Another dramatic and important night in US Soccer ended as many expected it to, with the US Men’s National Team putting in a typical American effort in a 4-0 demolition of Guatemala, while the U-23’s lacked the quality or the nous to overcome Colombia in the second leg of their Olympic qualifying tie.
So where does that leave the US National Team program heading into the Copa America Centenario in the summer, and beyond?
In Columbus, the senior team put in the shift everyone expected a desperate team to put in at home. There are times in World Cup qualifying when desperation sets in, and in the past the US has always responded. When they needed to win in Barbados to qualify for the Hex in 2001, they did (though it took 65 minutes to finally get a goal, they scored three more). Last time in this very stage of qualification, the US gutted out a win against a game Jamaican side and scraped into the Hex, where the qualification voyage sailed with less turbulence. Tuesday night, the US’ talent won out against a Guatemalan team that was absolutely abysmal, even for a team that barely scraped by Antigua to get into the semifinals of qualifying altogether. They weren’t even that amazing from open play, but their quality on set pieces and Guatemala’s total lack of quality meant that the US was always favorites to win, and win comfortably.
The Olympic team on the other hand, melted down against Colombia in Frisco. With only one shot on target over two legs, and otherwise being totally outclassed outside of one defensive breakdown in Barranquilla and a wind-aided own goal, the U-23’s were comprehensively outclassed, outthought and outgunned. In most situations, this wouldn’t mean much since the Olympic Men’s Soccer Tournament is in many ways the red-headed step child of competitive tournaments, but Jurgen Klinsmann prioritized the competition and in two straight cycles the group he has overseen has failed to qualify, embarrassingly so, twice. There isn’t much shame in losing to Colombia over two legs, but the complete and utter failure against Honduras is the reason why the American U-23’s are not at the Olympics for the second cycle running.
Is it fair to judge Jurgen Klinsmann’s tenure as technical director on making it to tournaments that don’t really matter? In some ways no, but seeing as he himself is the reason why qualifying for the Olympics and Confederations Cup meant so much, he must be judged on it. Is he the sole reason for the failure to qualify for the Olympics? Of course not, since there are fundamental and structural issues that US Soccer hasn’t come close to fixing, but as technical director Klinsmann assumes responsibility for these failures as the leader of the program. Under his watch, the team failed to qualify for two Olympics and the U-17 World Cup three years ago for the first time ever. Saying he has failed in some ways does not mean those below him and those before him are off the hook, but even if he won’t take responsibility for the failure, it’s evident he’ll use this as a crutch going forward for future failures on the pitch.