After five years, 98 matches and various ups and downs while in charge of the United States Men’s National Team, Jurgen Klinsmann was sacked this past week. It was a move that has been a long time coming; one that many argue should have come sooner.
With losses at the hands of Mexico and Costa Rica, the USMNT currently sits last in its 2018 World Cup qualifying group. While there is still plenty of time for the team to turn things around given that qualifying just started, it was clear a change is needed.
Klinsmann faced heavy criticism while at the helm of the USMNT. During the 2014 World Cup, Klinsmann picked “too many” foreign-born players like Jermaine Jones instead of homegrown players like Landon Donovan.
It is a silly criticism, especially since the 2014 USMNT ended up going to the round of 16 of the World Cup thanks to many of these foreign-born players. However, it is one that indicated the German Klinsmann would face an uphill battle to win over his critics.
Klinsmann was hired to revitalize American soccer as a whole, but as technical director, he was unable to achieve what he wanted. During his time with the German national team, Klinsmann created a free-flowing, attack-heavy style of play that still influences the current German team.
However, Klinsmann failed to implement those drastic changes for the USMNT. A large reason for this is simply that Germany — and any other European team for that matter — has higher caliber players.
It is not to say that American soccer is not filled with talented youngsters who are capable of holding their own. Rather, American soccer fails to compete at the same level as the rest of the world because our athletes with the most potential often choose to play other sports.
This is a problem that Klinsmann could never solve. His desire to revamp soccer training methods and change the entire structure of the USMNT created a tension between team and manager that never was resolved.
It was a problem that was only exacerbated by Klinsmann’s clear preference for German-American players like Jones, Julian Green and John Brooks. One could argue Klinsmann felt camaraderie with his fellow Germans, but it is more likely he relied on these players because they could play under his system.
A further problem under the Klinsmann reign was simply the fact he kept changing his system when it became clear that the USMNT was incapable of adapting to the style he wanted.
Constantly changing the format of the squad made it difficult for players to have confidence in their abilities.
During the 2016 Copa America, where the USMNT advanced to the semifinals, Klinsmann finally settled on the format he wanted. It clearly paid off, but it took Klinsmann five years to finally be satisfied with the squad he had — and even then it was only a brief satisfaction.
Despite all the hype, Klinsmann was really no better than predecessors Bob Bradley or Bruce Arena. With discontent growing and a World Cup berth on the line, it was time for him to go.
Arena, the winningest manager of the USMNT, has been reappointed as head coach. The rehiring of Arena is meant to provide reassurance, a familiar face that will provide comfort and surely lead the team to the World Cup.
While it remains debatable as to if Arena is the long-term solution, he can provide the USMNT with desperately needed stability after the highs and lows of the Klinsmann years.
As for Klinsmann himself, it remains unclear what his next move will be, but I would expect to see him in the soccer world, perhaps even in Major League Soccer.
We face an uphill battle to get the USMNT to where we want it to be, but I believe.
Vanessa Craige is a junior in the School of Foreign Service. The Beautiful Game appears every Tuesday.
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