A View from Afar / Commentary

It’s time to fire Jurgen Klinsmann

Photo: Earl Gardner

The time has come for U.S. Soccer to fire Jurgen Klinsmann as men’s national team coach.

Friday’s stunning 2-0 loss at Guatemala was only the latest warning, and the subsequent 4-0 win in the return match in Columbus, Ohio on Tuesday wasn’t enough to erase all Klinsmann’s missteps.

The loss at Guatemala highlighted all the consistent problems from Klinsmann’s tenure and how they could – will – eventually cost the national team in significant fashion. Most notably:

  • He continues to play players out of position or, at the very least, at positions that are not their best. DeAndre Yedlin is a right back who has yet to prove he can consistently produce as a wide midfielder. Geoff Cameron is a far better center back than a right back. Michael Bradley isn’t a No. 10. Mix Diskerud is not a defensive midfielder. And so forth.
  • Klinsmann’s tinkering and experimentation have resulted in no lineup consistency or chemistry among players who train together only during national team duty.
  • There remains no consistency in how he treats players. Tim Howard started in Guatemala despite not playing in months for his club team. True, this is Tim Howard we’re talking about here, but nearly any other player on the team would be sitting under those circumstances, as Howard did in Tuesday’s win.
  • He continues to freeze out too many veterans who could be driving the team and still be young enough to contribute at the next World Cup. Benny Feilhaber is the best example, but players like Eric Lichaj and Lee Nguyen are also ones to note.
  • Tactically speaking, the U.S. has not improved – and has probably regressed – in the attractiveness and fluidity of their style of play. It’s still a lot of run fast, try hard, play counterattack. Granted, maybe it’s time we accept that as our style and say it’s not so bad if it wins games, but it’s certainly not what Klinsmann promised or what he sought to achieve.
  • He continues to play German-style mind games with an American roster, and they have yet to show that they actually work.

Tuesday’s win in Columbus only further illustrates the point. When Klinsmann rolled out a lineup pretty much everyone other than him would consider more logical than the mess he trotted out Friday, the national team won easily. Home field and renewed drive certainly played a part, but so did the simple premise of deploying players in their best positions.

Beyond that, there is the matter of the Olympics, which the U.S. will now miss for the second consecutive cycle. Klinsmann wasn’t coaching those teams, but they fall under his purview. He plays a key role. He is liable there too.

Has Klinsmann done some things right? Certainly. Most significantly, he has demonstrated how the U.S. should be recruiting and retaining dual nationals, and he has done an able job of cap-tying these players. For those who criticize those players raised overseas as not American enough, consider the fact that, in most of the cases, these players’ fathers were overseas because they were serving in the U.S. military. That makes them plenty American. (Full disclosure: I’m an American overseas raising a dual national son, and anyone who claims my boy isn’t American enough can sit on this flag and rotate.) Klinsmann has rightly capitalized on that, and his successors should follow suit.

But that part of his job more truly falls under his technical director responsibilities. As an actual coach, he has done nothing to demonstrate he should maintain the job, either in actual competitions — where his performance has fallen short of predecessors Bruce Arena and Bob Bradley — or otherwise.

To those who have long cautioned patience – and I was among them – we have now reached the point at which Klinsmann’s consistent missteps imperil the national team’s World Cup chances. The loss at Guatemala may be past, but it’s indicative that this team can lose to anyone, regardless of their minnow status. This team could absolutely lose to Trinidad and Tobago at home, and if you doubt that, consider their already historic losses to Guatemala and Jamaica. T&T is a better team than either. And that’s not even factoring in the final round of qualification.

Some may say, “You can’t fire Klinsmann until you have a good replacement lined up.” The point of this column isn’t to name is replacement, but there are capable hands. One scenario could be to bring back Arena for the current World Cup cycle, with Jason Kreis (or another younger coach of your liking, such as Gregg Berhalter) on board for an apprenticeship that could lead to his taking over the team. There are plenty of alternatives to that, so don’t let disputes about replacements divert your attention from the need to replace Klinsmann. The position is now prestigious enough that it would attract more high profile foreign candidates than it has in the past.

Further, for those worried about eating the remainder of Klinsmann’s contract, take note that U.S. Soccer would probably lose more money if the national team misses the World Cup.

The bottom line is that the U.S. national team is not in better position than when Klinsmann took over the job. It is probably worse off, and there are few signs that will change before the World Cup. It’s time for Klinsmann to go.

49 Comments

  1. I’m ok with the idea of firing him, but the idea of bringing back Arena for one cycle is pathetic and part of the problem of American soccer.

    We didn’t improve an iota under Arena’s watch. We prioritized the big, strong ,fast players over all else. Same thing under Bradley. Their failure in doing anything to change the attitude of the youth programs is a major reason why we are in this position.

    For all his failings, atleast JK will publicity decry our limitations, and based on how complacent we got, we needed that.

    I’m all for getting rid of JK, but not at the expense of taking another 2 steps back.

    • Jim Presti says:

      +1. Fine. Get rid of JK. But don’t bring in an MLS coach. The systemic issues of the USMNT result from the MLS/USSF closed system. Too much priority on big/strong/fast etc. Oscar Pereija [SP] may be the only exception.

    • Zizouisgod says:

      There are plenty of good examples of bringing back a manager to coach a national team and having greater success during the 2nd terms.

      Like Guus Hiddink with the Netherlands…oh that’s a bad one.

      How about Dick Advocaat with Netherlands…no, that didn’t go as well.

      I got it…Big Phil Scolari with Brazil…he won the 2002 World Cup and oh wait…then lost seven nil to the Germans with a terribly put together squad for a host nation so that doesn’t fit the narrative either

      Geez, this was harder than I thought.

  2. #CapTieDan’sSon

  3. Andy Muenz says:

    Now is as good a time as any to do it. Coming off a 5-0 win (or what would have been 5-0 but for a poor offsides call), you’re demonstrating that it is not a knee jerk reaction to a poor game (heck Sak won his last game with the Union). The US don’t have a meaningful game for over 5 months so it will give the new coach time to decide on his best team. (IMO the US as well as the rest of CONCACAF are bracket/stadium fillers and I expect to see 8 South American teams in the quarterfinals.)
    .
    So there really won’t be a better time in the next 2+ years until after Russia, unless the US doesn’t qualify in which case he is probably out the day after they are eliminated.

    • el Pachyderm says:

      The US are going to qualify. The US are going to survive the group stage. The US are going to get bounced in first knockout round again. The Media Ass Clowns are going to paint this as success. The US Soccer federation and the large contingent of fans are going to accept this rhetoric as truth.
      .
      This is the worst case scenario.
      .
      Failure to qualify is actually the best case scenario.

      • I don’t think most american soccer journalists will call that scenario a success. I don’t know if I am looking at things askew retrospectively but I don’t remember people being all that happy with our performance at the last world cup

      • I seem to remember it being thought of as a success relative to previous cups: we barely got out of the “group of death” (whether it was or not is debateable) and took a top ranked team to extra time. In 2010, we barely got out…of a group that was not remotely the group of death. In 2006….well. Only if you go back to our improbable success in the 2002 WC can you really paint it as “not progress,” at least in terms of pure results. Now obviously there are all sorts of other factors to consider, from development programs, style of play, etc. But there was a justification in the media for saying it wasn’t a step backwards.

      • .
        It wasn’t a step forward though… did we win the game in the round of 16?
        .
        No.
        .
        beyond that – what is your metric for success at the World Cup level? I know what the media’s metric of success is… label it Group of Death as the manager calls it Group of Death… make it sound scary, make surviving this terror some kind of victory… get outplayed for 2.5 games… in the group stage…get staggeringly outplayed against Belgium.
        .
        Did we win the next game?
        .
        still the answer is, No.

      • Just Rob f/k/a Rob127 says:

        Media Ass Clowns. Awesome band name.

  4. He should have been fired after the 2012 World Cup.
    .
    If not then, then certainly after the 2015 Gold Cup embarrassment.
    .
    I’m continually amazed that someone who is so bad at his job, and in such a public manner, is continually given praise and support from US Soccer.

  5. Old Soccer Coach. says:

    As I read Dan’s thinking, when he referred to Arena And Bradley’s tenures as national team coaches, the fact that they had Landon Donovan in his prime did cross my mind.
    .
    The point made somewhere above, that an important consideration for the National team coach is not losing the revenue generated by a World Cup final tournament qualification, is an excellent one.
    .
    Who would be the top American candidates to be the # 10?

    • I can’t believe I’m saying this, but… Benny Feilhaber or Lee Ngyuen. (I’d go with Lee at this point because there’s no way to get 2 more WC’s out of Benny). These aren’t exactly great choices. It’s one of the places on the pitch we’ve seldom developed the type of talent we need to. Since 2000, who besides Landon has had sustained success there?
      .
      But this highlights the greater issue Klinsmann had when he took over: Revamping our youth system, changing the way we recruit, teach, and develop players. I thought this crop of U-23s would be the referendum on his success. Seeing us bow out, I have a hard time labeling it “success”.

  6. Just saw this article:
    http://screamer.deadspin.com/last-night-showed-why-the-usmnt-still-sucks-1767973651

    So yes, while the gameday managerial flaws not even the staunchest Klinsmann defenders would dispute may cost the USMNT a few games here and there and have arguably already been enough to justify his firing, the greater issues American soccer faces going forward have very little to do with the in-game organization of the exceedingly mediocre talents on our senior team. How we spot, train (pay-to-play, anyone?), develop, and coach American soccer players far before they are eligible for international caps is why we aren’t good enough. (And it’s on that front where Klinsmann’s least forgivable missteps lie.) Our domestic league, with its structural defects, that promises to one day soon feature world-class talent yet to this day has failed to consistently produce even European-quality players of its own—while the “smaller” leagues it professes to have leapfrogged, like Colombia’s Categoría Primera A, regularly churn out players like James Rodríguez and Carlos Bacca and Juan Cuadrado—is why we aren’t good enough. The tendency of our best and most promising players to shirk the smelter of the European leagues where true greatness is forged in favor of easy minutes and money in MLS is why we aren’t good enough.
    If only there were a man—an outsider, most likely—with experience overseeing the successful overhaul of a nation’s soccer development structure, who could spot this country’s systemic problems and galvanize everyone into acknowledging that those issues must be first and foremost addressed before our delusions of grandeur could even be humored, and constantly pressure the players and the system to improve themselves, then we might have something real to build on. I’d want a guy like that leading the way over here, even if he did have a few flaws.

    • el Pachyderm says:

      Like a breath of fresh dharma air. Like the first bite of Tiramisu. Like a fine Ecuadorean coffee.
      .
      All these come second to this comment.

    • Zizouisgod says:

      So Colombia’s U-23 players have more senior level experience than the US players which is why they were superior.

      Yet, the writer then writes, “The tendency of our best and most promising players to shirk the smelter of the European leagues where true greatness is forged in favor of easy minutes and money in MLS is why we aren’t good enough.”

      So the US lost because their players don’t have enough 1st team experience, but the US players choose MLS over Europe because the minutes are “easy”?

      These seem like contradictory theories to me…what am I missing?

  7. Hear, hear, Dan. I was willing to wait a while for a German with a pedigree like his to make something of this team. I also believe that often the firing of a coach is simply a CYA move by the people above him.

    But not in this case. He’s had more than ample time, the expectations were reasonable — nobody is expecting the US to make a World Cup final or anything — and he’s made little to no progress. It is getting very difficult to see why he should keep his job. You point out, rightly, the one thing he did well, which is to recruit the dual nationals. Other than that, what rationale is there to keep the guy in the role?

  8. pragmatist says:

    This comes down to a simple question: How important is success to US Soccer (the organization, not the concept)?
    .
    It’s a simple question, because, as Dan says, the job is now an attractive worldwide position. If US Soccer is willing to spend $10M-$15M year on a coach, they can bring in some of the top talent the world has to offer.
    .
    I’m not saying that Pep would walk from his Man City contract, or the Simeone would leave Atletico in favor of the US over any other club in the world. But we can be an attractive landing spot. On top of that, the best coaches have North American-sized egos. Imagine being the manager that is finally able to unlock the potential of the American player?
    .
    It’s time for US Soccer to start dreaming big. If it matters enough to them, they can make it happen.

    • “Imagine being the manager that is finally able to unlock the potential of the American player?”

      I’d argue there is no potential (unless you mean being able to bunker 10 men behind the ball and play like Greece for the rest of our lifetimes).

      Unless JK is willing to stay on as the TD, any new coach needs to be able to articulate and champion a vision that trickles down to the youth level.

      • pragmatist says:

        You could argue that the US has the greatest collection of athletes anywhere in the world. We currently spend the vast majority of our money and focus on football, basketball, and baseball. El P argues all the time that youth soccer is, for lack of a better way of summarizing, a casual activity for kids, just so they aren’t stuck on their phones or playing video games
        That is not the case with the other 3 sports.
        .
        Yes, it will take a universal plan and vision (VPP, I believe was the acronym) that trickles to the youth levels. But that honestly gets a kickstart when kids have role models. Outside of Duece, who are the US Soccer Role Models? American kids are buying Messi jerseys, not Zardes jerseys.
        .
        The right personality and manager can change that. No, I don’t know who that is…

      • Did you watch the game last night? Zardes is crap. No first touch and no passing ability.

        But I agree. Though it has less to do with athletes and more to do with teaching soccer the right way, I think.

      • pragmatist says:

        Exactly. It’s a lack of passion from a young age. When that passion exists, and the teaching/coaching exists, you can cultivate that athleticism into world-class talent.
        .
        We have not been able to harness that yet. We’re closer to successfully developing cold fusion or desalinization techniques that we are to converting American athleticism into soccer/futbol talent.

      • Who did have good first touch and passing ability last night? No, seriously. Even Bradley looked clumsy.

        I was playing FIFA before the game last night and I was noticeably struck by how clumsy our passes and touches were compared to my digital players. And before you roll your eyes, I was playing with the 2015 Union! (I like a good challenge.)

      • el Pachyderm says:

        Trickles UP from the youth level.
        .
        Soccer is 90% intellect. I see it each week in places with bold ideas but failed philosophies from USDA to YSC.
        .
        The game does not teach! Teachers teach the game in a country where kids do not play for 12 hours a week on the street.
        .
        For the love of God hire Horst Wein pay him a mint and give him full control of all development under 12 to give the coaches above ample time to generate more IQ themselves to teach the smarter players. Soccer is not about athletes.
        .
        Pay Horst Wein a mint for 12 years. Problem Solved!

      • el Pachyderm says:

        Total Autonomy…. Oh and open the pyramid because at its CORE the reason we are even discussing this come ha k to this one small issue.

      • el Pachyderm says:

        If you don’t think they are connected you are fooling yourself.

      • If only we could, Horst passed away last month. 🙁

      • el Pachyderm says:

        Holy Hell. Damn didn’t know.
        .
        Pick the tree then…. gotta be some one caring it on.

      • Amen Philosopher ,,,, The American soccer system is based on Athletics not intellect, I seen it in College, Academy and the youth system. We got to get rid of the British Irish. Scotch 70’s kick and run system , It doesn’t work that style hasn’t won since 1966, POSSESSION AT ALL COST, you can’t score if you can”t control the ball, let the ball do the running it never gets tired

      • To this, Jerome, we agree.

  9. Dan C (formerly of 103) says:

    Dan, you are 100% correct.

  10. Zizouisgod says:

    Dan – I totally agree and I only read the headline.

  11. From Futterman’s WSJ article yesterday:
    .
    “Klinsmann was going to make us cool—never mind that after flaming out with Bayern Munich, the soccer cognoscenti in Europe were starting to question whether Klinsmann was actually all that cool himself. Philipp Lahm, who played under Klinsmann for Germany and Bayern, wrote in his autobiography that, “the experiment with Klinsmann [at Bayern] was a failure. We were only working on our fitness in training. He didn’t care much for tactical stuff. It was up to the players to come together before a match and discuss how we were going to play.”
    .
    Does this not seem very familiar to what is happening with the US team? How can one defend a coach who seems to be a fake who depends so much on his sidekicks (Lowe when he won the WC with Germany). I am in favor of Arena/Kreis until the WC and then getting Lowe.

  12. MikeRSoccer says:

    Grab Arena, Kreis, Berhalter, or even Bradley for 2-3 years. Guardiola will do what he always does and move on from Manchester City in that period. He’s the type of coach you splurge for.

  13. Sorry, but it’s not time. Not until you have a better plan. I agree with all your points but you don’t fire the coach and keep him as TD. Nor would JK agree. Who is your new TD? That decides your next coach. The USSF board should convene and give Gulati firm goals, including Copa, WC & ’20 Olympics. JK should accept some help if he really wants to keep this gig. Listing for sale his Newport Beach home is curious.

  14. Friends as I mention above this is bigger than Jurgen Klinsman::::
    .
    If we are expecting MLS Academy to produce world class individuals in a league built to pamper and guarantee investors ROI we will wait FOREVER.
    .
    It will never happen… I lobby for it but that doesn’t mean it will occur.
    .
    Nope. The system is designed to mean median mode. The whole league is designed for parity (right choice of words this time) and the masses of casual fans we are trying so desperately to attract eat it up because we like to know the Detroit Lions stand a chance if they just get their shit together in the next 25 years… meanwhile the hardcore niche of people who know what it takes are totally marginalized.
    .
    This is BIGGER than Jurgen Klinsman. He is and will be a scapegoat and in the cafe he sits in someday with his buddies, he will tell you off the record, he knew it couldn’t be fixed to the best of his idealist pragmatism.
    .
    Take up your musket… “take the pillow from you head” as BDP once rapped in malice… recognize the system is designed to the middle and security.
    .
    Malice? There’s that word again today from me.

  15. Dan, ur last sentence states the fact that can not be disputed, the USMNT is not in a better position since KLinsman took over, and probably worse off… Time to pull the plug on Klinsman, and believe me when I say ‘I was thrilled when he was hired’, but after the time he has been granted , he has proven his time is up. USA USA USA USA USA USA !!!!!

  16. der Fussballzuschauer says:

    the correct spelling of the national team trainer of Germany’s name is Joachim Loew

  17. Hey Pep! You want a real challenge? He’d be more than $3 mil a year though…..

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