On Tuesday night in San Jose, Costa Rica, the United States men's national team suffered a humiliating 4-0 loss in 2018 World Cup Qualifying. The Americans surrendered the opening goal late in the first half, then kept the score close deep into the second half. After conceding the second goal in the 68th minute, the floodgates opened and the rout was on. This final result and goal differential combine to drop the U.S. to dead last in the Hexagonal through two rounds of play. Suddenly, qualification for Russia is very much in doubt. Here's what we learned:
The USMNT is tactically adrift
This is not about which formation should've been used last night, or the previous game, or in the next one. Teams and managers should be flexible, and should be able to either shift on the fly or adjust based on the opponent. Sometimes, if not often, we'll disagree on what those tactics should be.
Where the problem lies is when time after time, the players on the field don't seem to understand their roles. Players on this team are often put in unfamiliar positions. They're often asked to fill roles that don't match well with their skill sets. We see poor communication due to unfamiliarity and confusion over responsibilities. This happens frequently under Jurgen Klinsmann. When the players on the field aren't prepared, that's a coaching issue.
Jürgen Klinsmann appears to have lost the locker room
On second thought, maybe I'm just phrasing that politely. It was plainly obvious that players quit on Klinsmann Tuesday night. Despite being thoroughly outplayed, this was still a one-goal game into the last 25 minutes. So even with the tactical mess that was on display, there was still some individual belief that an equalizer could be conjured. But after the second Ticos goal, the bottom fell out for the USMNT.
The brunt of this debacle will fall on the defensive back four and the defensive midfield, but no one is free of blame. Make no mistake, a bad loss turned into an all-time embarrassment because players gave up. Experienced attacking players can smell this and the Ticos certainly exploited it mercilessly. The third and fourth Costa Rica goals were the result of a collective lack of concentration and lost commitment to defending.
Whatever messages Klinsmann is attempting to send to this team, they're no longer being received. And once a manager loses the locker room, it doesn't come back.
Klinsmann must go. There's no path forward from here.
Five and a half years is a really long time in the coaching world, particularly in International soccer. It's rare for head coaches to stick around more than one World Cup cycle, and even rarer to survive two of them. Amongst World Cup-caliber managers, only Germany's Joachim Low and Uruguay's Oscar Tabarez predate the 2010 World Cup. The idea that Jurgen Klinsmann would stay on through 2018 was always a plan determined to defy convention.
If there were more signs of a long term plan falling into place, we might not be having this discussion. But coaching is a results-oriented business. The United States just lost a home World Cup qualifier to its biggest rival, and followed that up with one of the worst results we've seen from a U.S. team in decades. The results have gotten progressively worse, and Klinsmann doesn't have answers.
The USMNT World Cup qualification mission isn't dead. Not remotely. Even though it's not time to panic on reaching Russia, the margin for error has narrowed considerably. The next set of qualifiers is four months away. The U.S. *must* beat Honduras at home, and *must* get a result in Panama, or the path will narrow further. There is time to regroup and put this team back on track for the 2018 World Cup. There's time to fix it, but the process needs to start now. The best person do that is not named Jurgen Klinsmann.