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Win Against Guatemala Shouldn’t Change Jurgen Klinsmann’s Fate
- Updated: March 30, 2016
Last night, the United States Men’s national team emerged victorious in a pivotal World Cup qualifier at home against a suspect Guatemala side. Coming into the match, many an analyst both inside the soccer community and the larger sports community as a whole hypothesized that with a loss, Jurgen Klinsmann would have his contract terminated. The United States’ favorite soccer son Landon Donovan on the Dan Patrick show even threw his name into the ring of those wanting to see the boss canned.
Of course, the United States won against Guatemala in Columbus. The result was never in doubt as Klinsmann went back to a few familiar faces in a venue that has never seen defeat (Columbus now has an all-time hosting record of 8-0-3, conceding but one goal). Those familiar faces included Kyle Beckerman, who set the stage for a very competent lineup card for the match.
In proper position were players who had previously been playing in odd places, like Geoff Cameron at central defender, DeAndre Yedlin at right back, Michael Bradley in a box to box role, and a front three who were actually comfortable doing what they were being asked to do.
I’m here to argue that this victory shouldn’t change those in charge of United States soccer’s perception of Jurgen Klinsmann. The fact he won in Columbus against a Guatemalan side who had never beaten the United States in a World Cup qualifier should not be considered an accomplishment.
Using such a short sided approach to the management of the national program would be unwise. Decisions of this magnitude should not be made on the result of one match, but rather a collective body of work.
To this point, Klinsmann has been at the helm of the USMNT program as a technical director and national team manager since August of 2011. The matches he has won and lost, combined with the culture he has created is no small sample size, even for a national team manager.
What has he accomplished?
- One year into his tenure, Klinsmann guided the USMNT to their first even win in Estadio Azteca.
- 2012 was the best ever winning percentage for the USMNT in history
- 2013 Gold Cup trophy
- Quater-final appearance after emerging from the “group of death” in 2014 World Cup
- Friendly wins against Germany, Netherlands, Italy
While that is a long list of accomplishments, the past year has been rough. The Gold Cup was a massive disappointment, as was Olympic qualifying (U-23 side lost 2-1 against Columbia last night). A CONCACAF Cup loss to Mexico also did no favors.
Those are the tangible failures, but the problem is much deeper. There are multiple reports from across the player pool of dislike for Klinsmann. Many see him as something of a taskmaster who run impossibly grueling training sessions and others view him as somewhat tactically unaware.
If those issues were the only thing, I’d say so what, but the deeper issue rests in Klinsmann’s inability to make players feel tactically comfortable and incorporating new blood into the team. Both of these factors work hand in hand and each address the other when the Klinsmann camp begins to defend the manager.
Some would say that it is impossible for Klinsmann to develop the “next” generation of American talent because they only get a few weeks a year. “It is the individual club’s duty to bring the player along” is what I’ve seen multiple times throughout this argument.
To some extent, I agree. The very limited time that the USMNT has to train as a group is far too short to get much development done on those next in line. Klinsmann can’t be wholly blamed for a number of players’ stalled development including Julian Green, Gedion Zelalem, Omar Gonzalez, Ventura Alvarado, Mix Diskerud, or Gyasi Zardes.
What Klinsmann can do however is allow the players he does have to man positions they feel comfortable playing. With the exception of the must-win matches, Klinsmann is constantly attempting to “push the players out of their comfort zone.” Take a look at lineup selections every year for further evidence. Yedlin shouldn’t be on the wing when he is now a regular starter in the Premier League. Cameron has stated many times he is most comfortable in either central defense or a holding midfielder. In Wil Trapp’s first cap he played on the wing, where he has played, since college, as a holding midfielder.
These types of positional changes can’t be done with only a week of training and Klinsmann shouldn’t be attempting that. On the flip side, yes he hasn’t been gifted with an overflowing treasure chest of talent but doesn’t that give further reason to play young players in spots they are most accustomed to?
The little time Klinsmann gets in say a January camp and the extremely limited (especially since the U-23s won’t get big time international exposure without the Olympics this summer), friendly action should be used to develop and incorporate young players in positions that they will eventually play minutes in big games. How can young players develop in the national team when they are never given minutes in their best position?
The USSF isn’t dumb, they should already now how Klinsmann operates by now and that is why the win over a middling Guatemala nation, who has never been to a World Cup, shouldn’t be the deciding factor in if he keeps his job. If USSF president Sunil Gulati was going to fire Klinsmann with a loss, which was no certainty, only speculation, then he should still fire him despite the win.
If Gulati was convinced Klinsmann isn’t the man, he should move quickly to change the direction of the program and give the new man an opportunity to begin preparing for a difficult upcoming summer.
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