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.
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.