“We will dig into the whole generation of 18, 19, 20-year-olds that are coming through, no matter if they are here in the U.S. or already overseas,” Jurgen Klinsmann said to ussoccer.com.
When Klinsmann was hired as the manager of the U.S. national team in 2011, one of his many promises was to inject youth into the squad and vastly improve the culture of football in America.
When the former Bayern Munich boss was brought on to lead the red, white and blue to international relevance, U.S. soccer president Sunil Gulati hired the German coach in the hopes that bringing in a European icon of the sport would propel the floundering national team to the heights of Europe’s elites.
Five years later, the United States remains somewhat of a laughing stock in the footballing world, struggling to impose their style of play on games against teams that are clearly superior.
This has been the national team’s most visible struggle under Klinsmann, and something that continued in its three losses to Colombia and Argentina in the Copa América.
After exiting the Copa at the semifinals in a pretty embarrassing display against Argentina — the U.S. didn’t even get off a shot in the match, resulting in a 4-0 loss — now is as good a time as any to reconsider the future of the team.
In the weeks leading up to the tournament, the manager’s job was coming under question with the expectation that Klinsmann would likely be relieved of his duties should he prove unable to lead his players through a deep run at the cup.
“Quite a bit of it is always results. We take time after every major competition to reflect on that competition and what led up to it. It’s not a single game, or a single result. It’s where the program is and how comfortable we feel in the direction that it’s going,” Gulati said to ussoccer.com after hiring the German.
This pragmatic approach is a perfect system of reevaluation for the president of a national FA. If the head of U.S. soccer still holds these beliefs, then he needs to really contemplate whether or not Klinsmann is the man to truly evolve not only the on-field results of the national team, but the general view of the sport in a country that’s just now starting to latch onto the beautiful game as a national passion.
Klinsmann has surely brought more stability to the national team setup, consistently selecting the same core players since he took over as boss, including German-American recruits John Brooks, Jermaine Jones and Fabian Johnson, all players that have proven themselves as some of the most talented athletes to represent the USMNT.
Consistency and stability over time, though, fade into redundancy, and Klinsmann has failed to improve results in his five-year tenure. If Gulati honestly surveys the competition at the U.S.’s last two major tournaments, a semifinal appearance in the Copa América is almost less impressive than advancing from the 2014 World Cup’s “group of death.”
Nonetheless, in the two years between the tournaments, there has been little to no improvement in the team’s roster.
Where is Julian Green, who in one of his only chances with the national team scored a brilliant volley on Belgium’s Thibaut Courtois? Where is Juan Agudelo, who, last year against Mexico showcased technical ability on a level that is nowhere to be found in Klinsmann’s current “preferred” side?
And the biggest question of all: Where in the world was young starlet Christian Pulisic at the Copa América, who was given all but a half hour on the field throughout the entire tournament?
Let it be known that zero other Americans have the quality to make the first team at Borrusia Dortmund, and Pulisic is much more than a part player in Thomas Tuchel’s squad.
The 17-year-old was eased into the team with substitute appearances in the Bundesliga, but over the course of the season, solidified his role as an impact sub coming in on the wing for the German league runners-up, even grabbing a couple goals in key matches during his team’s title race.
The argument that Pulisic couldn’t fit into the starting lineup for the U.S. is absurd; when a player has the pace, ability to take on defenders and talent to pick out a pass in the attacking third for one of Europe’s finest clubs, he has the quality to start every game for the USMNT.
What’s most shocking about how Klinsmann handled Pulisic’s first major exposure to the senior national team, though, is how he seemed to tiptoe around the subject in press conferences, as if he was afraid of Pulisic gaining too much fandom so early in his career.
America undoubtedly has struggled with overhyping under-talented players, namely Freddy Adu, but when a young man shows the promise of becoming a truly world-class footballer, playing time never hinders growth.
The fact that Klinsmann opted for more established players such as Gyasi Zardes, Michael Bradley and Kyle Beckerman against Argentina showed a lack of boldness when facing Messi and co.
Sitting back and defending was never going to beat the top-ranked South American country, but still, Klinsmann was afraid of making a change that may yield criticism upon failure, almost like he was trying his best to save his job.
When he was hired as the new manager of a long-term project like the U.S. men’s team in 2011, he promised an injection of youth, but six of the starters versus Argentina were 30 or older.
U.S. soccer has stagnated, and Klinsmann is to blame as much as anyone. With the next World Cup in two years, now would be the perfect time for Gulati to cut his losses with the German and hire a new, more daring coach who offers a higher ceiling for the national team as it fights through qualifying for Russia.