The United States finished fourth in the Copa America Centenario, and even if the tournament may or may not have been a cash-swapping bribery extravaganza, that accomplishment is a very good one for a team that couldn't even muster a third-place finish at last year's Gold Cup. For many, that's the end of the story, just as an extra-time, nail-biting loss to Belgium in the Round of 16 was the end of the story. On the brightest stages, Jurgen Klinsmann delivered results that were at or even above the level expected of the United States. These guys were never going to be good enough to compete with Argentina or Colombia or Belgium anyway. The fact that a couple of those games were close is a minor miracle as it is, right? We can't expect to really challenge those teams until we have our own superstar players in Europe, obviously.
Yes. But also, no.
It took me a long time to realize I held hate in my body for Jurgen Klinsmann. It's probably not hate at all; it's somewhere between petty annoyance and righteous indignation, but the more he coaches the United States, the more I understand the confusion surrounding his reign at the helm with Germany and the ignominy of his Bayern Munich tenure. His teams aren't good in long stretches, and frequently drop results to teams that are far beneath them. In between those doldrums, though, Klinsmann gets some brilliant freakin' results. Even when the performance doesn't look great, his teams have proven capable of achieving results that seem beyond them when their previous form is taken into discussion. No one thought that '06 Germany team was actually capable of the semis. No one was expecting the U.S. team that lost to Jamaica, Panama, and Guatemala in competition to then go and beat Costa Rica, Paraguay, and Ecuador in succession.
Jurgen Klinsmann gets unsustainable results. With the United States, they've been unsustainable because of his inability to articulate any sort of criteria for lineup selection that he can consistently follow or maintain a formation that allows the lineup to gel or form any sort of cohesion. And just when it seemed like we were just going to be getting non-stop lineup changes with no real meaningful core of players in defense or midfield, Klinsmann fed us four straight lineups with no changes outside of switches due to suspension. That was exciting, but only as exciting as a lineup that features only two to four (depending on who you ask) players outside of their best position can be. And when the crucial moment came, the moment when the U.S. needed to be at its absolute best from coach to player to equipment manager, Klinsmann trotted out Chris Wondolowski in a 4-4-2 and the U.S. took zero shots in a 4-0 comprehensive beatdown against Argentina.
Maybe I'm foolish or just a whiner for complaining like this. I'm splitting hairs, right? I want a consistent lineup and then when I get it I'm still not satisfied? I want positive results but I'm somehow mad about a fourth place finish in the Copa America?! Yep. I'm upset Chris Wondolowski is still playing in any U.S. games. I'm upset that Klinsmann seems completely unable to trust Darlington Nagbe, his best midfielder on the ball, in the name of "bringing him along slowly" and making sure he's adjusted to the "pace" of the game (the same game he's starting Chris Wondolowski and Gyasi Zardes in, well known for their measure of the "pace" of top international talent), while watching him come into games and not struggle with the pace of the game nearly as much as some of his midfield counterparts. I'm upset at how he continues to experiment with players mid-game, and I'm upset that somehow subbing in Steve Birnbaum at 3-0 down was a correct choice to make. I'm upset about many other things involving Jurgen Klinsmann as well, but here's a nice itemized list instead:
All of these things are true. But again, he's managed some good results, and there were genuine positives from the Copa as well. That lineup really showed signs of cohesion against Ecuador and then again against Colombia in the third-place game. A definite backline and centerback pairing were formed. There was some tactical understanding of when to move from a 4-3-3 to a 4-5-1 to a 4-4-2 against Ecuador, and it resulted in a pretty dominant performance for 60 minutes or so. So there's no way I can just point at all the bad of Klinsmann's job performance without looking at the good; I can't simply point at the bleak disparity in shots and expected goals between Klinsmann's U.S. and all of their opponents over the last couple years and deny a fourth place finish at the Copa America and surviving a very talented group at the 2014 World Cup to advance ahead of Ghana and Portugal. So any performance or player gripes I have with Klinsmann aren't totally backed up purely by statistics or numbers, and I'm ok with recognizing that.
Because the man is either insufferably arrogant or just plain vapid, and I'm really not sure which.
Klinsmann's public repertoire is full of cliché, bland soccer talk, and a condescension for any person that might criticize him. He continually avoids any sort of responsibility for losses while preaching accountability for players and leagues, and the closest he comes to tactical analysis is frequently comments like how the U.S. didn't "step on Argentina's toes." He is on record saying formations don't really matter. And he just keeps on smiling, talking about how the public needs to be educated in soccer more.
Here's something the public doesn't need to be educated on: 4-0 losses in which your team takes no shots is a complete and utter failure from play on the field to coaching, and no amount of empty platitudes or coaching clichés changes that.
If Klinsmann showed any amount of responsibility for owning up to some mistakes he made, or took more responsibility in educating us poor Americans in this sport with something other than vague nonalysis, I might be more forgiving here. But he just doesn't. He keeps explaining all about how none of us understand while never really proving that he understands, either. Because he doesn't understand, at least not the soccer public that is questioning him and growing louder and louder. He doesn't understand that we're not as angry with him because of this team's play as we are with just him and how he chooses to condescend rather than dialogue.
Klinsmann has had carte blanche from USSF from day one, and he will continue to have that until 2018 at the earliest. Why? Because even if USSF secretly agreed with everything I believe about Jurgen Klinsmann, firing him before Russia 2018 (provided the U.S. qualifies) would be a public admission of wrongdoing, and coming from the federation so willing to suffer public embarrassment instead of paying their women's team a bit more in order to prove through legislation that they are in the right, that's just not going to happen.
So buckle up for the rest of qualifying. It's sure to be interesting with Klinsmann at the helm, and should the U.S. qualify for Russia, there's really no telling what the USMNT's fortunes could look like two years from now. I pretend to be cynically aloof to the almost-inevitably poor performances to come, but in reality I probably care too much. What I have stopped worrying about is our coaching situation. I'm not going to like it. I know I won't like it, no matter what he does in the next two years. Because I hate Jurgen Klinsmann.