It’s over. Jurgen Klinsmann, five-and-a-half years after being hired to transform the United States men’s national team, has been fired.
US Soccer President Sunil Gulati finally pulled the plug on his handpicked coach on Monday afternoon, six days after the US lost 4-0 in Costa Rica in one of its worst performances in recent times.
Bruce Arena is expected to be announced as Klinsmann’s replacement on Tuesday. Gulati will speak to the media on Tuesday afternoon.
This was a decision a long time in coming. The USA’s loss in Costa Rica was its worst in World Cup qualifying since 1980. Five days before that, the US lost a thirty-match home unbeaten streak in qualifying against Mexico.
By any standard, Klinsmann was failing as a manager.
The 2015 Gold Cup was truly the nadir. Take away the quarterfinal win over Cuba, and the US was outshot in that tournament 85-47 by Honduras, Haiti, Panama, Jamaica, and Panama again.
That wasn’t a blip. The US was also outshot 92-44 at the 2014 World Cup that also saw the US possess the ball less than any other US World Cup team in modern history – including the team of semi-professionals that competed at Italia ’90.
This from a man who, when he was hired, promised to deal in the kind of possession-based, high-tempo soccer that the US had never played before.
But Klinsmann couldn’t follow through. As a gameday coach, he was spectacularly out of his depth – constantly and needlessly churching through formations and personnel.
The never-before-used 3-5-2 that he sent the US out in against Mexico in Columbus two Fridays ago was only the most recent high-profile example.
The facts: US Soccer’s Elo rating when Klinsmann took over after the 2011 Gold Cup Final was 34. It’s now 33. There was no transformation. There wasn’t even evolution.
It turned out that Klinsmann – tasked more than any other single person ever has been with the development of the game in the United States – had nothing but contempt for the game in the United States.
He had nothing but contempt for both journalists and supporters. On Sunday night, seeing the writing on the wall, he told The New York Times that everyone calling for his job was “being disrespectful,” and “ignoring the facts.”
He was completely dismissive, and, at times, openly hostile with MLS – the league which, whether you like it or not, is and will continue to be the bedrock of the national team.
Klinsmann seemed to think he was the messiah. But in the last two years, evidence to the contrary became overwhelming. Every soccer media member of note called for his firing in the last week.
It appeared that Klinsmann had lost the team as well. The performance in Costa Rica was abject at the very best, while Michael Bradley in the aftermath of the Mexico loss criticized the US’ lack of “clear ideas.”
This isn’t an original story. Philipp Lahm wrote in his autobiography that when Klinsmann was in charge of Bayern Munich, players would have to gather themselves before matches to decide how they wanted to play.
Lahm surely could sympathize with Bradley and Jermaine Jones, who two Fridays ago had to go to the US bench and ask that Klinsmann scrap the 3-5-2 during a brief stoppage of play in the first half.
It wasn’t just that he couldn’t coach. In addition to the fans, the media, referees, and US Soccer culture, Klinsmann also had a maddening habit of throwing his players under the bus.
This week it was Christian Pulisic, somehow responsible for the 3-5-2 debacle, and John Brooks, who Klinsmann held responsible for Mexico’s game-winning goal. Brooks responded to this criticism with his worst-ever performance for the national team in San José.
In the past it was Fabian Johnson, Bradley, and Landon Donovan – who, it should be noted, won Klinsmann his only trophy as a manager with an inspired performance in the 2013 Gold Cup.
Donovan was, of course, all class in the wake of Klinsmann’s firing on Monday – just as Klinsmann’s son Jonathan so memorably wasn’t when Donovan was absurdly cut from the 2014 World Cup team.
Klinsmann’s response to the past week’s adversity was to lash out – ironic, considering both that he had always pushed his players to get “out of their comfort zones,” and that he had built his public image on unfettered cheerfulness.
“The fact is,” he said in The New York Times interview, “we lost two games. There is a lot of talk from people who don’t understand soccer or the team.”
It was a breathtaking interview – and an unmitigated slap in the face to the many supporters who have traveled around the world supporting the manager and his team over last five-plus years.
Klinsmann was given every chance to succeed with the US. Gulati, his boss, was his biggest champion. As technical director, Klinsmann had carte blanche over the entire program.
But that too, was a disaster. Under Klinsmann’s guidance, The US missed back-to-back Olympic games for the first time in fifty years.
This firing was an absolute last resort. Now, in the middle of qualifying, with the US in trouble and the World Cup just eighteen months away in Russia, the US is set to turn again to its most successful manager.
Arena, in short, knows what he’s doing. That alone will be a sea change for the USMNT.
Like Klinsmann, Arena has plenty of personality. But where Klinsmann was an egoist, the Brooklyn native has swagger. This US team, with its deepest and most talented player pool ever, feels ready to bounce back. It will be a good match.
Arena can steer a team through the Hex in his sleep. For the first time since Klinsmann was hired, a new day has dawned for US Soccer.
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