But Bradley maintains he was not pleased by the coaching change, taking responsibility for Klinsmann losing his job. The 29-year-old says, “as captain, nobody takes that harder than me.”
Bradley now gets another run under Bruce Arena, who gave the midfielder his first caps. Arena is also a good friend of Bradley’s father Bob, and most would assume the captain is excited for the opportunity.
“Once a change is made, you have to turn the page quickly,” Bradley continued. “I’m very excited to work with Bruce again. He gave me my first opportunities with the national team. [We’ve] maintained a relationship from afar. I have a lot of respect for the career he’s had and the way he has gone about making every team he’s coached better. His record speaks for itself. I’m excited to work with him again.”
The expectation is that Arena will adopt a two-man defensive midfield, and it seems likely that Bradley will pair with someone other than Jermaine Jones (certainly for the first World Cup qualifier, as the German-born menace is suspended for yellow card accumulation).
One of the big hopes for USMNT supporters will be a return to national greatness for Bradley, whose play has slipped in a midfield with Jones. Arena will bring positional and tactical stability.
“It’s coming to end. Gotta respect that. I just want to say thank you so much to our fans, especially the American Outlaws. … A very very special thank you to all of the players. The response to them yesterday when the news came out was overwhelming. All the text message and calls of support were overwhelming. I wish them the best of luck. I was 1000 percent convinced we would qualify for Russia. It’s down to a new coach, but I’m still convinced he’ll get the job done.”
On hiring Arena: “I don’t view it as Bruce 2, but Bruce 2.0. He has far more experience than he had the first go-round. He’s proven and re-proven himself.”
On Arena’s timeline: “We have an agreement through the World Cup with various contingencies as all contracts have.”
On foreign-born players: “If you’re eligible, you are available for selection. We are open to anyone, whether they are born abroad or born here.”
What did Klinsmann do well? “The commentary with seriousness of how players approach the game and their craft… The shorter term issues like new players, whether Christian, Bobby Wood, or Jordan Morris, those are obvious ones. Another important one is off the field, the awareness to the program, the attention to the program. Jurgen, by virtue of who he was elevated the program around the world. He came into a program that had a very solid foundation in my view. … In his own way, he’s built on that and Bruce will continue that process.”
On the technical director position: “We’re not in a rush.”
On the Arena hiring timeline: “Bruce and I talk pretty regularly. We’re friends, we work in the sport, and he’s coached our national team. That’s not just the case with Bruce. The discussions about coaching the team started in the last 48 hours. We met with Bruce yesterday in the afternoon, and concluded an agreement about 2 hours ago.”
Where did you think the USMNT would be by now? “The easiest metric is wins and losses. In an ideal world, 2-0. 0-2 put us in a very difficult position. We’d like to see the team playing at the Confederations Cup next summer. We would’ve liked to see the Olympic team in Brazil. If I could pick three things, those would be things.”
On Arena beyond 2018, and how there’s nothing contractual beyond it: “We both have options to talk to each other after the World Cup.”
On his hiring: “I’m thrilled to be back with the national team. It’s the greatest honor for a coach in our country. We have a great challenge ahead but we have a great pool of players to reach out goal of qualifying for Russia in 2018.”
Where has the team gone in last decade (since he was let go in 2006)? “That’s not an easy question to ask. US Soccer has made great progress with the growth of the league and our players playing abroad. Winning World Cups is difficult as we know, but I think the United States is edging closer to that day. I have a lot of confidence in our domestic pool and players playing in Europe and Mexico. Since I left in 2006, the pool of players has certainly expanded.”
On his comments about foreign-born players: “I don’t know how that came about. I guess we did that interview three years ago. If I made those comments, I certainly don’t believe that that’s my attitude… I’m all for any players that are eligible to play for us. I look forward to, using your term, our foreign nationals in addition to our (domestic players).”
On his priorities: “The most important thing right now is I’m very familiar with the pool of players, but to have as many conversations with as many players by January camp, and touch base with our entire pool of players by March. … We’ll develop an identity over the next couple months, and hopefully feel comfortable working with each other.”
On hiring assistants and calling up players: “We’re gonna take a week or two to think this out and select the strongest staff that we can have. I don’t think the roster is going to have radical changes from the last couple of camps but there will obviously be some changes.”
On his plans, and the Costa Rica loss: “I would’ve done this for free. The game in Costa Rica was certainly disappointing. Hopefully it’s one that allows us to step back and evaluate what went wrong for the team, and get us prepared for how to play on the road in CONCACAF. The only thing I’m going to tell you is we’re going to make it better.”
On how he’s grown since he last held the USMNT job: “I’ve had 10 years on the field at the club level. I’ve had the opportunity to work with some of the most talented players in the world, and understanding how they work. Continue to grow on the tactical side. … Ten years later I’m better prepared for this job than I was in 1998, 2002, and ultimately 2006. … One of the things you learn from experience is you see things a lot clearer, a lot quicker.”
“How would I describe myself as a coach? A hard worker. I like to believe I’m a players coach. What I really know is how to build a team, and I understand all the qualities and circumstances that go into how to make a team.”
On players like Jonathan Bornstein and Benny Feilhaber: “They and others are good players. We’re going to give those kind of players the opportunity to back in the national team program. I’m well aware of the quality of those two and others. It’s highly unlikely we’re going to bring many new players into the program.”
On who he’s spoken to thusfar: “I haven’t spoken to Michael Bradley but I have had communication with a couple of players over the last 10 hours or so. We need to build a chemistry with this team and build a common goal, work on a team concept. We have good players. We just gotta get them working together as a team.”
On his intended style: “A difficult question. Your style is dictated by the qualities of your players. We are who we are. The American quality is teams that have been harder to play against. If you saw the European Championships last summer, the Copa America, the U.S. isn’t far behind. We’re traditionally strong in the goal. We have some young attacking talent, and we have some experienced players in the midfield.”
After Klinsmann’s firing U.S. Soccer’s president Sunil Gulati now has a big decision to make and ProSoccerTalk understands Bruce Arena is the only real candidate to take over, with a lack of so-called “top class” coaches currently available in world soccer the veteran coach is the best option.
Not to belittle Arena’s superb achievements in the game, both with the U.S. national team in the past and in Major League Soccer, but his appointment would scream of short-termism.
It is all based around one thing: qualifying safely for the 2018 World Cup in Russia. After that tournament, Arena will likely be replaced by a long-term hire. To me, 18 months seems a very long time to have somewhat of an interim tag around your neck…
Anyway, first things first, after two games of the Hexagonal tournament that target of reaching a World Cup, a very modest one at that, is in real jeopardy. So, hiring a man who knows all about CONCACAF and its quirks seems solid enough. There will be some bumps along the way though.
First and foremost, Arena will likely cull many of Klinsmann’s squad from his first roster and there seem to be plenty of issues behind-the-scenes in uniting the players as one unit. Arena will have his work cut out to do that but the carrot he will dangle in front of all of their faces is clear: “do you want to go to the World Cup?”
That should work. Should being the operative word. Arena will also likely have plenty of familiar names rallying around him with Landon Donovan surely involved somehow, plus Brad Friedel and countless other blasts from the past.
With so much pressure to be placed on Arena for the two World Cup qualifiers next March against Honduras at home and Panama away, a haul of four points is the bare minimum the U.S. needs.
Panama isn’t an easy place to go, as Mexico found out in their 0-0 draw last week and as for Honduras at home, they have never been an easy opponent for the U.S. who have had two narrow wins, a 3-1 win, a draw and a 2-1 defeat in Honduras in their last five meetings.
Arena will have work to do but on paper the U.S. should prevail in both games and get themselves back on track ahead of a very winnable game at home against Trinidad and Tobago in June and then the daunting trip to the Estadio Azteca a few days later to face Mexico. Nine points from those four games would be great. Anything less would leave the USMNT scrapping around for fourth place in the Hex and a playoff spot.
That’s the reality of the situation. Everything is geared towards qualifying for the World Cup in Russia. Failure to do that would have huge financial implications for U.S. Soccer as a study revealed that the Mexican economy would have lost out on $600 million if they had failed to qualify for the 2014 World Cup. Think about that.
The infrastructure Klinsmann put into place with the U.S. youth teams and the coaching staffs will remain largely untouched in the short-term across U.S. Soccer. Everything will continue to tick over in the less important departments.
For the next 12 months one thing matters: winning as many of the remaining eight World Cup qualifiers as possible to seal qualification to an eight-straight World Cup.
All of the long-term goals of U.S. Soccer remain up in the air.
First and foremost they need to get their national team in check and relying on a steady head and someone who has achieved this feat twice in the past and led the U.S. to a quarterfinal appearance in 2002 seems like the smart play.
It’s also a short-term play. Let’s call it what it is.
He went down kicking and screaming until the very end.
After five years at the helm, Jurgen Klinsmann was fired as both the head coach of the U.S. national team and Technical Director of U.S. Soccer Federation on Monday by USSF president Sunil Gulati, the man who tasked him with taking the USMNT to new heights on and off the pitch.
Following two defeats to open up the Hexagonal round of 2018 World Cup qualifying last week, the German coach simply ran out of lives.
ProSoccerTalk understands senior USMNT players spoke with USSF following the defeat to Costa Rica and ahead of their upcoming meeting with Klinsmann in California on Monday where his fate was sealed. Not for the first time Klinsmann had pushed people within U.S. Soccer to breaking point.
In truth, he’s been pushing everyone to the limit ever since he took charge but over the past 18 months a steady, then rapid, decline ended inevitably. He challenged the media, fans and the wider public to criticize his side more and if they did, then that showed the U.S. was becoming a better soccer nation.
Most viewed it as patronizing and labeled Klinsmann as arrogant. He often told them they didn’t know what they were talking about as the most divisive figure U.S. soccer has ever seen called for a complete overhaul on how the game was talked and thought about, which many didn’t feel there was a need for.
At the end of his five-year spell, we can now look at how it all unraveled but first, let’s look back to his first-ever conference call as USMNT boss on Aug. 1, 2011. Klinsmann was asked about the identity of the U.S. national team and how he will try to develop that.
“Down the road, it should be our goal that we build something that people here in the United States identify with,” Klinsmann said. “There comes a lot of ingredients into the pot for that – it’s the culture here, the diversified culture, and it’s the way people look at soccer, the way people have their own lifestyles. Step by step, we throw all those bullet points into a pot and see how we can make something positive and identifying out of it.
“I like that discussion. I like that topic, because that’s what soccer is about. Soccer is about identifying with your favorite team, with your favorite style. Hopefully we can build something that the people really like. Obviously, it’s also based on the player material that you have at the end of the day.”
At the end of the day, it just didn’t happen.
There was no progression of the style of play and fans don’t identify with this team who are a mix between a side who can bunker in and grind out 1-0 wins and a side which believes they can play free-flowing attacking soccer even though their personnel suggests otherwise. The second half against Costa Rica told us that much. There was no cohesion. No identity. And, most damaging for Klinsmann, it seemed like the players just didn’t care anymore.
The U.S. national team’s identity is no different now than it was under Bob Bradley in 2011 and many could argue it’s so muddled that the USMNT is now in a worse place, at least on the field, than it was five years ago when Klinsmann took charge. It’s no surprise that Bruce Arena, fired as head coach by Gulati in 2006, is the man the USMNT is now looking to. They want to return to their old identity and have turned to a familiar face.
With so much tinkering tactically from Klinsmann, so many personnel changes and so many ideas thrown out there and then quickly thrown in the trash can, the legacy of the legendary German striker on the playing side of things didn’t live up to expectations.
He guided the U.S. out of the “Group of Death” at the 2014 World Cup but their inadequacies against Belgium at the Round of 16 stage were there for all to see. He led them to a fourth-place finish at the Copa America Centenario this summer but apart from the 2013 Gold Cup victory and a few marquee friendly wins overseas against a weakened Netherlands and Germany in 2015, there’s not much else to really look back on and smile about.
Over the past 18 months there’s been much more to look back on and grimace about for fans of the USMNT.
First came the 2015 Gold Cup debacle which saw the U.S. finish fourth, its worst performance since 2000. Then came the CONCACAF Cup defeat to Mexico which robbed the USMNT of a Confederations Cup berth, another stated goal of Klinsmann’s. Then came the defeat to Guatemala in the fourth round of World Cup qualifying after another Klinsmann tinker job. Then came the defeats to Mexico and Costa Rica over the past 10 days. The latter was the final straw.
But it wasn’t like Gulati and U.S. Soccer hadn’t been thinking about firing Klinsmann for a while.
On the 18-month time scale, ProSoccerTalk understands that key figures from within U.S. Soccer flew to meet privately with senior players on the USMNT as far back as early 2015 to discuss Klinsmann’s position in charge of the team, such were the doubts from some.
This was coming. The end game was inevitable. And still, on the same day he was fired, Klinsmann launched another attack on the fans, U.S. soccer community and media which showed that over the five years he felt little progress had been made by those watching and supporting his team.
“I’m not afraid,” Klinsmann said to the New York Times about maybe being fired. “What you need to do is stick to the facts. Soccer is emotional, and a lot of people make conclusions without knowing anything about the inside of the team or the sport. I still believe we will get the points we need to qualify, and I am even confident we could win the group… The fact is, we lost two games. There is a lot of talk from people who don’t understand soccer or the team.”
In the end it was clear from the inside that his team and Klinsmann weren’t on the same page at all. That was a fact.
So many issues arose over his five years in charge, mostly with players and how some were treated differently than others while in camp, plus the likes of Landon Donovan, Benny Feilhaber and countless others publicly shamed by Klinsmann. His widespread disdain towards Major League Soccer and large chunks of his squad moving from Europe to MLS for big paydays hardly helped either.
Many players got preferential treatment. Many were snubbed completely. Many will not be sad to see the back of him. There are tales of some players being ridiculed by Klinsmann for ordering room service deserts while he then turned a blind eye when cigars and whisky were found in the hotel rooms of others. It was an uncomfortable tenure for many, but then, that’s what Klinsmann wanted to create from the very start.
Some players will thank him openly for not only giving them the chance to play for the U.S. but in helping them find clubs in Europe and improving them as players. There was plenty of good which went on but there’s no doubting that Klinsmann’s departure has created a divide in the USMNT locker room with some players actively voicing their concerns over the coaching situation and others backing Klinsmann in his time of need.
Those scars won’t heal overnight and the U.S. national team locker room will not be a happy place the next time they come together. Luckily that isn’t until January 2017 for a camp, when the vast majority of the squad won’t be available anyway due to playing commitments in Europe.
Aside from the players, Klinsmann was so much more than a coach. He was installed as a figurehead for U.S. Soccer and he constantly tried to push the boundaries. He didn’t change. He was stubborn. He repeated many of his criticism time and time again.
Klinsmann’s constant undermining of U.S. fans and the American media as a soccer nation wasn’t pretty but it was a key part of his plan. It backfired.
He wanted to try and elevate the level of expectancy on the USMNT and behind-the-scenes you could argue he did plenty in his role of technical director which will help the U.S. in the future. Yes, his long stated goals of reaching the Olympics wasn’t reached in both 2012 and 2016, but with so many young American players like Christian Pulisic, Cameron Carter-Vickers, Lynden Gooch and even John Brooks now coming through the ranks at top-flight clubs in Europe, Klinsmann’s ideas are having some impact.
It helped that U.S. Soccer backed him financially to help shake up the youth teams and the direction of the program and when you look at performances at the U-20 World Cup in 2015 you can argue progress has been made, to a certain extent, at youth level. But like the USMNT, It just didn’t happen as quickly as Klinsmann wanted and called for and stagnation and regression eventually set in over the past 18 months.
Klinsmann wanted progress and wanted fans and the media to ask more questions of not only him but his players. When the big questions came calling and criticism followed more frequently since early 2015, he then told everyone they didn’t know what they were talking about.
Until the very end Klinsmann stayed true to what he believed in as it felt like he was almost on a one man crusade to try and elevate U.S. Soccer to the next level.
His final act of that ultimately unsuccessful crusade was to fall on his own sword which was made sharper by his own actions. In the end, it was his only option.