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US soccer media ignores fact that Klinsmann dealt a bad hand


As expected, the USA’s 2-1 loss in the CONCACAF Gold Cup semifinals to Jamaica was met by the usual chorus of critiques from some quarters of the American soccer press and reactive US fans. The criticism was quite predictable –“Jürgen Klinsmann must be fired,” “The US is badly underachieving,” “This team was better off under Bob Bradley,” etc.

Jürgen Klinsmann isn’t being fired nor should he be fired.

The US men’s talent pool might be deeper than ever but at the top it is also weaker than any time since the 1998 World Cup.

Compare the current squad to players from the past including Claudio Reyna, John O’Brien, Joe Max Moore, Landon Donovan and Brian McBride. Looking at the current roster, only Michael Bradley would likely have started in the 2002 World Cup quarterfinal against Germany and that would have been in a withdrawn midfield position.

The Jamaica team that defeated the United States last night has a number of accomplished professionals playing in the top two divisions of English football or in Major League Soccer. Jamaican defender Wes Morgan, for example, captains a Premier League club, Leicester City. No American has ever been a permanent “club captain” of an English top-flight team. But to listen to the droning on and boring analysis of some in the American soccer punditocracy, “the USA should have faced little competition from Jamaica,” a team that impressed in the Copa America last month in close-shave defeats to Uruguay and Argentina.

SEE MOREKlinsmann may not be the right person for USMNT job

The disrespect to CONCACAF opposition is a new facet of the fandom and others who critique the US Men’s National Team. During the era when American-born coaches ran the men’s national team, we were told the region was full of exceptionally talented sides and that Bradley’s changes were often fortunate to prevail. During the 2009 Gold Cup, excuses were made following a 2-2 draw with Haiti and a 5-0 drubbing in the final to Mexico. In fairness, Bradley played that competition with a B+ side, and did a credible job in his four plus years in the job. But the overall message is that Klinsmann should roll over CONCACAF opposition and that the US is supremely talented.

The combination of wanting to pin failures on a German-born manager who has criticized the overall structure of US Soccer as well as MLS, while defending the team’s stars who have come home to MLS instead of toughing it out in Europe has driven much of this “analysis.”

SEE MOREDon’t blame Jurgen Klinsmann for USA’s shortcomings

Klinsmann does have shortcoming as a manager, no doubt – he falls in love with player potential rather than performance and regularly makes tactical mistakes in-game. But the overall direction he seeks to bring this program is a positive forward direction that must be undertaken. Unfortunately, like Steve Sampson, he is dealing with an era when most of the team’s stars left European clubs, and the high-level training and game action offerSD ed in those leagues for the relatively soft life as an MLS poster-boy/superstar.

It is a healthy sign for our major domestic league that they can offer contracts to top American players that allow them to return home. But the welfare of MLS and US Soccer are not necessarily tied together. Perhaps it is more important for the sustained growth of the sport in this country to have all our top national team stars playing at home. But if this is the case, we should accept and expect national team failures. For the time being, the two are irreconcilable – MLS offers a less tactical, nuanced and sophisticated game than the top European leagues. The training regime in the league is also not at the level of the top leagues on the other side of the Atlantic.

Some of the criticisms of Klinsmann have merit. But he has also been dealt a bad hand that is exacerbated by the desire of some in the press and US fandom to protect our domestic leagues and institutions. Fear of change has long characterized some in American soccer. Sunil Gulati knew when he appointed Klinsmann that the pushback would be beyond anything we had seen before if results went south. Unfortunately, that is what we are witnessing today.


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  1. Creek

    August 18, 2015 at 12:58 pm

    It’s great to see you insult anyone who doesn’t think Klinsmann is a good manager as xenophobic while also disparaging every other aspect of American soccer that isn’t named Klinsmann. You disparage the American players and the American domestic league as responsible for the worst Gold Cup performance in US Soccer history, while giving none of the blame to the manager because he isn’t American and is somehow better for it. Who is discriminating based on nationality?

    Yes, the players failed at the Gold Cup. But to say Klinsmann was dealt a bad hand is a blatant lie. As a national team manager Klinsmann chooses the cards he plays, they aren’t dealt. He chose to play his personal favorites, while leaving off better and more experienced players to satisfy his ego. The results speak for themselves. Brooks was not good in the Gold Cup and Chandler and Alvarado were terrible. You can’t blame MLS and the American developmental system when your are fielding a roster of players who didn’t grow up in the US and have never played in MLS.

  2. JD

    July 24, 2015 at 5:46 am

    I disagree with the statement that Jamaica’s talent was underestimated. One player on a crappy EPL team isn’t going to get you over the hump. The MLS guys on the team are not the best in the league- some are maybe a little better than your average starter.

    The issue is that JK keeps picking teams that fail to perform in tournies because he keeps making tweaks and changes to personnel right up to kick off. He keeps changing tactics, line ups, and who is even called up. Beating teams in friendlies, while impressive, doesn’t mean much at the end of the day. Our average opponent rank in the three tournies under JK is 75 (13/15 GC, 14 WC). Our best wins were against Ghana (in 14) and Costa Rica (in 13). We are a results based country and this is a results based sport. Bruce got us to the quarterfinals and Bradley got us a win against Spain (in the midst of winning 20+ straight) and our first ever FIFA final in the 09 CC. Klinsmann got us a GC final win over…59th ranked Panama. I’m sorry. I don’t think we would be any worse off with a different coach. I do think we would be better off at least with consistency in call ups, line ups, formation and not JKs flavor of the moment mentality.

    Keep JK as technical director, but please replace him as coach.

    • Kei

      July 24, 2015 at 9:55 am

      “I disagree with the statement that Jamaica’s talent was underestimated. One player on a crappy EPL team isn’t going to get you over the hump.”

      LOL typical American sense of arrogance, ignorance, and entitlement. USMNT doesn’t have any more of a god-given right to win the Gold Cup than any other country in CONCACAF..

      Jamaica counts nine England-based players on the squad, plus a few more English-born players plying their trade outside of the UK (including Giles Barnes, one of their goalscorers on Wed). They’re not chopped liver by any stretch of the imagination — you’d just never know it because all the talk about how the US was going to blow the doors off of them in the Georgia Dome.

      But hey, at least Chester’s close enough to Philly.

      • Mr. Mud

        July 25, 2015 at 12:58 pm

        Biggest difference is Jamaica has a good coach.

        • Mac

          July 27, 2015 at 3:07 pm

          Biggest difference isactually that almost every CONCACAF team plays the Gold Cup like its the WC, because sadly its the most glory they can achieve.

          I’m not saying the USMNT or Klinsmann didn’t care about this tourney (Jurgen said it was important), but it was pretty obvious that the WAY we were trying to win it was more important than winning at all costs, by any means necessary.

          For example, relying on Brooks and Alvarado to carry you to a tourney win was a mistake, but imagine if the results were different. Imagine if these 2 VERY YOUNG (Both are 23 or under) centerbacks actually played really well, and gained valuable experience in keeping your composure against some of the scrappiest teams in the world. We’d be set for not just the next WC, but the next 2 maybe 3 WC.

          • Firas Shadad

            July 27, 2015 at 5:27 pm

            Bingo! He gambled on youth and attempted to win at the same time. It did not work this time but I don’t mind it.

      • Tucker

        July 26, 2015 at 1:59 pm

        It’s coming. The youth system is changing. The technical players are being recruited from Europe at the younger ages. Hyndman, Zelalem, Carter-Vickers, Yedlin already is a MNT regular. They are raw though.

        Americans are used to American Football. Yedlin is like that young receiver from the NY Giants. I don’t think people would call him the best in the NFL but they would be happy to see him based on his potential.

  3. DivinityHope

    July 23, 2015 at 9:05 pm

    Except it was two MLS players that scored against the US. The fact a NYRB 2 team, can beat a talented Chelsea team, shows while a gap exist, MLS teams are not far behind.Also MLS is better, then alot of leagues in Europe.Europe isnt one giant national league. It has many different leagues & MLS is better then alot of them.Also this team, is the best depth the USMNT has ever had. While Jurgen ignores players like Shipp & Finlay. Or defenders like Tim Parker.Parker. In fact, Sampson had the benefit of the MLS of today. Jurgen does,yet does not use it enough. The good news both Manneh & Nagbe will be able to play for the USMNT in a few months, yet will Jurgen pick them?

    • Mr. Mud

      July 25, 2015 at 12:57 pm

      I agree that Klinsmann seems to not like to pull from the MLS. Many good players that have not and probably will never get a call up.

    • Mac

      July 27, 2015 at 2:54 pm

      Please don’t compare a team in the middle of a season, in optimal match fitness and form (even if they are just reserve players) to a team who is doing a tournament on another continent, right after a much more grueling season, just to sell jerseys and promote their brand. Which do you think Eden Hazard was thinking about? a loss to NYRB, or his upcoming vacation before the start of having to defend their title?

      Second, this isn’t 2002. Without singling you out personally, people need to stop thinking that when when someone talks about playing in Europe, they’re talking about the whole continent. No one is talking about playing in Finland or Armenia; They’re talking about the Big 4, and even France, Netherlands, Portugal. No MLS team can be successful for a whole season in any of those leagues. The depth just isn’t there.

      Lastly, be careful when evaluating and rating players in MLS, or lesser leagues in Europe; you have to evaluate beyond just the obvious. Dempsey was an easy pick when he was at Fulham, because he was scoring goals at will against some of the best defenses in the world (e.g. comeback wins against Man. United, Chelsea, chip goal against Buffon, etc.). But trying to rate MLS players is much harder. You cannot just evaluate a player on his contributions alone, but how is he contributing? what qualities is he demonstrating? Is he just using physical attributes to score goals, or tactics and off the body movements to put himself in postion to score? Prior to the WC, everyone considered Zusi our best winger, but he demonstrated that while he certainly has a great cross, he was a usually a half second to slow getting those crosses off, and that is the difference between sending a perfect cross in, or getting it blocked. I’m not saying the MLsers you mentioned aren’t talented or worth taking a look at, i’m just advocating that we have to evaluate said players by the way they play, not just the stats their throwing up.

    • Andy in Angeles

      August 1, 2015 at 4:37 pm


      When you say this is the best depth the US has that is irrelevant. Klinsmann’s team is not going to play Bradley’s or Arena’s team.

      What, matters is is the talent gap between US player of today and his big time opponents like Germany or Ghana getting any smaller? And I would say no. In the 2014 World Cup in Brazil the US had the least accomplished and least talented squad in their Group. This was also true in 2010.

      In fact so called weaker teams like Jamaica are getting better. In the 2005 Gold Cup 19 of the 23 players on the Jamaica team played with local clubs. In 2015 that number was down to 2, with most of the rest playing in England, Europe and North America. They are catching up and that is not Klinsmann’s fault.

  4. Smokey Bacon

    July 23, 2015 at 8:54 pm

    The criticism has nothing to do with the fact he is German, at least not from me. The bloke sings the national anthem unlike some of the players. I just don’t think the USA is progressing under his leadership, it’s that simple. Why is he untouchable? It’s not like the USA could not attract a better coach. It would be a great opportunity for some of the top coaches out there. The next guy need not be American. He just has the give the impression he knows what he is doing and not making it up as he goes along.

    • LoMag

      July 24, 2015 at 8:55 am

      Not saying I’m not frustrated with certain aspects of the Klinsmann tenure, but please name one coach who would be able to step in and advance the program right now AND would have even 50% chance of taking the job.

      • Smokey Bacon

        July 24, 2015 at 6:34 pm

        You make it sound like nobody would want the job. Why not? USWNT is almost guaranteed a World Cup spot every four years, they have quality players in various leagues and are similar level to say Switzerland in world football terms with plenty of upside. With the right incentives they could maybe attract the likes of a Klopp or Prandelli, both of whom are out of work right now. Or why not a Hiddink or Capello? But for experience, maybe they should get Bob Bradley back.

        • Realest Realist

          July 24, 2015 at 6:55 pm

          US at a similar level as a country that has produced the likes of Shaqiri, Xhaka et al in recent years, and whose national team stalwarts are regulars at clubs like Juve, Napoli, Inter, Galatasaray, and Leverkusen?

          Okay. As you were.

          • Smokey Bacon

            July 24, 2015 at 7:04 pm

            I think you will find the two teams have a comparable World Cup record. If anything, the USA’s is better. And while the current crop is not as strong, we have produced players of equivalent quality.

            All I’m saying is the USA is no longer a non entity in world football and don’t need to settle for Klinsmanns mediocrity.

            • Mac

              July 27, 2015 at 3:20 pm

              Records, like stats, in soccer don’t mean anything. Its why I love the beautiful game. You can be one of the best player on your team without ever scoring a single goal or assist. (See Alejandro Bedoya on Nantes; the guy has more MOTM awards than actual goals/assists)

              The only reason why Switzerland doesn’t have a similar record is because it is a lot harder to qualify for the WC in Europe. Sorry but it is.

              Yes there are minnows in Europe that make Trinidad and Tobago look good, but largely you have about 5-7 great teams and another 10-15 really good teams all trying to make the World Cup. CONCACAF has 3.

        • Mr. Mud

          July 25, 2015 at 12:53 pm

          No, Bradley. I think he has improved but still no. I want Schafer ( he is German so that would shut up the your anti German crowd ) and he is doing a wonderful job with Jamaica. They actually look like a cohesive team more than one game in a row.

        • Andy in Angeles

          August 1, 2015 at 4:25 pm

          JK makes 2.5 million dollars. That would put him in the lower half of EPL manager salaries.

          Hiddink would laugh at it. The man who replaced him in Russia, Capello, makes about 11 million Euros though they may have fired him by now.

          Bradley wants to manage a top Euro club and may get his shot in the next year or so. Taking the USMNT job would be a set back for him.

          Very few people outside the US share Klinsmann’s faith in the US player so why would they take a low paying job with little chance of success in the only relevant competition they play in,the World Cup.?

      • Mr. Mud

        July 25, 2015 at 12:49 pm

        Schafer who is now coaching Jamaica. Offer him half what Klinsmann is making he will sign up. Every game their team looks so much better than ours. Look at his record. He is doing more with less.

  5. alex gago

    July 23, 2015 at 8:09 pm

    Announcement on JK will be stepping down as coach & manager but will remain technical director and assistant coach Herzog takes overs.

  6. Firas Shadad

    July 23, 2015 at 7:51 pm

    A lot of good points here. Two things to add:

    Other teams in this region (every where really) are getting better and the gap is closing every day. The notion that the USMNT should automatically dominate the region ( which they have for the last 4 years) is laughable.

    People are calling to fire Klinemann well before this loss and certainly the voices has dramatically increased. Calls to fire JK were heard after getting 4 points (nearly 6) after two games at the World Cup.

    • sass

      July 24, 2015 at 12:46 pm

      With a full respect of JK, one professional coach as he is need to
      understand that he cant change the system of USA soccer if he implement German methodology only in one team.
      I agree that team was better under Brasley and arguments tallking about this fact. Building process of the National Team start with U 10.

      • Tucker

        July 26, 2015 at 1:45 pm

        I have a son who plays ODP at 13 and has done so since 10. His methodology is definitely trickling down. It’s going to improve but it takes time. Players that are being taught to play with this methodology now won’t be adults for 8-12 years.

        For proof of this, look at US Soccer’s website for U14 and U16 boys teams success recently vs very top teams (Beat Real Madrid academy 2-0). Plus the U20 team just barely lost to U20 World Cup Champions by penalty kicks.

        Basically, the wave is coming. However, Klinsmann has to sort of create a vision for these younger players of what they can be. He can’t make them great, he can only show them what is possible. The player mix of the current national team still plays with that gritty, yet less technical, attitude. This new crop of players will have technical ability but be brought up with American Grit and national pride. It’s going to be a good mix but people need to be a little more patient.

        With all this said, he has to win the Confederations Cup play in because that then will affect the younger players. A large majority of the people who will play the Confederations Cup are not out of this current crop of older players. Bradley will be the Beckerman role by that point, if he is even technically skilled enough to play centrally. It’s fair to consider Hyndman and Zelalem may be better central attacking options in 2-3 years.

  7. Adam

    July 23, 2015 at 7:45 pm

    I wanted to add one important point to the article:
    JK has been building a young base over the past four years and they are not quite ready for the big show, but are arguably the most talented and soccer-savvy group the US has seen (maybe ever). Americans, including myself, want everything now. Well, that’s nice if you have the best talent in the world NOW, but we do not. Whining over a loss to Jamaica in a game dominated by the US and in which 2 lucky saves from Thompson (1 on Bradely’s rocket that clanged the post and 1 on Fabian Johnson’s curler that was bottom-corner bound) and other poor finishing (particularly from Dempsey missing two open chances) sealed the fate.

    This is not the end of the Klinsmann era, but only the beginning. By the 2017 Gold Cup, half of the team that played last night with either be out or forced to majorly step up their game to earn a spot due to the talent coming in at the U23 and down level. Hitting the panic button over one game is stupid given the progression of the youth squads and ability for Klinsmann to convince players to play for the US (not always the best players, but he is trying unlike previous managers).

    Oh, and let’s not forget Tim Howard announced his return yesterday and I’m sure Guzan had knowledge of that before the game. I’m not saying it did impact him, but talk about poor timing from Timmy.

  8. Kevin

    July 23, 2015 at 7:13 pm

    Landon Donovan did not feature for USMNT in France 1998. In fact, he was 16 years of age at the time of France ’98. Furthermore, Donovan first featured in a World Cup in South Korea/Japan 2002. You also spelled Donovan’s last name incorrectly. Please fix these erroneous mentions.

  9. Realest Realist

    July 23, 2015 at 7:08 pm

    The grim reality is that a sizable portion of the American soccer public hates him for no other reason than that he’s not from this ‘ere country.

    Furthermore, his ultimate vision of American soccer — both as the manager and the technical director — is more in line with the global standard of the game, as opposed to the domestic one. If there’s one thing this “special” group of American soccer fans hates more than foreigners, it’s foreigners telling Americans that perhaps their way shouldn’t necessarily be the only way.

    I saw several comments hinting to this earlier, but it’s tough to shake the feeling that this set of supporters would have rooted for a USMNT loss if it meant that their personal pariah would be banished from the US Soccer setup. While there was obviously no chance of that scenario unfolding, the speed and gusto with which they launched into the “fire Klinsmann” crusade after the final whistle was incredibly revealing.

    Their desire for the domestic game ultimately consists of little more than soccer being played by “real” Americans, for “real” Americans. Theirs is a complete and utter disregard for the global, cosmopolitan nature of the game. They think they can eventually have it their way. They shouldn’t. They won’t. And they never will.

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