Jurgen Klinsmann: Mediocre at best?

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By Vaibhav Kumar

U.S. soccer fans have been patiently waiting for a team that can finally be competitive against top-tier countries around the world. They envisioned a team where fans wouldn’t have to worry about losing to teams like Honduras and Panama but could compete against teams like Brazil and Spain. Sadly, they have been constantly disappointed with their team’s performance for decades. For the amount of money the United States has invested in youth development programs, why are developing countries like Uruguay and Argentina producing more and far more superior talent than America?

On July 29, 2011, many U.S. soccer fans thought U.S. Soccer Federation President Sunil Gulati found the solution. His name was Jurgen Klinsmann. His resume looked phenomenal – he played in prestigious European clubs like Inter Milan, Tottenham Hotspurs, Bayern Munich, and the German National Team, scoring 40 goals in his professional soccer career. Not only was he a wonderful player, but he also managed Bayern Munich, a successful German club and the German National Team when they won third place in the 2006 World Cup.  How did a person with the qualifications like Klinsmann prove to be such a mediocre manager for a developing national team?

When Klinsmann took the job, he had promised the fans a lot but was unable to deliver on most of these promises. To begin, he vowed to create an American Identity. Although, this is nearly impossible to operationalize because many national teams have different styles, Klinsmann had promised that the United States would transform from a solely defending and counter-attacking team to a team that confidently possessed the ball like many European counterparts.

Though many would argue that Klinsmann had begun to make progress on this commitment in the recent Copa America tournament, where the United States brutally beat World Cup Quarterfinalist Costa Rica 4-0 and lost a close third place match with the Columbians, the recent embarrassing loses and final record prove otherwise. In the 2014 World Cup, the United States team fared well overall, but were outplayed by many of the opponent they played. They were playing the same defensive, counter-attacking style Klinsmann once bashed. Luckily, during this international tournament, John Brooks’ header against Ghana gave the United States three crucial points to move us to the round of 16. This progression out of the “Group of Death” justified ignoring the way the U.S. team was playing because the team advanced only to get outclassed on every level by the Belgium National Team.

Not only did the most recent major tournament showcase our inability to progress our style of play, but also the recent losses to Mexico (2-1) and Costa Rica (4-0) in World Cup qualifiers illuminated our stagnation with Klinsmann. In addition, historic losses also demonstrate the sluggishness of the U.S. Men’s Soccer Program. Ryan Rossenblatt summarizes these losses perfectly when he writes “Their 2015 Gold Cup semifinal loss to Jamaica was their first [loss] to a Caribbean team on home soil since 1969. Their March loss to Guatemala was their first defeat at the hands of Los Chapines since 1988. Their loss to Mexico on November 11 was their first home World Cup qualifying loss to their rivals since 1972. And their 4-0 loss to Costa Rica four days later was their worst shutout loss in qualifying in more than three decades.”

One reason for these continued failures is Klinsmann’s love of tinkering with formations and player positions during important games. He has continued to try this when he deploys DeAndre Yedlin, a natural defender, as an attacking winger. This strategy has never proven to work, but Klinsmann nevertheless has decided to stick with it after criticism from every direction. Furthermore, his altering of the formation into something his players are not familiar with has proven to be fatal in recent matches. For example, against the recent World Cup Qualifying Match against Mexico, Klinsmann used a 3-5-2 – something none of the players are familiar with. This led to a horrendous performance by the U.S. team.

This is epitomized when Klinsmann decided to not pick veteran striker Landon Donovan for the 2014 FIFA World Cup. Klinsmann tried to innovate the way the United States would attack during the most important soccer tournament in the world, the World Cup. This not only illustrated his inconsistency with the team but also his clashes he had with the players. Many hypothesized that this was because of “a clash of personalities”. This disconnect is further supported Klinsmann’s son, Jonathan Klinsmann, when he tweeted “HAHAHAHAHA” about Donovan’s dismissal. Although his father brushed off the tweet as “hugely disrespectful”, one must understand that Jonathan not only had soccer acumen as he is a nationally ranked player but also lives with his father. “If anyone would have an insight to his father’s sentiments about Donovan, it would be him.”

These controversial decisions allowed the fan base to begin to question the decision making skills of Klinsmann. In addition, Klinsmann continued to polarize the fans of the team by claiming that “There is a lot of talk from people who don’t understand soccer or the team”. This statement by Klinsmann, seen by many as arrogant, encouraged fans to continue to fiercely criticize his dubious decisions.

The last straw for fans and the federation was the recent losses in World Cup qualifiers. Losing both of the first games has put the American team in a predicament because it doesn’t make qualifying impossible, but it does make the process much more challenging. Another loss during the qualifiers would make this task more difficult, and U.S. National Team could possibly be ineligible for the 2018 World Cup. This would truly be disappointing especially after Klinsmann had promised to reach the semi-finals of the 2018 World Cup.

Jurgen Klinsmann has placed himself in this unfortunate situation when he changed lineups and formations before these important World Cup qualifiers. In totality, he has been unable to fulfill promises he set for the team. He has provided no tangible change to the U.S. playstyle against top-tier teams and continuously made questionable managerial decisions in high-stake games.

Now, U.S. soccer fans that are upset with the firing of Klinsmann must ask themselves if they want a continuation of four years where little to no progress was made, or rather try to actually start developing the lineup into a team that can one day be recognized as one of the world’s best.

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