your next five and get us to the World Cup or you’re fired.” Miraculously, we’ve seen that work for Mexico, but I’d bet money against that approach working for the USMNT.

So for me, the sad truth is that Jurgen needs a boot up his pants and some adult supervision, not a plane ticket back to Southern California. Jurgen Klinsmann’s failure to deliver on the bold promises of his introductory press conference would be fine if the manager were still delivering results. He isn’t. But it is more than that. The Costa Rica debacle and Mexico loss combine to fall so short of this program’s standard that a firing is more than justified. Let’s repeat that: a firing is more than justified, and the opinion of the editors is the Sword of Damocles should have dropped over a year ago. But Sunil stood by his man during an opportune window to make a switch.

Now Gulati’s painted himself, and all of us, into a corner. And Gulati’s promise last night, to “sit down and talk with Jurgen and look at the situation”, tells us he knows it. Excuse me as I mix these metaphors, but Jurgen’s only option is to come out fighting… and that might not even be a metaphor, because the more I think about that, the more I mean it literally.  

Again, I’m sorry if you came here looking for hope.

If it’s any consolation, pair this resignation with a side of Pulisic.

 It might go down easier.

Jon Levy is the co-founder of The Yanks Are Coming. Follow him on Twitter @TYAC_Jon.

  • Patrick Keeler

    Honduras actually was a semi-finalist at the Olympics. Plenty to hang JK with, but that was lazy to say Honduras was under talented. They turned out to be the best team in CONCACAF by far this year. If the US was on the other side of the bracket, they make it and Mexico loses to Colombia.

    • This is a fair criticism though not “lazy.” Remember Pinto made some changes before Rio that improved that Honduran team. Even he admitted that no team benefited more from “over age players than we did,”

      • Patrick Keeler

        Yes, lazy was lazy on my part. How about overzealous? Good article

  • Jermaine of Tarth

    This is not a cogent argument. The fact that we’re in the hex and the stakes are high is precisely the reason why emergency measures are required, despite the fact that in hindsight, it would have been better to make a switch last year.

    • I think that’s a fair rebuttal but it doesn’t render this argument “not cogent.” On the contrary- should the US replace Klinsmann, there is basically no time for a new coach to install anything. This means you have to hire a retread or at the least a proven national team coach- which is tough when the program needs an overhaul now. You can’t hire Arena to guide you through the Hex, for example, and then hire Pareja to coach the World Cup. So whomever they bring in has the job through Russia.

      I get the idea that the stakes are high so you have to pull the plug– I think Jon is arguing that US choice is really limited now that it has and is being done so late.

      • Patrick Keeler

        If a coach can’t get anything done in four months, why do club teams ever change managers? Yet they do it all the time. Big Sam has made a whole career of taking over on the fly. Most of our European players have a winter break during the four months and MLS is between seasons. You could have a month long camp if you wanted. Arena, for example, has coached long enough that he has systems and training methods he can roll right out.

  • Gotham Gator

    We are 4 months and 8 days away from our next game in the Hex. No time like the present.

    • I think the 4 month window is overstated. Holidays in the middle and the lack of an internationally recognized break forecloses the chance for a new camp. Means you have to go with a retread (arena, probably). Program needs jolt of new life- a Pareja maybe, a Kreis perhaps. Can’t do that when qualifying at stake. Gulati did this to himself.

  • RIC DAMICO

    Great article and I tend to agree, with your recommendation. A few questions: 1. Would Coach Bradley consider a return to coaching the US team and would he be a good fit? 2. What experience since leaving the US Program make him more qualified now, to lead the team to WC win? 3. You suggested a longer camp – wouldn’t that also help JK, with gelling the team? 4. Are there coaches or players that have the capacity to immerse themselves in the talent we have and to push another formation and/or mind set, into the heads of the players? I don’t have the answers and I appreciate your response. Keep up the great writing!

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