A Very American Coup By Michael – Louis Ingram, Editor-in-Chief...
I Believe That We Must Change
Seriously, I did.
The belief was never blind but on that one day, it was there.
Because I saw it.
I saw what The Squad could accomplish. I saw what The Squad was capable of. I could see it!
I was there. In Recife, two years ago among 20,000+ other Americans. Singing, chanting and celebrating in the midst of a ridiculous monsoon in the northeast of Brazil. Celebrating because even though we had lost 1-0 Germany, a Germany that would sweep through the rest of the tournament and destroy the hosts 7-1 in the semifinals (yeah, THAT Germany) we had gotten through one of the Groups of Death. We overcame Ghana and Portugal and qualified right behind the eventual champions.
And the man that got us through? The one who defied the snickers of the older US heads like Alexi Lalas? The man who dared to show up to Brazil without Landon Donovan (aka the Truth)? The man who navigated us through one of the trickiest groups after losing Jozy Altidore 20 minutes into tournament? The man whose substitutions all seemed to click? Yeah we were all chanting his name. Because he had done what no one outside the US and certainly many of us inside of it, thought was possible.
We got through.
Jürgen Klinsmann. Jürgen Klinsmann.
That’s when I believed. I believed that he really could take us to that next level. Because look what he DID!
And now it’s gone. After the lackluster first 20 or so minutes against El Enemigo Friday night and…whatever the heck THAT was Tuesday night in Costa Rica it’s clear that The Squad is drowning in metaphorical waters similar to what we saw in Recife.
It’s over for Jürgen Klinsmann.
There were some (not me) for whom Klinsmann was never going to be acceptable. Once The Truth was dropped ahead of the 2014 World Cup, there was never any going back. Others, like USSF President Sunil Gulati seemed willing to give him every possible chance. Klinsmann’s name had been floated for a quite a long time as a possible replacement for Bob Bradley when the US began to “stagnate” after the 2010 World Cup and Gulati seemed all set to make the move after the US lost to Ghana in the Round of 16 of that tournament.
When Klinsmann was finally announced as Head Coach, I was not overly excited. Yes, he was one of his generation’s greatest strikers and guided Germany to a third place finish when they hosted the 2006 World Cup. But even then, there was talk that the real genius behind Die Mannschaft’s revival was his assistant Joachim Löw. We’ve seen the success Jogi’s had. There was also that disastrous turn as manager of Bayern Munich after which several players, most notably Phillip Lahm, criticized Klinsmann for his lack of tactical acumen.
While having a “proven” coach at the helm was an exciting prospect, especially one who talked about wanting to see the US as a more dynamic, attacking team (something I’ve advocated for years), the first thing I asked upon his hiring was whether he was bringing any of players from Germany. In other words I wondered, how exactly was he going to change the “hard work and determination” culture that’s been so acceptable in US Soccer circles without the technically skilled players he was used to working with in Germany who can switch up their styles up like KRS1 on a dope track?
Yet here he was. After an inconsistent campaign that saw a first ever World Cup qualifying loss to Jamaica, a Hex melt-down in the heat of Honduras and the obligatory loss to Costa Rica, a match that we were never in, The US picked up steam during the rest of Hex 2013 and now, NOW had navigated their way out of a difficult group in Brazil.
That was the zenith of the belief. Right there in the rain, because it’s been the results, or lack thereof, in big time matches since the Germany match that has me and so many others believing a change needs to be made.
Let’s be clear. The players have to shoulder a fair part of the blame. It wasn’t Klinsmann who misplaced all those passes against Belgium in the Round of 16. It wasn’t him that got run by in the midfield Tuesday night against Costa Rica. That was allegedly John Brooks and not Klinsmann doing.. whatever it was he was doing in the second half. I think his belief that Michael Bradley has not been as sharp since returning to MLS has been proven to be true.
But Klinsmann is the one who makes the lineups. Too many times since 2014 we’ve seen him play players out of position (Alejandro Bedoya as a defensive midfielder? Jermaine Jones as a center back? Really?) or leave out players who could make a difference in the midfield (Benny Feilhaber?). Other times it’s seemed like the US hasn’t been ready to play. (See, losses to Colombia and Ireland 2014; Brazil and Costa Rica 2015)For someone who always seems to bring a positivity to inspire his teams, Klinsmann seems to have lost even that ability with this team now.
While The Squad has produced some quality results in friendlies (Netherlands and Germany) it’s the games that count that have been so disappointing and reflect a lack of progress; stagnation if you will. The US seemingly slept walked through the Gold Cup before being escorted out of the tournament by a mediocre Jamaican team that wasn’t even good enough to make the Hex then losing on penalties to Panama in the third place match. They spent the majority of the Gold Cup playoff against El Enemigo playing valiant defense and almost managed to push the game to penalties before That Team Down South deservedly won. The 2016 Copa Centenario saw them lose twice to Colombia and look like amateurs against Argentina in the semifinals.
Two matches into the Hex for the 2018 World Cup, the Squad has nothing to show for itself. To be sure there is no shame in losing to El Enemigo (dos a cero had to end sometime) and to Costa Rica away where The Squad has never won. But it’s HOW the Squad has dropped these matches is the concern. The Steve Sampson circa 1998 type over coaching against El Enemigo in the first 20 minutes has made 3-4-3 into the new 3-6-1. Tuesday’s capitulation was simply inexcusable because Costa Rica, as good as they are, have never been nor are they now, nor will they be in the foreseeable future, four goals better than the US. The Squad mentally quit after they went to down 2-0 and the Ticos were more than happy to pile on as if they still haven’t gotten over the Snowpacolypse match from three years ago.
These are the matches that the US is supposed to win or at least be competitive if they are continue to make an impression in the World’s game. They’ve done neither.
While everything The Truth says about Klinsmann has to be viewed with a healthy degree of side-eye, his statement last year prior to the Gold Cup playoff that coaches who don’t get those results are fired in other parts of the world is as on point as Fife or Q-Tip on Linden Blvd.
That’s why I no longer believe.
If the Federation is going to make a coaching move, now is the time, two months before the annual January camp and about four to the next qualifier. I’m not going get into who should replace him. What I hope is that it is someone who can get this team to believe they can be great so that I can believe.
I did once.
I hope to again.
Based in Tallahassee, Andrew L. Dixon, III has contributed soccer articles to BASN since 2004. He previously authored a column for the US Soccer Players.com website. He can be reached at Andrew.Dixon@blackathlete.com