On a day that was set up to provide vindication for Jurgen Klinsmann and US Soccer, the day only brought more questions, more anger, and more blank expressions. On a day when critical goals for Klinsmann himself could have been met, the US failed to meet them, and now everyone is left to wonder just how much improvement there has been over the past four years, if any.
Early in Sandy, Utah, an impressively talented group of U-23’s took the field against Honduras attempting to write wrongs of four years prior in Nashville and qualify for the Olympics. Instead, the team played as Caleb Porter’s group did; uninspired, indifferent and frustrated football and let Honduras outplay them, and outcoach them. At no point did the same group that tore Canada, Cuba and Panama to shreds with the likes of Morris, Hyndman, Trapp and Kiesewetter ever look threatening. In fact, with as many players playing out of position and “out of their comfort zone”, it looked not all different to the senior team. And therefore the result can’t be surprising. Sure they can still qualify for the Olympics, but the road is far more difficult than it should be.
Later at the Rose Bowl, the US hoped to replicate big game performances past with an almost identical lineup to that of the game against Ghana at the World Cup. “A better version of ourselves” should be enough to be our greatest rivals, so the thought goes. The performance looked nearly identical, with the US conceding possession and almost constantly looking under siege. Except for a few counter attacks and set pieces, the US looked no different than they had prior to Jurgen Klinsmann taking over the reins. Inviting pressure is a dangerous game, and even against tepid tactics from Tuca Ferretti, the US paid for their cautiousness.
Jurgen Klinsmann set out two objectives for this new World Cup cycle: qualify for the Olympics and the Confederations Cup. He wanted those players to get major tournament experience that they cannot get in the Gold Cup and would not get otherwise. The sentiment is fine, even for tournaments that in the grand scheme may not mean much, but when your own expectations aren’t met and you’re directly responsible, it’s time for questions to be asked.
The game at the Rose Bowl was a typical US-Mexico game, but it could have been different if the US even attempted to play different tactics than they seemingly threw away a year ago. The midfield of Jermaine Jones, Kyle Beckerman, Michael Bradley and Gyasi Zardes was poor, and even though Mexico was outnumbered they always looked superior. Every player that was churned through the midfield grinder through all of those friendlies evidently wasn’t better than an aged Kyle Beckerman and a crocked Jermaine Jones, and it showed. Clint Dempsey and Jozy Altidore were practically invisible, though there isn’t much they can do when the midfield can’t maintain a hold of the ball.
Mexico’s tactics begged for them to be attacked. Tuca Ferretti was naturally conservative seeing as he too had a short deck, but the US never mounted a serious string of possession to even conceive of challenging them. El Tri were not amazing, but they didn’t have to be to win the game. And they looked on top from the word go.
Now that two critical goals were not met, many are asking whether US Soccer is in a better position than they were four years ago when Jurgen Klinsmann took over. The answer is not one Klinsmann will say himself, but it seems fairly obvious. When a year’s worth of experimentation leads to a rehash of tactics that barely did enough to beat Ghana in the World Cup, and do little after, it’s a worthy question. When a promised tactical identity looks just as idealistic as it did four years ago, it’s a worthy question. Even though “Our team showed a lot of character and tremendous effort to come back twice”, when the spin doctor seems sick of swallowing his own medicine, it’s a worthy question. And when you say, “The Gold Cup was influenced by poor referee decisions. That’s why we were here tonight” instead of even remotely taking the fall for some poor decisions, it’s a worthy question.
The good news for Klinsmann and US Soccer, is that the gap between this harrowing day and World Cup Qualification is short. The road to Russia is comparatively easy, and shouldn’t pose many problems (though many said that four years ago and it took an Eddie Johnson stoppage time goal to beat Antigua). Even if the performance was the best of the year overall, what does that say about the other results, including the wins in Holland and Germany?
Landon Donovan said Klinsmann should be fired if he lost this game, but his seat isn’t nearly as hot as many would have wished. His contract is too sweet, and US Soccer doesn’t have the money to eat the salary it would take, even if it would mollify some of the angriest around the program. The managerial business is an instant gratification and “what have you done for me lately,” and ever since the World Cup, the results from top to bottom throughout the program haven’t been there. The players might not be world class but in one off game situations, anyone can beat anyone. The sport continues to prove that time and time again, and needs no further proof.
There will be many pieces on many different soccer websites like the one you are all reading right now. They will probably echo similar sentiments. The chorus continues to grow louder as they reach their crescendo, and soon even Sunil Gulati will have to listen. At some point, too much spinning will make you dizzy.
After a day of top to bottom failure, it seems like many around US Soccer are dizzy. And there isn’t enough Dramamine to go around.
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