With World Cup qualification sewn up and all left to play for is spots on the roster, winning the Hex, and a Hail Mary shot at getting a top-8 seed, attention has naturally shifted to what happens after the World Cup. Unlike ProSoccerTalk's Steve Davis, now is the perfect time to evaluate Klinsmann. World Cups are a crapshoot, so much depending on which players did not get injured and how the draw plays out. This paragraph undersells the USMNT situation when Klinsmann was hired:
Qualifying for a World Cup, if we’re being honest, was never in question — no matter what the Nervous Nellies and the anti-Klinsmann barkers said along the way.
In 2011, with the US coming off a disappointing exit from the World Cup and the disastrous Gold Cup final, the talk was not that the USMNT would not qualify for the World Cup. The question whether not qualifying for the 2014 World Cup was an acceptable step back in order to lay the foundation for a new playing style that would pay off down the road. At the same time, the national team had to go through a major transition at the back, with aging veterans holding down every position except left back which had not been properly addressed in almost a decade.
Saying qualification is just the start sells Klinsmann's accomplishments short. He has overhauled the entire back line, which has not just competent starters at every position but also something resembling depth. He instituted a new playing style that the USMNT showed off in World Cup qualifiers against Panama, Honduras, and Mexico plus most of the 2013 Gold Cup. All the while Klinsmann captured the two big prizes he needed to: qualification for the World Cup and the Gold Cup which guaranteed at least a shot at the 2017 Confederations Cup.
Barring a total collapse in an easy World Cup group with a full strength side, the Klinsmann era is an unqualified success. He wants to coach beyond 2014. His record has earned him consideration. But is four more years of Klinsmann the best thing for the national team?
National team coaches on their second World Cup cycle have two big challenges. One is that the voice gets stale, players stop listening, and the fire goes out a bit. The other is that the manager has to continue cycling through players, shifting the squad, and letting old stars fade away.
The reason it makes sense to bring Klinsmann back is that he has already faced both these issues and handled them well. His coaching already came under fire, but the team rallied around him, aided by a bit of snow, and launched a highly successful World Cup qualifying campaign. When there where questions about Landon Donovan's desire and ability after his sabbatical, Klinsmann made him earn his spot back on the A-team by leading the Gold Cup squad. Klinsmann has to make tough decisions over the next five years on Donovan, Clint Dempsey, and Tim Howard. His handling of Donovan (and to a lesser extent his tactics with Jozy Altidore) suggest there are no sacred cows.
The other side of the coin in hiring, firing, and retaining a coach is to look at the alternatives. It does not matter if Klinsmann has earned a second cycle or not, what matters is if he is the best coach the United States can get for the 2018 World Cup cycle. Most of the candidates would be domestic coaches, headlined by Jason Kreis, Caleb Porter, and Dominic Kinnear. Kreis looked to the be the heir apparent, especially if Bob Bradley had retained the USA manager job through 2014. Porter then looked to be the next golden child but has little professional experience and the flame out in 2012 Olympic qualifying is still fresh in people's mind. I'm not sold that Kinnear is the best choice to build on the foundation laid by Klinsmann, especially over Klinsmann himself.
Fast forward to 2018. By then, Porter may have five years in MLS and Kreis may be expanding his coaching experience by taking the reins of NYC FC. On top of better domestic candidates, Pep Guardiola has mentioned he might want to coach the USMNT one day. Pep coached Barcelona for four years, saying four years was enough. He then took a year off before taking over Bayern Munich. A four-year stint in Munich plus a year off would make Pep available in 2018, likely with nothing less to accomplish in European club football. If the progression of the USMNT under Klinsmann continues, by 2018 the United States may be prepared to step up a possession and pressure system to full tika-taka.
Locking Klinsmann up now rather than after the World Cup would send the message that US Soccer is in this for the long-haul. Plays to win this World Cup or that World Cup have come and gone, but now it finally looks like the USMNT is on a path that could lead to a world championship in 2022. Klinsmann has earned it and no available coach is better positioned to keep this momentum going.