Let me preface this by saying that this article is not a cry out for Jurgen Klinsmann to be fired. Only an explanation of why I've lost faith in him.
Back in June 2011, like many United States supporters, I was completely over Bob Bradley. The 2011 Gold Cup felt like a team that wasn't responding to its manager anymore. A loss to Panama in the group stage, followed by a humiliating beatdown in the final at the hands of our most hated rivals. I, like a lot of other supporters wrote an e-mail to U.S. Soccer President Sunil Gulati pleading for him to find a new manager to change the direction of my favorite soccer team. Don't believe me? Here it is in all of it's typo'd glory:
In hindsight, I regret sending that e-mail. Not because I didn't think we needed a new manager, I still think we did at the time. But it was a childish and immature thing to do. Nevertheless, the e-mail found its way into Gulati's inbox and I received a generic "we'll examine all our options" type of response.
A month after that fanatical email was sent, U.S. Soccer announced that Jurgen Klinsmann would be hired as the new manager of the U.S. men's national team. I was extremely happy. Finally change was upon us and we were going to take that next step as a soccer nation.
From that day on I was a Klinsmann supporter. I truly believed he'd deliver on the promises of a "proactive" style and that he'd pick the perfect system and the right players to fit it. He had been the manager of Bayern Munich and the Germany national team, and one of the best strikers to ever play the game. Surely he'd finally bring the expertise needed to lift our country into soccer prominence after years of knocking at the door.
His first year in charge was a series of ups and downs. He began his tenure with only one win in his first six matches, then followed that with a five game win streak that included an away win against world power Italy. That 11-game stretch is truly a microcosm of Jurgen's time in charge of the national team. Peaks like steamrolling the competition in the 2013 Gold Cup and beating Germany twice in friendlies. Then valleys like the two most important tournaments of his reign, the 2014 World Cup and the most recent Gold Cup.
Heading into the World Cup last summer there was vast amount of pessimism surrounding the USMNT. Between drawing the so-called Group of Death and the way Klinsmann handled the Landon Donovan fiasco, not many had high hopes for our chances in Brazil. Despite the doubters, the U.S. advanced out of their extremely tough group by playing unattractive and desperately defensive soccer. The seemingly impossible task had been accomplished, but the fashion in which it was left a sour taste in many mouths.
The promise of a "proactive" style never came to fruition despite the team showing glances of collective brilliance during the cycle. Many were critical of Klinsmann after the way the U.S. got dominated by Belgium in the round of 16 loss.
I gave him a pass.
It was always the feeling that Klinsmann's tenure as manager was to rebuild the whole program from top to bottom. So, it only makes sense that his decision to bring younger players to the World Cup was a view towards the long term to the 2018 World Cup. So, we played terrible soccer? So, what? Our young players got much needed experience. This will surely help us for the upcoming cycle.
This World Cup cycle was Klinsmann's chance to start fresh. Pick any player in the pool he wants to match any formation or system he wants. I was still a Klinsmann supporter.
As this new cycle began we saw a lot of experimentation. With formations, with personnel, and with tactics. We saw the 4-3-3, the 3-5-2, the diamond midfield, and so on. We saw a plethora of young players get a chance to impress and some of them succeeded.
As we approached this Gold Cup, Klinsmann had a choice to make. Does he stick with the youth movement and continue to build for the future or does he pick the best roster to help him win the tournament at all costs?
Instead of committing to one or the other, he decided to try to kill two birds with one stone. He brought veterans Chris Wondolowski, Kyle Beckerman, and Graham Zusi. Then added DaMarcus Beasley and Alan Gordon to the roster after the group stage. Those names lead you to believe he decided to push all of his chips into the "win now" pile. Except that he chose to give inexperienced defenders John Brooks and Ventura Alvarado the majority of the minutes on the back line over veterans Omar Gonzalez, Tim Ream, and Matt Besler (who wasn't even called in).
This indecisive strategy cost the USMNT big time during the Gold Cup. They didn't look like a cohesive unit at any point during the tournament and we learned nothing about the team's future in this cycle. The inability to commit to a "win now" or "build for the future" plan is what makes the tournament failure such a disappointment. It's this type of inconsistency in strategy and mindset from Klinsmann that has frustrated even his most dedicated supporters.
Now we here we sit in the same exact situation as June of 2011. Embarrassed in the Gold Cup with a whole World Cup qualifying cycle in front of us. The question posed by many fans is this: Has Klinsmann been an improvement over Bob Bradley?
As much as I've defended him in the past, I cannot honestly say we're in a better situation now than we were four years ago. I've certainly lost my faith in him implementing some magical style or philosophy that will make everything better. The talent in the player pool is there. If he can't identify that talent and put it to better use, then what exactly is he being paid to do other than recruit dual-citizens?