This summer was the peak of American Soccer.
The women’s national team won the World Cup. The men’s national team won road games against Germany, the No. 1 team in the world and the reigning World Cup champions, and the Netherlands, the third-place finisher in the World Cup. And the men’s under-20 team reached the quarterfinals of their World Cup before being knocked out by Serbia on penalty kicks.
Amazing how quickly things can change in four months.
1. In July, one month after beating Germany and the Netherlands – yes, they were friendlies, but they were still impressive wins – the men’s national team bowed out early at the CONCACAF Gold Cup, being upset by Jamaica 2-1 in the semifinals. They then added insult to injury by losing the third-place match to Panama.
2. In September, the men’s team was embarrassed by Brazil in a 4-1 loss that could have easily been 6-1 or 7-1. Brazil is one of the top teams in the world, but the U.S. team looked like they didn’t even belong in the same stadium.
3. This past week, despite not losing to their hated rival since 2011, the men’s squad lost the CONCACAF Cup to Mexico, 3-2 on an extra-time goal, and failed to qualify for the 2017 FIFA Confederations Cup, a key international tournament leading up to the 2018 World Cup. The U.S. team then followed that up with a shutout loss to Costa Rica in a friendly.
4. And then, the under-23 team lost to Honduras, a loss that may cost the U.S. a spot in the 2016 Olympics. To qualify now, the under-23 squad must beat Colombia in a 1-game playoff in March.
The slide by the senior men’s national team has them down to No. 29 in the world in the most recent FIFA rankings, and that was before their losses to Mexico and Costa Rica.
The recent results now have some wondering aloud if Jürgen Klinsmann is still the right person to manage the national team.
Even before the loss to Mexico, former national team star Landon Donovan strongly suggested that Klinsmann should be fired if the team lost to Mexico.
“The reality is that now, anywhere else in the world, if this coach had those results, and they lose this game against Mexico, they’d be fired. I think if Jurgen wants to hold all the players to that standard, then he has to be held to that standard too.”
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But Klinsmann is still the coach, and there is no indication that this is going to change any time soon.
Grant Wahl of Sports Illustrated hasn’t called for Klinsmann to be sacked, but he does wonder if the German coach has too many responsibilities in being both the country’s technical director and the senior national team coach.
Senior national team coach and technical director are demanding jobs for two people, much less one, and Klinsmann himself has said that at times the jobs are in direct conflict with one another. On Saturday, Klinsmann took gut-punches in both jobs. Klinsmann the Coach lost to Mexico for the first time in 11 career games as a player or coach … It’s enough to make you wonder: Would Klinsmann the Technical Director want to keep Klinsmann the Coach right now if the coach wasn’t the same person?
Wahl does describe technical directors as “big-picture guys, visionaries who can put together a long-term strategy” and that Klinsmann is “a good fit for that description” suggesting Klinsmann would be better off running the national program instead of coaching the senior team.
But it is hard to imagine Klinsmann stepping away from the field so early in his career.
After the loss to Mexico, several members of the men’s team “didn’t feel comfortable answering” when Wahl asked them if Klinsmann is still the right coach for the team. However, Clint Dempsey did offer support, if not directly answering the question.
“I’m comfortable with Jurgen being the coach,” Dempsey told Wahl. “I’ve enjoyed my time playing under him. We fought hard tonight. Showed a lot of character, I thought, coming from a goal down two times. We just came up a little bit short.”
There is still a long road before the 2018 World Cup. But right now the team is a mess, they are trending in the wrong direction, and the man in charge of the sinking ship is now under fire. Not exactly the best of times for U.S. soccer.