The United States had their worst Gold Cup in more than a decade this summer. They lost in the semifinals to Jamaica, then were out-dualed by Panama on penalties in the third place match, relegating them to a fourth place finish in a tournament they had been finalists in the last five times it was held. It was, without question, a disaster.
Jurgen Klinsmann has been uncharacteristically quiet since the Gold Cup. He hasn't gone off the grid, but he hasn't done a ton of media and he's been pretty reserved in his comments, but with the U.S. set for their first match since the tournament, he's back in the spotlight and in offering his first expanded opinion on the Gold Cup, he took aim at the criticism he and the team have had since.
"It’s a good thing you have so much comments and opinions because it shows you that a lot more people care," Klinsmann told the Washington Post. "They care about the game, they care about the national team. They care about saying their opinion. Do they understand really what happened in the Gold Cup? Some of them absolutely do and a lot of people don’t. I take it, it’s not a big deal. But it also explains we have a long way to go to educate people on the game of soccer still in this country."
So the U.S. had arguably (or pretty inarguably seeing as the only two other times they missed the final they lost to Brazil and Colombia) their worst Gold Cup ever and the problem is the fans aren't educated enough to realize the strides the team is making? In a tournament where they were grossly out-shot in nearly every match, struggled to generate chances and were an abomination in defense?
It wasn't as if the Gold Cup was a throwaway tournament either. Klinsmann said repeatedly that the Gold Cup was the team's primary focus this year and that winning it was their top priority.
But if the team gave it their best and pointing fingers at the team or coaches for their crashing out isn't right, what is to blame for the Americans' Gold Cup troubles? The refs, of course.
"It was definitely our best game, [but] there were these [officiating] calls," Klinsmann said. "Everybody was saying, ‘Yeah, that’s true, it’s crazy.’ Three days later, it was a loss against Jamaica, two mistakes on two set pieces, and suddenly it was bad coaching."
Klinsmann doesn't agree with those who dismiss a win over an atrocious Cuba team and instead look at the Americans' three other matches, including their eliminating loss to Jamaica. He really doesn't understand why people don't see the affect the refs had on the match.
Let's start here: CONCACAF refs are bad. They were bad in U.S. matches too. But the refs didn't rob the Americans of anything. It's not like they are Panama, who received a royal screw job from the referees. The refs made some mistakes in their matches, but some of those mistakes went in favor of the U.S. too.
The U.S. crashed out of the Gold Cup because they weren't particularly good. Their midfield was solid and generally dictated matches, but they were poor in front of both goals. Jozy Altidore was not fit and then was sent home. They couldn't create chances and they generally wasted the few they did get. And defensively, the back line was generally protected adequately, but were atrocious when challenged. John Brooks and Ventura Alvarado were calamities and Brad Guzan made a giant mistake to cost the U.S. the winning goal against Jamaica. It wasn't as if the Americans were atrocious and unable to do anything, but while they were better in the middle, they were repeatedly worse in front of both goals.
The refs didn't make Guzan throw the ball from outside his box or put Alvarado on the ground while another striker went by him. When everyone on the U.S. watched Clint Dempsey, hoping and praying that he alone could be their attack, it wasn't because the refs instructed them to do so. And it wasn't the refs who chose a roster that left out some key players with experience.
The problem with the way the U.S. played is that it came in Year 4 of Klinsmann's reign and highlighted many of the issues that he promised to rectify when he took over in 2011. It also exposed problems that have developed under his reign, and were formerly strengths of the team.
Despite this, Klinsmann won't take responsibility for any of it. Hell, more than that, he is actively hitting out against those who think he should take some and demeaning their knowledge of the sport. And the worst part is that this isn't anything new; he has failed to take responsibility time and time again as U.S. manager, instead playing his players, or the refs, or fitness, or MLS, or any number of things that he can't possibly shoulder any blame for.
Klinsmann hasn't done a bad job as U.S. manager. He's had good moments and bad, like most managers. It's not as if he needs to be fired and these comments don't change that. But at some point he does need to take ownership of this team and in his project, not just in good times, but in bad as well. And a bit of humility wouldn't kill him either.
Simply saying, "we didn't play well enough at the Gold Cup and it's up to the coaches and players to make sure we do a better job defending and being more dynamic going forward" is all it would take. That would do. But in lieu of that, Klinsmann should be quiet.
Klinsmann can't run from criticism forever. He can't continue to say that those who do question him don't know enough or even have an unfair expectation that he be perfect. But the team is going to struggle at times and he needs to step forward in those times, just like he does when the team shines. This is his team and his program. He wanted it that way and he got it. That means he is responsible for it, and it's long past time he recognizes that.