Jurgen Klinsmann’s tenure as United States head coach ended a few hours, ago, but that wasn’t all.
The promise of a new era — a quantum leap forward for the U.S. men’s national team — has probably ended along with it.
Klinsmann has been fired because he never did fulfil the promises he made about the full national team when he was hired in 2011, namely that the U.S. would display equal amounts of style and substance.
He was supposed to usher in a new era that would see a more proactive approach and take the game to opponents.
Granted, he is by no means the first coach to make grand proclamations about what was to come. But Klinsmann’s problem is that he continued to beat the drum of how much better things were when there was scant evidence of progress to be found.
Worse still, when such shortcomings were pointed out to him, his impulse was to blame anyone else — be it players, fans, or media — but himself.
Sure, Klinsmann guided the U.S. out of a very difficult group at the 2014 World Cup and the Americans also reached the semifinals of the 2016 Copa America Centenario.
Still, those were stages that the U.S. had reached — or even exceeded — previously.
Moreover, the play often mirrored what had gone before: Defending tough, superb goalkeeping and the occasional flash of brilliance from a Clint Dempsey or a Jermaine Jones.
This wasn’t progress. It was more of the same.
There might be assertions that the makeup of the U.S. player pool is to blame.
Yet, other CONCACAF countries seem to be doing just fine with players from MLS, a league that Klinsmann so often derided.
It’s also worth noting that, against Costa Rica just last week, only four starters hailed from America’s domestic league.
Had the U.S. continued on the path shown at the 2014 World Cup, Klinsmann’s bosses at the U.S. Soccer Federation would have likely allowed him to continue.
However, since the start of this World Cup cycle a series of subpar results set alarm bells ringing.
There was the defeat to Jamaica in the semifinal of the 2015 Gold Cup, which was closely followed by the CONCACAF Cup defeat to Mexico.
Then, there was a World Cup qualifying loss to Guatemala last March and, finally, a two-loss start to the Hexagonal, of which the U.S. currently sits bottom. The highs were about the same, but the lows were lower.
Taken in isolation, the most recent defeats to Mexico and Costa Rica shouldn’t have been enough to get Klinsmann fired.
There are still eight games left in the final round of World Cup qualifying, after all.
But the defeats crystallized much of what has gone wrong during the Klinsmann era.
There have confusing tactical schemes — as evidenced by the ill-advised 3-4-3 trotted out against Mexico — and poor management of players, an area that was supposed to be one of the German’s strengths.
These factors ultimately led to a steady erosion in a trait that has long been a hallmark of the U.S. team, which is the fight and desire shown whenever it took the field.
It evaporated against Costa Rica and this loss of identity, along with the results, is what got Klinsmann fired.
That USSF president Sunil Gulati is the one to clean up the mess is equal parts fitting and alarming. MN
It was his vision that led to the hiring in the first place — in 2013 Gulati also gave Klinsmann the title of technical director with a mandate to revamp the youth system — and so it seems fair that he be the one to decide to make a change.
But looked at another way, Klinsmann joins Bradley on the men’s side and Tom Sermanni on the women’s as coaches who were fired before finishing a complete World Cup cycle.
Just nine days ago, Gulati said that Klinsmann would be in charge for the entire final qualifying round.
The process by which a new coach is hired for the long term will need to be reexamined, as well as who is involved in making the decision.
For now, the team is unrecognizable; a heavy amount of triage is needed.
All signs are pointing towards LA Galaxy manager Bruce Arena taking over and there will be complaints in some quarters that he — if hired — represents a tactical step backwards.
But the U.S. team doesn’t need tactical brilliance, just competence, and Arena can do that easily. Most of all, his ability to manage people will help the national team get back to what it does best.
Five years ago that was deemed not good enough but, in light of recent events, that wouldn’t be bad at all right now.
EDITED FROM: espn.com