Let’s not shit ourselves: the US loss to Guatemala was bad both in terms of the result but also how bad the US played. But let’s also not forget that: most US fans have detested Jurgen Klinsmann since 2012. Nothing’s changed, but bad results increase the volume of the echo chamber.
Still, before sharpening your pitchfork and joining the “ax him now” people, a few thoughts. Spoiler: you will be offended and disagree with all of them.
I would like to be clear that, at the time, I disagreed with US Soccer’s decision to renew Jurgen before the World Cup. Even after a good World Cup, I disagree with decisions like that. And it’s simple really: players get bored of managers, especially managers for national teams that do not pay them. A coach can stay a second stint and you can limp through qualification and disappoint at the next tournament, but why?
However, I am also loathe to fire a coach in the midst of qualification when a team stumbles. Our player pool has dipped in quality: veterans are too old and the young guys are not read yet. Michael Bradley has been our Mr. Consistency and is at the ripe age of soccerstardomery, but other folks like Jozy simply haven’t met our expectations in terms of consistency. Why should Jurgen’s expectations be lower?
Still, he fucked up some shit. Jurgen, of course, has always had trouble with starting lineups and been willing to experiment in the first 45 minutes of a game. This is unnerving for everybody. Yet what frustrates most of all is that he himself sees the problem and will make a switch at the half. We lacked any width whatsoever in that away loss, so not-quite-in-form Zusi, a good crosser, and a seventeen year old boy from Dortmund are coming in.
Folks are right that on Friday night, players who have performed well in both Europe and MLS looked bad. Jurgen does not trust the defensive ability of Yedlin but wants him on the field. Jurgen trusts Geoff Cameron but needed cover at right back. In coaching parlance, the spate of injuries in training before the game just may, just may, hint that JK over-trains players. His refusal to commit has created competition, but guys are going at each other’s throats – that’s draining. And dangerous.
But here’s the messed up part: as noted elsewhere, JK as the technical director of US soccer is steering in the right direction. 10 month seasons in high school and college (fingers crossed) will produce more gems down the line. I watched the U-17 World Cup and the U-23 game away to Colombia, and the US showed defensive frailty but also some snazzy attacking soccer. Behind the scenes, perhaps US soccer wants JK as a technical director more than a coach, but JK wants the pay and status of a national team coach.
Yes, that was pure speculation worthy of the smoking man from X-Files, but one suspects other things are at play. Fans point out that Bob Bradley had a shorter lease – he was fired after a bad Gold Cup, despite a good World Cup.This is true. And I definitely think that, like Bradley (and most national team coaches), JK pretty much has a list in his head of “my guys” who will be the Starting XI but for injury/suspension/severe loss of form. Players can smell that a mile away – and it breeds complacency at the top and anger at the bottom.
Yet…yet…I can’t help but think that with one assistant who was knowledgeable about CONCACAF (and respected it) and another who was a bit more tactically inclined, JK could be tugged into being a good enough manager. Just looking at the players he selected, let’s steal from Matt Doyle of MLS (I know he is writing or filing this same story right now – I see you Matt, even when you don’t see me) and cook up a starting XI.
Castillo-Orozco-Gonzalez are the same because injuries happen people. But I would drop Yedlin to right back because of what I call the “Alves effect” – attacking fullbacks get pushed into midfield due to the perception that they have those technical gifts. However, the change of position shows that, to the contrary, they have a good cross and first touch for a right back. I would play Yedlin at his natural position but give him license to roam.
And to shore up the right of the field, let’s look at midfielder. I’d like an inner triangle with Geoff Cameron – playing his same position at Stoke – shielding the back four and then we have Bradley on the left and Bedoya on the right. Bradley can pinch forward to support Wood as a #10 on offense, while Bedoya’s hard work will cover for Yedlin’s surges to the endline. I’d have Dempsey as the right striker because he will pinch inside anyways, which opens up space for Yedlin and gives support to Wood.
For left midfielder, I will go “Choose Your Own Adventure” and you get to decide. Wait, what name was that you picked? Meh. I thought you were smarter but whatever this team will still function as a team, even though you called Eddie Lewis out of retirement (and I’m not sure he’d say yes FYI).
It’s funny how a slightly tweaked starting XI can change things. In terms of the big picture, everybody calling to fire JK is a sign that US soccer and its fans have entered the matured stage of soccer following. Being a national team coach is being doubted by all, hated by many, and then doing well at at World Cup as a big middle finger to the fans. Here’s hoping that happens in Russia 2016.
Check out my latest reported feature for VICE where I dare to ask: is the US squeezing FIFA to prompt change, or to make a buck?