The USMNT has completed its first two hexagonal qualifiers. The team sits dead last with no points and a (-5) goal difference. Advocating Jurgen Klinsmann’s continued employment at this stage requires extreme logical contortions.
Look at the last three essential USMNT matches. Klinsmann produced the worst U.S tournament loss (4-0 to Argentina) and the worst U.S. qualifying loss (4-0 at Costa Rica). Both scorelines flattered putrid U.S. performances. The third match was a loss at home to Mexico in fortress Columbus.
Talking your way around the manner of those results is possible. A semifinal run at Copa America? It met reasonable expectations. Leading off with two of the three toughest Hex matches was a tough ask. Mexico at home could have been a draw. The U.S. has never won a World Cup qualifier at Costa Rica. It’s possible if you weren’t watching the matches.
Klinsmann does not deserve all the blame. He does deserve much of it. The root problem is Klinsmann is a meddlesome tactician, and he’s not very good at it. The U.S. plan changes match to match. Often, it’s not apparent what the plan is.
Continuity is vital in international play, with sporadic matches. Compound that for the USMNT, with players arriving from different leagues, different continents, and different countries of origin. Any familiarity helps. Klinsmann constant lineup tweaks and formation changes erode any familiarity that develops. Players don’t feel comfortable.
Klinsmann is not building. He’s using the trial and error method. He’s a font of vague aphorisms and decisions that make little sense. Personnel groupings, even if familiar, don’t compliment one another. Simple concerns go unaddressed. Many of the lineups he sets out aren’t equipped to hold possession, to cover midfield defensively, or to move the ball forward in any coherent fashion. Players make mistakes. But, coaches put them in a position to make them.
Mexico at home was a vital match, at least for perception. Klinsmann started off with an on-trend 3-5-2 formation. Players looked out of sorts. That’s not surprising. It’s the first time a full U.S. national team squad had fielded a three-man central defense since the 2002 World Cup.
For all Klinsmann’s talk about technique, build up play, attacking, and building a soccer identity, the U.S. team still looks at its best trying to out effort teams and counter-attack directly from a basic 4-4-2. They aren’t as proficient at that as they were when Klinsmann took over.
If the USMNT were a car engine, Klinsmann took it apart and ordered some fancy new parts on eBay. Five years later, the parts are still sitting in the garage.
The U.S. has deployed more patience than most countries would. We have ample evidence Klinsmann is not equipped to make things better. It’s uncertain how a reasonable hire could make things any worse.
There are no qualifiers on the docket until March. There’s still a favorable route to World Cup qualification. It’s time to make a move. That move is probably to Bruce Arena.