After sputtering out of the 2015 CONCACAF Gold Cup in dreadful fashion, the calls for Jurgen Klinsmann’s firing as Head Coach further intensified. A Jeckyl and Hyde performance against Peru and the shellacking at the hands of Brazil in suburban Boston only tossed kerosene on the flames. A large contingent of US fans and media are pushing the Confederations Cup play-in match against Mexico as a “win or be gone” match for Klinsmann.
But is that a wise change to make at this point?
Sunil Gulati in a difficult position with Klinsmann. The primary goal for any USMNT Head Coach should be qualification for – and performance in – the quadrennial World Cup. Every decision towards the team should be viewed through than lens. The view after the 2011 Gold Cup was such that Gulati sacked Bob Bradley and replaced him with Klinsmann.
The current style and makeup of Klinsmann’s setup has come under increased scrutiny. Clearly he’s on shaky footing right now, given the dire performances versus Jamaica and Panama to close out this summer’s regional test. Every match that passes leaves the team appearing ill-managed – holding onto ageing players like Jermaine Jones, Kyle Beckerman, and Chris Wondolowski, while asking talented players to adapt to new tactical roles (Michael Bradley and Alejandro Bedoya more recently).
Should a dire loss to Mexico in October mean a coaching change? In past years when qualifying would have started in the next calendar year, I would have agreed. The past several months of USMNT play has underwhelmed. Even some of the players Klinsmann wrested away from rival nations have failed to impress. This is especially evident in John Brooks and Ventura Alvarado, who have not passed the smell test.
But with World Cup Qualifying being the real prize, can Gulati afford to make a change a mere month ahead of the opening match? Would that place Klinsmann’s successor at a disadvantage, having to deal with whatever chaos comes from the change? Not to forget being tossed into qualifying with a group that has underperformed of late.
It’s true that the United States received a favorable draw in Round 4 with Guatemala, Trinidad and Tobago, and St. Vincent and the Grenadines likely presenting only a minor challenge. And maybe Group C could be viewed as an appetizer to the real meal, the Hexagonal. Out of the three groups, it’s the one you’d want if you were bringing the team up to speed with a new coach.
Still, it’s a risk. But is it a bigger risk than beginning the 2018 cycle with Klinsmann calling the shots? That’s the question that lies ahead should the US stumble against Mexico next month.
But realize that the Gold Cup failures could have been the nail in Klinsmann’s coffin, if Gulati had pulled the plug. By not doing so, it heaps more pressure on Klinsmann for the Confederations Cup Playoff in October. A loss there would only reinforce what many already believed – that it should have been done in August.
The Post-Gold Cup solidarity with Klinsmann is a stand that Gulati may have to ride out, for better or for worse. If somehow the US fails to make Russia 2018, would Klinsmann really be the only one to blame?