By Glenn Crooks
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By American standards — really by any current principles in professional sports across the globe — Jurgen Klinsmann would have already been removed as the head coach of the United States Men’s National Team and technical director of U.S. Soccer.READ MORE: First Case Of Omicron Variant Reported In New Jersey
As I prepared to pen this column, it became increasingly difficult to determine the proper angle to sling those arrows that I had nestled in my quiver. My myriad notes set across the table in no particular order acted as a metaphor to the scattered tactics that represent the U.S. program under Klinsmann.
After all, this is the coach that started Alejandro Bedoya at holding midfielder in a Sept. 8 friendly against Brazil, a position that Bedoya had never played with the full team. Then Klinsmann humiliated Bedoya by replacing him at the 36-minute mark — the soccer equivalent to yanking the starting pitcher in the second inning with the bases loaded and nobody out after just 30 pitches.
Bedoya struggled against one of the best teams in the world, playing a position that does not cater to his skills and without the benefit of adequate preparation.
“I hadn’t really played there before,” Bedoya said after the match.
I have a vision of assistant Tab Ramos grabbing Klinsmann by both shoulders and shaking him while exclaiming, “No, Jurgen, no! – this is Brazil and he’s never played in that role!”
The USA suffered a mortifying 4-1 loss in Foxboro that night.
After the Mexico disaster last Saturday in the CONCACAF Cup, Klinsmann publicly punished his starting right back, Fabian Johnson, who asked out of that match in the 111th minute due to a thigh injury.
“I had a very severe word with Fabian,” Klinsmann announced to the media gathering at Red Bull Arena, ahead of Tuesday’s friendly with Costa Rica.
Klinsmann subsequently sent home the only American involved in the Champions League, convinced that he had quit on his team.
As of Thursday, Johnson’s German club, Borussia Moenchengladbach, announced that he was still only training on the side due to the muscle issue.
By forcing the third and final substitution, Johnson had interfered with the Klinsmann plan to exchange goalkeeper Brad Guzan for Nick Rimando in the event penalties were needed to decide the CONCACAF Cup.
Rimando’s success stopping spot kicks in Major League Soccer is legendary, but Guzan has had documented prowess as well. At Aston Villa, Guzan once saved four penalties against Sunderland in a League Cup quarterfinal — one in regulation and three in the shootout.
With Johnson struggling, Klinsmann could have been more alert and scrapped the shootout plan by inserting Brad Evans earlier. Johnson was laboring in recovery on Oribe Peralta’s overtime goal to give Mexico the 2-1 advantage at the time.
With regard to tactics and lineup choice, the Mexico encounter was a failure for Klinsmann. The Mexicans dictated the flow against an American side that elected to sit back, absorb pressure and counter. It was startling how disconnected the U.S. appeared during certain portions of the match. The midfield diamond failed with a less mobile Kyle Beckerman struggling and a debutante to this rivalry, Gyasi Zardes, appearing more frightened than a 5-year-old attempting his first dive off a 10-meter platform. Although a rising talent in the program, Zardes’ impact on the match was limited.
The final result was justified, as are the questions in regard to Klinsmann’s job security.
“I think it’s incredible how much attention it’s receiving and how much pressure is on the coach,” New York City FC coach Jason Kreis said prior to the Mexico match. “As a coach, you don’t like to hear people saying if he loses this game he should be fired — that’s a little bit reactionary.”
Kreis, who is fighting his own detractors, has often been mentioned as a future candidate for the USMNT position.READ MORE: NYPD: 1 Dead, Another Injured In Apparent Drug-Related Shooting At Brooklyn Airbnb
“It’s part of a coach’s life for others to speculate,” said Klinsmann, who received positive news this week when the U-23’s defeated Canada to remain active for Olympic qualification. “Obviously, you are disappointed with the summer and the result against Mexico.”
“It’s easy to blame Klinsmann but let’s face it, (Clint) Dempsey was non-existent,” wrote former Villanova coach, John Byford, who responded to my request for feedback. “Bottom line, Mexico was better.”
“I will say I’m still bitter over Landon Donovan being cut from the World Cup team,” wrote Jon Panella, the boys coach at New Providence High School in New Jersey and a staff coach at UK Elite. “I just don’t see any consistent chemistry on the team. He should start by finding a consistent back four!”
Fifteen months removed from the 2014 World Cup and now with less than 30 days to prepare for World Cup qualifying, Klinsmann remains undecided about his center back pairing and fullbacks.
THE COSTA RICA DEBACLE
When this past Tuesday’s match in Harrison, New Jersey, was scheduled by U.S. Soccer, it had not envisioned a one-off with the Americnas’ archrivals only three days earlier. The Gold Cup disaster in the summer, another substantial blemish on the Klinsmann resume, necessitated the match at the Rose Bowl on Saturday.
“We were not able to shake this off in two days,” lamented Klinsmann after Costa Rica outplayed his side in a 1-0 verdict.
U.S. Soccer President Sunil Gulati, in the back row of the press room listening to Klinsmann, was slumped in his seat. His countenance read wounded and exhausted.
“Klinsmann has the look of a beaten man,” announced ESPN play-by-play veteran Ian Darke following the final whistle against Costa Rica. “There are big, big problems — and we mean big — for Jurgen Klinsmann.”
“That was not a good performance,” remarked Darke’s broadcast partner, Taylor Twellman. “I was looking for a response from the players. Did you see one player that looked like he was fighting for Jurgen Klinsmann and his staff?”
I was more curious about the starting XI and the set-up of the unit. Many regulars had been sent back to their clubs for vital MSL matches (Michael Bradley, Clint Dempsey, and Besler among others). The lineup and subsequent attacking options through the run of play suggested one thing to me: there was not an adequate tactical plan on the attack.
The U.S. played without a No. 10 (I wonder if Tab had an opinion about that). Danny Williams and Jermaine Jones attempted to secure the middle of a 4-4-2. Neither is capable of dictating the tempo of a match and I would imagine that Williams, if he was being held accountable, will be left off for the World Cup qualifiers in November. He was that poor and had a knack of losing the ball in the middle of the park — not to mention his jogging recovery and subsequent late arrival to defend Joel Campbell on the game-winning sequence.
A beautiful fall evening at the home of MLS’ best team was another night of misery for Klinsmann and the USMNT.
“A little over a year ago, when Jurgen began openly hammering MLS, I decided at that time he was a foreigner,” wrote Dave Simeone, one of the first full-time national staff coaches on the women’s side of U.S. Soccer. “He was just occupying the role of our national coach.”
That leads to my concluding proclamation: I want an American coaching our United States Men’s National Team.
There are a slew of candidates: Tab Ramos, Peter Vermes, Jason Kreis, Greg Berhalter, Jay Heaps, Jesse Marsch or the former heads Bruce Arena and Bob Bradley. These men have represented their country, comprehend the landscape and understand how to motivate the American soccer athlete. Would anyone dare argue that Arena would not be more productive in our current program than Klinsmann?
Klinsmann signed a five-year contact in December of 2013 which extends through the 2018 World Cup in Russia. Qualification matches begin in November.
Despite a somber summer and frightful fall thus far, failing to qualify appears to be the only threat to Klinsmann’s job status.MORE NEWS: Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater Back On Stage After Pandemic Shutdown With Message Of Hope
For all things soccer, please follow Glenn on Twitter at @GlennCrooks