Jurgen Klinsmann under scrutiny after a day to forget for U.S. Soccer
PASADENA, Calif. -- U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann was as defiant as ever after his team dropped a 3-2 decision to Mexico on Saturday night in the CONCACAF Cup, but the look on his face when it was all over told a different story. Clearly, this loss hurts.
El Tri was the better team from start to finish and thoroughly deserved their victory against the overmatched Americans, even if it is also accurate to say that the hosts were unlucky to lose.
The Americans came back in this thrilling rivalry match twice, after all, and were just two minutes away from the coin flip of penalty kicks when Mexican defender Paul Aguilar scored on a spectacular volley to send the visitors to the 2017 Confederations Cup in Russia, a tournament that Klinsmann has long identified as crucial to his team's preparations for the World Cup in that county the following year.
So it was a gut punch, no question, and not least because it came just hours after the U.S. under-23 squad, which Klinsmann oversees in his dual role as U.S. Soccer's technical director, lost 2-0 at home to Honduras with a spot in the 2016 Olympics on the line. They can still qualify, but they must do things the hard way.
In the bowels of the Rose Bowl after the U.S. had been beaten by Mexico, Klinsmann was asked all the obvious questions.
What did the double whammy of defeats on this day mean for the U.S. program? What does he say to those who insist that little -- if any -- progress has been made during his four-plus years in charge? What does he say to those who believe that he should pay for this loss with his job?
"I don't need to say anything to them," Klinsmann said. "Everybody can express his opinion, and not everyone likes you. That's totally fine. I'm not here to be liked. I'm trying to do a good job and I'm privileged to have that role and represent the U.S. soccer program. It's a privilege for me. I do my best, to my capabilities, and leave the judgment out there for you guys and for people who want to express themselves."
In terms of progress, the facts show that this performance was better than the one the Americans produced against El Tri in this same stadium four years ago, the one that got then-boss Bob Bradley fired. The U.S. lost by two goals in that 2011 Gold Cup final, giving up four straight after going up 2-0 in the first half.
Exactly how much better was it? Well, that part is up for debate. The U.S. was in it until the bitter end this time. But the Americans were also forced to defend for their lives for long stretches, particularly in the second half. And in the end, as a practical matter, the outcome -- missing out on a Confederations Cup -- was exactly the same.
Whatever the result might have been had Aguilar not hit a shot that U.S. midfielder Jermaine Jones said the Mexico right-back would miss nine out of 10 times, it's fair to say that Klinsmann was outcoached by his opposite number, Ricardo "Tuca" Ferretti, whose three-pronged forward line of Raul Jimenez, Javier "Chicharito" Hernandez and Oribe Peralta caused the hosts problems all night.
"Tactically, the way they played gave us a little bit of trouble," said captain Michael Bradley, who noted that in spite of those struggles, the margin of defeat was still razor-thin.
"We ended up getting pinned back a little bit. Peralta, Jimenez and Chicharito, who are all mobile, played in central areas and that forced our four defenders inside pretty narrow, and it meant that our outside midfielders spent a lot of time in the back line covering wide areas."
MEXICO 3-2 UNITED STATES
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With nobody on the flanks available to serve as outlets and relieve pressure, the U.S. struggled to get forward and create more than a smattering of quality scoring chances.
"What we didn't do well during the second half was simply to keep the ball," Klinsmann said. "We ran a lot after [it], we won a lot of balls and we couldn't calm the game down. There was a struggle that really went through the second half. We should've done better."
The same holds true for the coach.
It's worth repeating that Klinsmann's job isn't in jeopardy. His veteran team played its hearts out on Saturday, but changes are on the horizon, even if the old guard -- warhorses like Jones, DaMarcus Beasley and Clint Dempsey -- will surely still be around when World Cup qualifying kicks off in earnest next month with games against St. Vincent and the Grenadines and Trinidad and Tobago.
"We have to sit together and discuss things: who we're counting on, how we want to build towards the next couple games, and there's not much time," Klinsmann said of the plans he and his staff will make. "That will be a lot of conversations coming up the next couple days."
His detractors are guaranteed to keep talking, too.
Doug McIntyre is a staff writer for ESPN The Magazine and ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @DougMacESPN.