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Jurgen Klinsmann

CONCACAF offers Jurgen Klinsmann an easy crisis reprieve

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Sometimes in life, the “way out” of a jam is by … doing nothing. You keep your head down and ride out the proverbial storm, uncomfortably perhaps, but more or less safe in the knowledge that worms turn, fortunes swing, the sun comes up tomorrow, etc.

The waves of frustrated discontent over Jurgen Klinsmann and his performance as all-powerful US mean’s national team boss are beating US Soccer shores like never before. The manager (and technical director) is increasingly embattled, to the point that his boss, US Soccer president Sunil Gulati, is feeling the pressure, too. Gulati must surely be into “sleepless nights” territory over the whole thing by now.

The “whole thing” is a miserable year for the national team. The calendar has not yet turned and, yes, World Cup qualifying begins before the New Year. Still, there is no other way to see 2015 other than the big steaming pile of poopy that it was.

SEE MORE: US Soccer has systemic problems in addition to holding Klinsmann and Gulati accountable

Every business, from the local snow cone stand to global corporate heavies, execute for long- and short-term goals. The national team’s short-termers for 2015 were, in order: Gold Cup championship; in lieu of that, claim the Confederations Cup spot through a playoff; progress in playing that more dynamic, high-pressing style Klinsmann promised all along.

Attached to Klinsmann’s personal, short-term to-do list – remember, in Klinsmann’s position as technical director, he is in charge of all U.S. men’s teams – was to gain a spot in the 2016 Rio Olympics.

So, did we check all the boxes? Uh … any of them? Nope. Not a one.

You may support the man and his transformative efforts, and you may have faith in the longer-term design. It’s a fair position to take. But there is no other way to see it: the calendar year for Klinsmann was a complete bust. Period.

If he was conducting revolution by completely turning over the player pool, this would all look different, of course. But he’s not. Otherwise … well, Jermaine Jones. Enough said.

Tuesday’s loss to Costa Rica in a meaningless friendly – pointless as a result, but perhaps meaningful in lack of fight and telling in the lack of attacking ideas – was a appropriate exclamation point on this turd of a year.

SEE MORE: Klinsmann fans are uniting with critics in wanting the US head coach gone.

Which brings us to today. I know it’s popular to line up and take your swing at the Klinsi piñata right now. And if you’re inclined to stew about all this a little longer, you may want to quit reading, because you probably don’t want to hear this:

I do see a fairly clear path out of this thicket for Klinsmann. At least for 2016.

Or have you not seen the United States’ group for fourth round World Cup qualifying, aka the semifinal round? (The United States, Mexico and other successful CONCACAF teams merge into World Cup qualifying in this round.)

Qualifying begins next month in St. Louis against St. Vincent. The nation, that is, of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, although in terms of relative strength, Klinsmann and Co. may as well be going up against the other St. Vincent, the Grammy-winning singer-songwriter.

From there, the United States faces Trinidad & Tobago and Guatemala. Reports from a recent Guatemalan friendly cited Carlos Ruiz as the country’s top player that evening. Yes, that Carlos Ruiz … 36 years old, a pretty hard “36” as well.

T&T offers some threat, especially on the road, although the Soca Warriors will never be confused with the Seleção of Brazil. The match in Guatemala won’t be easy … but it’s not exactly a match at the Azteca either. Through a procession of managers, the United States has had Guatemala’s number, unbeaten in 20 games dating to 1988. Lately the gap is widening; five of the last six matches were US wins, the last two by a combined 10-0 margin. On US soil, the Yanks are 15-0-1.

All of this is to say, the United States will steer through this fourth round relatively trouble free. Yes, I know things are in a tailspin. I’ve written about it. Again and again, it seems. (Heck, look back at this one from January and then ask, did we see any progress at all this year?)

Still, you don’t need the eyesight of a Vegas bookmaker to see what will happen. The United States will whup some butt at home and, a potential hiccup at either T&T or Guatemala notwithstanding, manage things on the road. They’ll get out of the group (top two advance) based on talent. Yes, I said “based on talent.”

Even with Klinsmann’s quirky, questionable choices and his pinpointed disregard for MLS talent (hello, Benny Feilhaber), the talent pool is more than sufficient for this round. Remember, four years ago World Cup qualifying started with Jose Torres, one of the top creative players in the pool at the time, playing as a left back against Antigua. The semifinal round of World Cup qualifying is that forgiving; you can get away with Jose Torres as a left back and still win 3-1.

The final round of qualifying will be different, much more of a bugger. But even then, top three of six gain World Cup places; the fourth gets into a playoff – the path Mexico took into World Cup 2014. We’ll have time to debate the odds of success on that one.

SEE MORE: Gulati to blame for decline of USA.

But for 2016, the semifinal round will come and go with grumbling about choices and tactics, etc. perhaps, but ultimately with plenty of points. Onto the “hex” we will march!

It will be Klinsmann’s “out,” his opportunity to get things right. Or, at the very least, to get things pointed in a better direction. (It will be easier if he puts some stubbornness aside and understands that his approach needs adjustment … but that’s a different 1,000-word piece altogether.)

There is another way this could go; Klinsmann’s proverbial helicopter could lose a tail rotor and go into a seriously scary and swervy downward spiral. If he loses complete faith from the players and the team begins semifinal round qualifying with yet another apathetic stumble, sentiment will reach a tipping point.

In that scenario, confidence in Klinsmann drops to a point where media and supporters essentially say, “If Gulati doesn’t ‘get it’ and won’t admit that he chose poorly and needs to correct his own mistake, then he’s got to go, too.” Someone will make noise about issuing a strong challenge to his U.S. Soccer presidency down the road. (Gulati was re-elected to another four-year term in March of 2014, so he’s the man until 2018.)

Still, Gulati could begin to fear for his own U.S. Soccer place and hasten a move borne of self-preservation, never mind the big payout ahead for Klinsmann, under contract through 2018. (You really gotta think Gulati wants a “do-over” on that one now, especially seeing the trouble second-cycle managers historically have had.)

But, honestly, does anyone see all that happening?

It’s highly unlikely. Again, the talent pool may seem painfully shallow, but it isn’t. It just needs refreshing. It needs Klinsmann to go full “revolution.” Which means dropping faithful servants like Jones, Kyle Beckerman and, yes, probably Clint Dempsey, too.

Yes, any of the three could be useful in spots going forward, especially in the looming final round of qualifying. But against St. Vincent next month in St. Louis? Believe it: the younger guys will be fine.

This will be Klinsmann’s opportunity to get it right … or at least “right enough,” so that everyone will put away their pitchforks and lanterns for the time being.

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7 Comments

7 Comments

  1. Arthur Adams

    October 15, 2015 at 10:36 am

    While I do not believe Klinsmann (I’ve long been a JK supporter) gets a total pass (more on that later) here, I will say this:

    Mexico has benefitted without a good coach. They beat us with an interim manager. The reason why, as I see it is simple (and frustrating): Mexican players that want to represent El Tri realize the importance of playing in a Top 4 League. The Mexican League may still be a better league than MLS, and yet we don’t see top Mexican talents staying at home– they are abandoning their comfort level to play overseas, because they understand the importance of playing with and against the best players in the world.

    When Klinsmann asked his top players NOT to play in MLS, his comments were taken poorly and he got skewered as being anti-MLS, which is ridiculous. Every National Team Coach wants his best players playing in England, Italy, Spain or Germany’s top tier.

    MLS has been critically important to the development of American Players, but when you can progress to a level of play that is much higher than what MLS currently can offer, why would you stay here? That players like Gonzalez, Besler etc. chose to stay in MLS is a huge problem for The National Team. Further to that end, that Dempsey, Bradley and Altidore were practically forced to come home– yes, FORCED, is just a travesty for The National Team. MLS paid 2.5 to 3 times more than these players were worth on the international market, to bring them home. Who could expect those players to pass up that kind of money? No European Club however, will ever touch those contracts for the ridiculous money they got and so they’re stuck here, playing at a level that is below the leagues they were in. You can’t blame the players for taking the money, but it’s been destructive to their careers level-of-play-wise. Those 3 players are making considerably more than the majority of players on Roma, Sunderland and Tottenham, with whom they were fighting for quality playing time.

    Mexico doesn’t have this problem and God Forbid Klinsmann were to come out and say this, but it’s the reality. MLS is great and gets better every year, but we need our best players playing in the four best leagues in the world– Just like The Mexicans– who didn’t even have a coach, are doing.

    I said that Jurgen doesn’t get a total pass here. The Costa Rica game meant nothing; if he felt pressure to win it he fields his best team and doesn’t make the subs he made. Still, he needs to take more responsibility for his mistakes. He shouldn’t have aired his grievances about Johnson- an important player for the future of the team, in public. I don’t know the whole story, but that seemed disappointing, and I hope Johnson is not predisposed to now refuse future call-ups. I’d like to see Jurgen start calling in players totally based on form, and playing those players in their natural positions. He also needs to keep insisting that his best talents go to Europe– something that is now impossible for Bradley & Altidore because no club would ever touch their ridiculous contracts.

  2. Tom

    October 15, 2015 at 9:52 am

    He and Gulati need to go. This is by goat the worst the USMNT have looked in over 30 years.

    I cannot believe Tim Reame is not getting more praise. I thought he was the best player on the field and he is a CB in the EPL.

    For the opposing teams shots taken and shots on goal plus passes completed in our defensive third is higher under Klinsmann than any othe coach.

  3. José Goenaga

    October 15, 2015 at 4:39 am

    Great analysis. Yes, it’s time to rejuvenate.

  4. VicBklyn

    October 14, 2015 at 8:52 pm

    Let klinnnsman do his job. Be patient.

    • Marc

      October 14, 2015 at 10:14 pm

      what job… he is on welfare

    • Roehl Sybing

      October 15, 2015 at 5:46 pm

      “Let klinnnsman do his job. Be patient.”

      Or else what?

  5. Marc

    October 14, 2015 at 5:36 pm

    Yes all is fine and dandy… and I appreciate your analysis… however, your scenario can happen with any other coach and I don’t need high-paid Klinsmann,,, sure US Soccer make take it on the chin pay-wise… but why hold on to a Coach who is controversial, hates MLS denigrates US soccer has not had any positive effect neither as a coach or technical director… all you are saying that chancer are we will qualify for the WC… sorry that is not good enough anymore… maybe I am absolutely naïve but with a high profile and expensive coach we expected and deserved much more… let me remind this audience that Mexico in the last 5 years have had 5 coaches…. they don’t put up with abject failure…as I said we don’t need Klinsmann to simply take us to Russia

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