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Gold Cup

Jurgen Klinsmann now dealing with first real crisis of his regime


After every press conference to introduce a new manager through the years – and I’ve been to a bunch, mostly in soccer, but in other sports also – some fan or supporter, thrilled about the new program savior, would approach me afterward to ask eagerly: “Well, what do you think about the new guy?”

And I always had the same response, each and every time:

“Well, everyone has all the right answers at the introductory press conference. That’s the easy part. Let’s wait and see how they handle the first crisis – the first locker room malcontent, the first destabilizing run of injury to key players or the first run of losses. Then we’ll know.”

It was never the answer they wanted to hear – but that’s the deal. In a lot of ways, that’s when managers truly earn their pay; that’s where we get to the real nitty-gritty of their leadership skills, their ability to plot a new course when ill winds blow the vessel askew. Only then do we discover whether the coach has true grit and sufficient stores of self-confidence, unbending belief in what they are doing.

That moment is upon Jurgen Klinsmann.

Make no mistake, crashing out in the CONCACAF Gold Cup semifinals represents a real crisis, the first actual trial of his four years in charge.

Oh, there have been a couple of hot potatoes here and there. The dance floor was getting a little unstable back in 2013 when the Sporting News story broke of creeping discontent in the ranks. But the Snow Clasico happened and then a draw at Azteca and all was well and swell again.

Landon Donovan’s notorious World Cup exile certainly stirred the pot. It became a strategic boo-boo the minute Jozy Altidore’s hamstring gave way, but the team escaped the Group stage, so World Cup 2014 was more or less “mission accomplished” anyway.

Those were little unplanned detours; this is the first real crossroads.

Previously, the man’s mad scientist tinkering tended to pay off. For instance, John Brooks and Julian Green seemed to be stretches for the World Cup roster, but we all applauded wildly at their goals last summer in Brazil. Point: Klinsmann!

Back in 2012 and 2013, the madding crowd wanted Jermaine Jones barred from the national team. But Klinsmann kept preaching his value, and eventually most supporters came to understand how the German-American’s steely fearlessness rubbed off on others. Point: Klinsmann!

Klinsmann once sent Altidore a big message, omitting the streaky striker from two important World Cup qualifiers in 2012. The result was a motivated Altidore soaring over the summer of 2013 for the national team.

So, those bold choices and others, plus the 2013 Gold Cup crown and several resounding results in friendlies (Germany and the Netherlands just recently) will keep Klinsmann in place for now.

He doesn’t deserve to lose his job over this.

Besides, it’s not like his team was completely overmatched Wednesday inside the Georgia Dome. Thanks to another industrious night from Alejandro Bedoya and a real captain’s response from Michael Bradley in the second half, the Americans halved the deficit, created more chances and pressed for the result. But the Jamaicans did enough, and credit to the Reggae Boyz to making Sunday’s final.

There is another side of that coin, however: the team never looked particularly impressive in the cushy group play stage; we wanted “commanding” but had to settle for “borderline capable.” When the powerhouse country gets the significant advantage of (always) hosting the tournament, the deck is stacked and nothing less than an appearance in the final, at very least, is acceptable. So the 2015 Gold Cup tournament is a failure and a major black eye on the Klinsmann regime, period.

Don’t forget, Bob Bradley was perhaps teetering after what everyone saw as “opportunity missed” in the 2010 World Cup, and when his team looked somewhat feeble against a relentless Mexican attack in the 2011 Gold Cup final, U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati had seen enough. While it’s not really fair to say Bradley was fired for what happened in the 2011 Gold Cup, it probably is fair to see the event as a “last straw.” So if we’re connecting dots here, be sure to get the context right.

Either way, Klinsmann won’t lose his job here, nor should he. U.S. Soccer made the investment, and if the federation is going to lose patience at the first real crisis of every managerial regime, then pretty soon we are going to be Mexico. El Tri has had 11 managers in the last 15 years (if you include a couple of interim bosses along the way). The United States has had three during that time, as Bruce Arena, Bradley and Klinsmann have provided the kind of stability that El Tri never even approached.

So the calls to fire Klinsmann – plenty of them this morning – are premature. But … he does have problems that need addressing. And there are questions that need answering about the Gold Cup.

First, Klinsmann badly miscalculated on the center backs. He had something pretty good in Omar Gonzalez and Matt Besler, last year’s starting pair in the World Cup. But he wanted something better, so he wagered that Anthony Brooks and Ventura Alvarado had more potential upside – and fair enough there.

The problem, of course, was the developmental curve. And that’s where Klinsmann got it wrong. They simply weren’t good enough in tandem; Klinsmann would have been better to pick one or the other and then station them alongside one of the veterans, tutoring the youngsters more and bringing them up to speed more deliberately at the international level.

Or just go with Besler (who wasn’t even named to the team) and Gonzalez in the elimination rounds; then Brooks wouldn’t have been in there to issue that meek challenge on Darren Mattocks on Wednesday’s opening goal.

Klinsmann also miscalculated on what Gyasi Zardes could deliver at his less-optimum spot along the wing. Zardes ended the tournament the same way he started it (in a close win over Honduras), looking lost out there and unable to contribute anything substantial to the attack.

And when will Klinsmann land on a basic formation (or two) and stick with it? This year alone we’ve seen 3-5-2, 4-4-2 with flat midfields 4-4-2 with a diamond in the middle and a 4-2-3-1.

Bradley is the team’s best player, and he is best as a connector between a holding man and a creator. Anyone else out there want to see Klinsmann build around Bradley and his best role?

Timothy Chandler? Most of us just shake our heads at this one, unable to come up anything close to an explanation.

These are discussion points, but not troubling issues so long as the team is progressing and winning its share. Perhaps the team isn’t progressing sufficiently under Klinsmann, in your opinion. But given the wins and results, U.S. Soccer could previously make a case, at least, that it was.

Not this morning. Not after last night’s distressing misadventure.

Now the pressure is on. Another stumble and Klinsmann’s position will be quite tenuous. How things come together now will reveal so, so much.

Editor’s note: Steve Davis writes a weekly column for World Soccer Talk. He shares his thoughts and opinions on US and MLS soccer topics every Wednesday, as well as news reports throughout the week. You can follow Steve on Twitter at @stevedavis90. Plus, read Steve’s other columns on World Soccer Talk 


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  1. Arthur Adams

    July 24, 2015 at 11:18 am

    JK was extended to see his long-term vision and goals come to fruition in Russia, 2018. This result is a disappointment. Let’s see if we can put it behind us, still qualify for Confed 2017, and really march towards a quarterfinal or even semifinal finish in 2018. God be with you, Jurgen.

    • 1st Time Caller

      July 25, 2015 at 2:25 pm

      If they lose today to Panama will you still be singing the same tune?

      No matter what the Klinsmann apologists come up with, these results do matter. The US had made the final 6 straight times.

      And if we don’t qualify for the Confederations Cup 2017, then what?

      At what point do the underachieving results add up and the hook come out? Anyone saying Klinsmann could blow all of these chances to make an appearance in the confederations cup (a somewhat major tournament) and still have legitimate job security is someone more in love with the idea of Klinsmann as savior of USMNT than someone who’s an astute judge of progress in international football.

      • Mac

        July 27, 2015 at 4:53 pm

        Lets be honest, the Gold Cup is tournament of only 2 competitors. In the grand scheme of things, its an irrelevant tournament used for bragging rights. Mexico in 2013 lost in the semi’s as well? were they terrible in the World Cup? has their soccer future imploded?

        The Confed Cup is an even more irrelevant tournament, meant to ensurre the host country is prepared, as well as line FIFA’s pockets. Spain embarrassed themselves in 2009, losing to the US. What did they do the following year? or how about Brazil, after they won the Confed Cup 2013?

        • Firas Shadad

          July 27, 2015 at 5:32 pm

          I would like to see the U.S play in it as a dry run for the World Cup. But beyond that, it’s a meaningless tournament.

  2. Mike W

    July 24, 2015 at 11:16 am

    I am disgusted and surprised by those so quick to pull the rug out from JK. A ship does not change course immediately after turning the wheel, not should coach be expected to get to every final just because he now is in charge. Many of the changes are imperceptible, but yet real. For example: We had chances to score, but didn’t. Although iceman didn’t score, but his quality is undeniable. Guys like Julian green and ArJo, the fact that they are even in the squad speaks volumes for Jk. Yeah the boys had a down game at the wrong time, allowed a flukey goal and missed one. But by all means stay back from the ledge, fellows. We will get to the Confed Cup and you will want to give the man a crown once again.

  3. Realest Realist

    July 23, 2015 at 1:44 pm

    Excellent piece.

    Klinsmann has more than earned the opportunity to work his way through the first crisis of confidence as the US manager. It would take a grotesque distortion of facts and reality to make an argument to the contrary.

    Sure, four years is a very long time in soccer, especially in the international arena. But fact remains that Jurgen Klinsmann has come up with the goods more often than not during that time, particularly when the stakes have been high. This is the first time a JK-led side has stumbled on the big stage. There’s no pattern of failure in place, as had increasingly been the case under Bob Bradley.

    One just has to wonder whether he’ll be afforded the time to navigate through the turbulence, given the acrimony between him and MLS/US Soccer. It’s not difficult to imagine USSF using a defeat in the Confed Cup playoff as a convenient excuse to kick him to the curb — not only as the manager, but perhaps also as its technical director — in favor of hiring someone who is more of a Yes man. It’s easier still to imagine that some within US Soccer may actually be rooting for that outcome (I’m looking at you, Soccer Don).

    How the “leaders” of US Soccer will deal with the current state of on-pitch affairs will speak equal amounts of volumes as how Klinsmann himself will handle the situation.

    • Roehl Sybing

      July 24, 2015 at 9:04 am

      There is nothing realistic about this post. LOL

      Certainly there is no pattern of failure but there has been a pattern of underachievement. The way Klinsi boosters talk, one would have expected to turn the US into some powerhouse team with a brand new culture and a brand new style that replaced our allegedly uncompetitive and unimaginative soccer we supposedly have in America due to MLS and, I don’t know, baseball and diabetes.

      We were promised a lot by Klinsi and got very little for it in four years, so little that one could compare Klinsi to Bradley or Arena and question whether he’s such a big improvement that the halo above his head seems to assure us we’d get.

      He should be fired, but he’s not going to be. That’s realistic. I can understand people predicting he’s going to stay put, but for people to continue their unconditional and One Direction-like support of the Boy Genius, you’re going to need to let me get the FDA on the line so we can check out that Kool-Aid.

    • Mr. Mud

      July 25, 2015 at 1:07 pm

      The first crisis was vs Belgium. The USMNT was completely dominated. Tim Howard made 15 saves. That is absolutely crazy. On any normal day we would have lost by 6 to 10 points.

      Tim Howard literally had a historic day and put himself in the history books. If not for that we would have been blown out.

      • Mac

        July 27, 2015 at 4:47 pm

        Its not a crisis, just a wake up call. A wake up call that shows where we are in the global game. If you really thought the USMNT was going to take it to Belgium, and make it a close game, you have a serious distorted view/opinion of our/Belgium’s talent. Belgium is an extremely talented team, who is only just starting to hit their international stride, similar to Spain at the WC’06. And we all know how they ended up.

        We are good enough to qualify out of a really tough group (turns out it wasn’t the group of death everyone hyped it to be, but still an extremely tough group). But not good enough to continue the streak and run of good form and fitness.

        Klinsmann said prior to the World Cup that the US has little to no chance of winning the World Cup, and the entire American Sports was outraged. He wasn’t wrong. It is the hardest knock-out tournament in sports, the only knock-out tournament with no Cinderella-esque team to ever win it. The Dutch have been trying for decades, with something like 5 finals appearances and they still have yet to win it. And we’re shocked that after only about 25 years of really playing the game, we are only getting out of the group?

        First step of solving a problem is recognizing you have one. Klinnsmann the Coach is not the problem or the solution. Klinsmann the instigator, the challenger of status quos, IS the first step though.

  4. David

    July 23, 2015 at 1:20 pm

    Good article. Klinsmann’s constant tinkering with the lineup and formation have been detrimental to the USMNT. While both Gonzalez and Besler have had their share of bad moments, one or both should have been on the roster for the knockout rounds. Experimenting with young players in a cup semi final is just foolish. That’s what friendlies are for. I’m sure we will have the same discussion again in the near future. Klinsmann has constantly been taking gambles since he was appointed manager. In the Gold Cup, he got it terribly wrong.

    • Mac

      July 27, 2015 at 4:28 pm

      Yes let’s just keep rehashing the same players and tactics. Worked wonders for Arena during WC’06, or Bradley in GC’11.

      While we’re at it, screw player development. Why give real responsibility to young players in meaningful games? Let them figure out how deal with the pressures of the international game. Why have them learn how to handle and rise above scrappy teams and sub-par refereeing? Those have no place in a tournament whose winners flip-flop every cycle.


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