Jurgen Klinsmann has plenty to ponder following USMNT's poor Gold Cup
The United States had a Gold Cup to forget, as it was dumped out by Jamaica in the semifinals. Jeff Carlisle, Doug McIntyre and Jason Davis take a look at where Jurgen Klinsmann and the U.S. go from here.
Should Klinsmann's future be in doubt?
Davis (@DavisJsn): Absolutely. Even without considering the cost to the federation and Klinsmann's mandate to push the United States national team forward tactically and stylistically, he has overseen the worst performance in the Gold Cup since 2000. Without an obvious replacement it's probably not the time to make a change, but if Klinsmann fails to win the Confederations Cup playoff versus Mexico in October, I think his future should be in doubt. Judging him within the context of the revolution he was meant to oversee, there's not much argument that he shouldn't at least be under significant scrutiny from his bosses as U.S. Soccer.
McIntyre (@DougMacESPN): Based on his overall record since being hired four years ago (41-14-18, with a 56 percent win rate), even including what was without doubt a dreadful Gold Cup for the U.S. team, the answer is no. It's easy to overreact in the wake of such disappointing performances (it wasn't so much the fourth-place finish as the dismal overall play of the U.S. against everyone except Cuba), but nobody was calling for Klinsmann's head last month after the U.S. beat the Netherlands and Germany on the road.
Carlisle (@JeffreyCarlisle): No, at least not in the short term. Without question, the U.S. underperformed in the Gold Cup and Klinsmann has invited more scrutiny on himself and the team as a result. But this was one tournament, and Klinsmann should be given the opportunity to pull this team out of the funk that it's clearly in. If this drags into World Cup qualifying, then his future should be reexamined.
What if the U.S. loses the Confederations Cup playoff against Mexico on Oct. 9?
Carlisle: No. One of the hallmarks of the U.S. program over the years has been its stability. It doesn't fire coaches after a couple of bad results. Bob Bradley was the one exception to this in the second cycle, but overall, patience is a good trait to have.
Look at what happened to Mexico in the last cycle, firing coaches after mere weeks or months. It should have cost them qualification and only a huge slice of luck saw them survive. Obviously this individual case is different, but the U.S. approach is beneficial. Both Bruce Arena and Bradley (first cycle) went through difficult spells and they were allowed to work their way through things. Klinsmann should be given the same chance.
Davis: If the U.S. loses to Mexico with a Confederation Cup spot on the line only months after finishing fourth in the Gold Cup, Klinsmann will need to go. The confidence hit that the team has taken is already something that needs months to fix, and if Klinsmann proves unable to produce said fix in time for the playoff, there's no reason to think he's the man to take the team into World Cup qualifying next year.
McIntyre: I think it would be harsh to dismiss any coach for losing a one-off match to Mexico in front of a heavy El Tri crowd at the Rose Bowl. But really it's moot: U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati said it's not going to happen. I don't think Klinsmann is in any danger of losing his job unless the U.S. is on the brink of not qualifying for Russia 2018. Even then, depending on the specific circumstances of course, I'd bet on Gulati giving Klinsmann a chance to get out of it.
Who is this team? The one that beat world champions Germany in June or the one that lost to Jamaica in the Gold Cup?
Davis: Right now, it's much closer to the team that lost to Jamaica, but that is entirely Klinsmann's doing. Friendly wins over big European nations look good on paper, but they can't be said to be a legitimate measure of Klinsmann's ability to prepare his team when the games truly matter. With a trophy on the line, Klinsmann's teams looked unready, lethargic and unclear of the plan. Ad hoc works against Germany with nothing on the line -- it doesn't work in a do-or-die match against an organized and resolute Jamaica.
Carlisle: The U.S. is what it's always been, a team that is capable of beating anyone and also losing to anyone, so it's a side that tends to play up or down to the level of opposition.
It's also a team in transition. In fact, it reminds many people of four years ago when Bradley tried to revamp the defense and the results tended to suffer. The difference was that Bradley, and Klinsmann for the most part during the last cycle, still put out lineups with at least some experience in defense. That balance was lacking during the Gold Cup.
McIntyre: It's hard to say. This moment is a particularly interesting one for the national team: older players like DaMarcus Beasley and Kyle Beckerman were kept around to help the Americans win the Gold Cup. Do they also come back in October for the playoff? What about when World Cup qualifying begins a few weeks later? Right now there are more questions than answers.
What was the biggest disappointment from the Gold Cup?
McIntyre: The U.S. generated the fewest shots of any team in the group stage, including hapless Canada, which didn't score a single goal. In the third place game, Panama out-shot Klinsmann's squad 25-5. Those are just astounding statistics, and they speak to how poorly the team played this month.
Carlisle: Statistically, the fact that outside of the Cuba victory the U.S. was outshot 85-47 is just shocking. But a bigger concern was how performances seemed to have no bearing on playing time.
It's one thing to give players an extended spell in the lineup, but if they're clearly struggling -- as many of the defenders were -- then I think they have to be held accountable at some point. Klinsmann rarely, if ever, did that.
Davis: The lack of control the U.S. showed, particularly in the group stage. There's an argument that the semifinal against Jamaica came down to two set pieces and some bad luck for the Americans but no such argument can be made to explain away lackluster performances in the team's opening three matches against significantly weaker opposition. The loss to the Reggae Boyz came only as a mild shock specifically because the U.S. had done very little well over the course of the tournament.
What is the biggest single challenge facing Klinsmann and the U.S. in the immediate future?
Carlisle: The defense, but the overall challenge for him is broader than that. Throughout his tenure, Klinsmann has tended to oscillate between idealism and pragmatism. The more pragmatic he's been, the better the team has tended to do.
His decision to play two inexperienced center-backs strayed too far toward idealism. There needs to be experience back there as well. Friendlies are the time to be idealistic but the Oct. 9 playoff game and World Cup qualifying aren't. If Klinsmann veers back toward being more pragmatic, issues such as the defense will begin to be sorted out.
Davis: Regaining the belief of his players and the public that he's got the team headed in the right direction. Klinsmann's notoriously obtuse and obstinate approach to dealing with the media won't serve him well between now and Oct. 9. After simply refusing to recognize the evidence in front of him that several of the players he called on time and time again during the Gold Cup were not ready (or good enough) for that stage, he has to find a way to reform the team into an effective unit while at the same time getting players back on board who might not be so inclined. In other words, it's time for Klinsmann to swallow his pride.
McIntyre: In the immediate future, a decision will have to be made about what (if any) role Tim Howard will play. From a team perspective, it's obviously that enormous playoff game against Mexico. Given the stakes and the setting, that match will be an incredible spectacle, and the outcome will inspire either agony or euphoria -- nothing in between. Nobody will be talking about Klinsmann's job security if the U.S. wins. And if they lose, nobody will be talking about anything else.