Being right feels good. Being right when many people loudly proclaim that you’re wrong usually feels even better. And being right about a person who has directly and indirectly questioned you and everyone you know’s intelligence generally feels really great. This is not one of those times.
Last week was a very, very bad one for the U.S. Men’s National Team and head coach Jurgen Klinsmann. A farce of a tactical plan which appeared to be overruled mid-game by his players’ confusion against Mexico gave way to a scrappy second-half performance. While ultimately a loss, it appeared a self-inflicted wound. The U.S. men clearly had the talent to stay with Mexico on evidence of the second half of play. But a 4-0 loss in Costa Rica, featuring an utterly listless and weary-looking second half, truly put a stamp on what a failure the week was for the USMNT. And amidst that air of despair seemed to emerge the assumption that MLS fanboys, or soccer media people, or whoever you wanted to ascribe the leaders of anti-Klinsmann sentiment, had given up on seeing things get better and were instead laughing it up at USMNT misfortune.
Get the sense some would almost prefer defeat tonight so they could bash Klinnsmann even more.— keith costigan (@KeithCostigan) November 16, 2016
I won’t pretend there weren’t people who exacted some slightly sadistic level of Klinsmann schadenfreude on Tuesday night as the senior men’s team, prided for years on its determination and toughness, just gave up on the field, perhaps out of physical or mental exhaustion, or perhaps out of pettiness. It doesn’t matter particularly all that much. But I do think the sentiment, for most, isn’t pure enjoyment. It’s born out of passion and pride, a desire to see your team succeed even if they aren’t the best team in the world, even if they don’t particularly deserve it. It seems at best a bit desperate and at worst a bit deranged. Even with a coach you don’t like or may not believe in, you want your team to win. It’s your team.
As a person who has written and published an article with the words “I hate Jurgen Klinsmann” in the title, this may come as a surprise to you, but I would love to see Jurgen succeed. I got into this game very, very late, only succumbing to the dark side after the ill-fated 2015 Gold Cup. I saw the signs others pointed to in the run-up to the 2014 World Cup, the immediate reversion to a turtle-and-pray tactic at the World Cup, the lineup experimentation, and still believed in the vision Klinsmann sold. He was expanding the player pool and trying to implement his style. He was getting results when they mattered. He almost beat Belgium, which was cool. Klinsmann is probably the most influential person directly controlling the team I cheer for, and so if he is succeeding, that means my team is succeeding. That is what I want.
But I got to a point where I could no longer justify the lack of progress and regression despite the fact that Klinsmann has managed to assemble the deepest and most-pedigreed player pool the U.S. man have ever had. The vast majority of the U.S. players on the field Tuesday are starters in the best leagues in the world, and the four MLS players who made starting XI are all vital players for their club teams and have designated player contracts. Costa Rica’s captain plays for a club that just got beat two times in a row by our teenage winger’s club team, and the player who opened the scoring against the U.S. on Tuesday has only started 7 games for the Montreal Impact this season. Costa Rica has a good team, and they are extremely good at home. But losing in the fashion the U.S. did on Tuesday only suggests a team that is completely devoid of confidence, has given up on its coach, or both. And fair or not, all of those things are Jurgen Klinsmann’s responsibility.
None of this makes me very happy. Seeing the U.S. flounder like that isn’t a good trade-off for lots of people coming over to my side of the argument. Maybe you are enjoying that fact right now, and that’s perfectly fine and within your rights, I just don’t think reveling in it is particularly useful in any way. Ultimately, I want the U.S. to keep improving on the national stage. I want more of those things Jurgen Klinsmann promised to do to the U.S. when he took the job. I just can’t see him being able to carry that job any further based on the past five years’ worth of results.
I still don’t think Sunil Gulati will get rid of Jurgen Klinsmann, and in all probability he’ll be given the opportunity to right the ship and get the U.S. to Russia. And I really, truly hope he succeeds. I don’t want to miss the World Cup. And if he does get this U.S. team back on track, playing good soccer, and has a successful World Cup in 2018, I will admit I was wrong about the U.S. needing to fire Jurgen Klinsmann happily. As it stands, I still think Klinsmann puts out players fundamentally unprepared at the tactical level to consistently succeed at the international level, and his expansion of the player pool and success in guiding several young U.S. players to successful club situations in which they have grown is being offset by this lack of tactical understanding to result in a stalemate in terms of the growth of the USMNT as a whole. I still think Klinsmann needs to go, and I think this week just demonstrated it again.
Just don’t expect me to laugh about it.