Should Jurgen Klinsmann be fired? What we learned from USMNT’s Gold Cup campaign

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Following the USMNT’s shocking 2-1 loss to Jamaica in the Gold Cup semifinals in Atlanta on Wednesday, plenty of questions are being asked of head coach Jurgen Klinsmann and his players

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Rightly or wrongly, his future as the leader of the USMNT is being debated by many fans and pundits with a poor 2015 Gold Cup campaign culminating in a huge upset against Jamaica. After four years in charge of the U.S., has their been real progress under the German coach?

[ MORE: Klinsmann refuses to blame players ]

Let’s break that down and more by assessing the current situation.

Is this a knee-jerk reaction to a poor Gold Cup campaign?

People calling for Klinsmann’s head seems a little premature, it has to be said. Yes, the U.S. has reached the Gold Cup final in the last five tournaments and had said winning this trophy was a must, but they came up against a talented Jamaica side who have spent all summer together and have conceded just six goals in eight games of tournament play. Impressive. What hasn’t been impressive is the play of Klinsmann’s side. There has been a lot of rotation in the lineups throughout this Gold Cup but squeaking past Haiti and Honduras to open up, then a 1-1 tie with Panama showed plenty of cracks. Especially at the back.

When it came down to the big game against Jamaica, Brad Guzan was at fault for both goals and the central defensive partnership of John Brooks and Ventura Alvarado just didn’t work. In particular the defending on Darren Mattocks’ header from a long throw on the first goal was woeful. Klinsmann will get a reprieve for now and should remain in charge until the Confederations Cup playoff in October, but if the U.S. loses to either Jamaica or Mexico in a few months time, the writing could be on the wall.

Progress since 2011 has been minimal

Soccer is a results business. We all know that. Look at the constant chopping and changing of players and coaches across the globe in order to try and achieve success. Klinsmann took charge in 2011 and has won a Gold Cup and lost in the semifinals, got to the last 16 of the World Cup and won World Cup qualifying. In the cycle before him former USMNT manager Bob Bradley won a Gold Cup, got to the last 16 of the World Cup and won World Cup qualifying, plus came second in the 2009 Confederations Cup and was runner up in two other Gold Cups. Right now, it is hard to suggest that there has been progression under Klinsmann in the last four years despite marquee friendly wins in Europe against Italy, Holland and Germany. Sure, they were great, but when it comes down to tournament play and the games that really matter, the jury is still out.

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Guzan and the U.S. defense struggled once again.

Defensive issues remain

One of the head-scratching decisions this summer was the fact that Klinsmann persisted with Brooks and Alvarado as a central defensive partnership. Both are young and inexperienced on the international stage and Klinsmann wanted to test them. Time and time again they just weren’t good enough and how Omar Gonzalez and Tim Ream didn’t both, or at least one of them, start against Jamaica is baffling. Leaving Matt Besler at home despite him being a starter at the 2014 World Cup last summer seemed to be almost a punishment for his comments and those of his manager at Sporting KC, Peter Vermes, when Klinsmann questioned the fitness of several experienced players in his squad in January. During the post-World Cup friendlies, late collapses were commonplace as defensive partnerships were changed time and time again. Due to MLS not being on a FIFA schedule, it makes it hard for Klinsmann to keep the same group of players together year round. But he must find a way of doing that and building continuity, especially in the defensive areas. One thing is for sure: veterans Tim Howard and Geoff Cameron should come straight back into the team for the September friendlies.

Handling of Dempsey, Altidore a concern going forward

Deciding to strip Clint Dempsey of the captaincy for his hissy-fit when playing for the Seattle Sounders was a bold move from Klinsmann and seemed to work for most of the Gold Cup as Deuce scored six times in five matches. But now what? With the captaincy handed to Michael Bradley and the U.S. failing to make the final, what will Dempsey’s relationship with Klinsmann be like going forward? Far from positive is the likely answer. As for Jozy Altidore, his omission from the U.S. squad after the Gold Cup group stages due to fitness issues has seen Klinsmann ostracize Altidore and the Toronto FC forward will rightly feel bemused by the decision. Sure, Jozy might not have been fully fit but is a 70 percent fit Alitdore a better option than Alan Gordon or Aron Johannsson? I’ll let you decide that. Dempsey is the second-highest scorer in U.S. history, Altidore is in fifth. Both may now be feeling hard done by and that could backfire massively against Klinsmann if his two top goalscorers are unhappy.

If Klinsmann was fired, could USMNT hire anybody better?

I threw this question out on Twitter directly after the defeat to Jamaica and, understandably, there was plenty of buzz surrounding Klinsmann’s tenure so far and if anybody else could do better. Granted, U.S. fans want their team to succeed like any other fan of a national team, but most are intelligent enough to realize this program has come a long way in a short space of time. With huge improvements in the way all teams are set up from youth level right through to the first team, Klinsmann has done a lot of good things structurally for the U.S., just like he did for Germany before and during the 2006 World Cup. But with Joachim Low kicking on the German national team in recent years and grabbing World Cup glory in 2014 following the foundations Klinsmann successfully laid, do the U.S. now need a fresh figurehead to build on Klinsmann’s project?

It is a question worth asking but another question remains: is there anybody out there right now better than JK? The last thing the U.S. needs to do is gamble on another coach and have things not work out. That could set them back years. Klinsmann holds the role of technical director with U.S. Soccer and has a deal through the 2018 World Cup. If U.S. Soccer fire him anytime soon, that would mean paying huge amounts of cash in compensation to Klinsmann. I’m not sure that’s something they can afford to do, especially if they don’t have a top-class replacement lined up to build on the foundations he has put down.

What next?

As the disappointment of failing to reach the Gold Cup final sets in, the U.S. must now regroup and play in the third place match against Panama at PPL Park in Philadelphia on Saturday. After that, friendlies against Peru on Sept. 4 and Brazil on Sept. 8 await. However, the big game on the horizon for Klinsmann and his players is the Confederations Cup playoff in October. No date is confirmed for that game, but it will be played on U.S. soil against either Mexico or Jamaica to decide which nation will represent CONCACAF at the 2017 Confederations Cup in Russia. If the U.S. lose this one-off playoff game, Klinsmann will be under intense pressure and serious questions will be asked about his future with the USMNT.

Cole returns to Chelsea as youth team coach

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One of Chelsea’s best players in club history is back at his old stomping grounds in a new role.

Chelsea finally confirmed over their social media channels that former left back Ashley Cole is back at the club coaching in the academy, helping the next generation of stars grow and learn the games. Specifically, Cole is coaching the U-15 squad.

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“I’m also doing my badges at the moment and so being here at Chelsea means I have the chance to coach every day, whereas maybe if I wasn’t working at a club it would be hard for me to get the hours in,” Cole told Chelsea’s website. “I’m learning not just how to be a coach and how to speak to people in a different environment but the side of coaching that you don’t see like planning the sessions and setting up the equipment.

“As a player, you just turn up for a session and do it. If it’s a possession drill, you just arrive and try to keep the ball but now I’m getting to understand that there are always ideas behind a particular session or practice. Organization has to be key and those are the little details that it takes to be a great coach.”

While plenty from Cole’s era have moved into the media for lucrative punditry roles, it’s nice to see players like Cole and his former teammate Frank Lampard, now Chelsea coach, go into coaching to help pass on some of the great lessons they’ve learned during their careers. .

Cole said in the interview that he wasn’t sure what was next after playing three seasons for the LA Galaxy and then joining Lampard at Derby County for the second half of last season. He added that he got his first taste of coaching kids while with the Galaxy, helping some of the academy players and taking part in video sessions.

“The Academy are very good at giving ex-players a route back to the club and a chance to learn as coaches,” Cole said. “They’re eager to bring in people who understand what it means to be at Chelsea and what it means to wear the badge. You have to be a top player to play for Chelsea so they want those top ex-players influencing and trying to help the next generation develop and be better players.”

MLS Playoffs Preview: 1st round kicks off on Saturday

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After a two-week break, MLS is back, and with some outstanding matchups as the first round of the playoffs kicks off on Saturday.

Here’s a closer look at Saturday’s matchups in the Western Conference and Eastern Conference.

[ MORE: All of PST’s MLS coverage ]


2. Atlanta United v. 7. New England Revolution — Saturday, 1 p.m. ET

Atlanta United begins its title defense against the most successful coach in MLS history, Bruce Arena.

Atlanta United heads into the match at home a bit shorthanded. Miles Robinson suffered a left hamstring strain while on international duty with the U.S. Men’s National Team, leaving veteran centerback Michael Parkhurst to start alongside Leandro Gonzalez Pires. There’s also some questions over whether Ezequiel Barco and Gonzalo “Pity” Martinez will start together in midfield.

All that being said, Atlanta is still one of the best teams in MLS and as long as they have Josef Martinez, they’ll be a threat to make a deep run in the playoffs. The Revs have been a revelation since Bruce Arena took over in May, and no one knows the MLS playoffs more than he. Carles Gil and Gustavo Bou have been terrific this summer for the Revs while the defense, anchored by centerbacks Andrew Farrell and Michael Mancienne and 25-year-old goalkeeper Matt Turner have kept opponents off the board.

Atlanta certainly has the edge here, especially at home, but never count out a Bruce Arena team.

2. Seattle Sounders v. 7. FC Dallas — Saturday, 3:30 p.m. ET

Unlike in previous years, the Seattle Sounders never needed to make a patented late-season push to make it into the playoffs. This time, the Sounders were solid throughout, especially thanks to a start that included five wins in six games. With Jordan Morris in peak form and Roman Torres and Kim Kee-Hee patrolling the middle of the backline, Seattle sure looks like an MLS Cup contender. Of course, they’d have to get past LAFC first, no small task.

For FC Dallas, in a way, they’re just happy to be here. It seems like forever, but was less than a year ago when club legend Oscar Pareja left for the Club Tijuana manager spot. In his place was local soccer legend and former FC Dallas academy director Luchi Gonzalez, and with a mostly young squad of players, Gonzalez has proven he could guide them to the playoffs. It doesn’t hurt though that one of the few veterans, Zdenek “Cobra” Ondrášek, has been on fire the last two months and just scored for the Czech Republic against England. The Sounders should take care of business at home, but Jesus Ferreira and Paxton Pomykal can create something out of nothing and could make Saturday’s match interesting/

4. Toronto FC v. 5. DC United — Saturday, 6 p.m. ET

With the regular season concluded and the start of single-elimination matches, we’re on the verge of saying goodbye to Wayne Rooney at any moment, and it could come as early as Saturday.

Thanks to a win and some other favorable results, Toronto FC jumped up in the standings and earned a home playoff match. It doesn’t hurt that it’s been very solid to close out the season, going unbeaten in its last 10 matches – though to be fair, that span only included four wins. Worryingly for TFC is that striker Jozy Altidore didn’t practice on Thursday after missing the international break with yet another muscle injury. However, his Canadian international teammates Jonathan Osorio, Liam Fraser, and Richie Laryea are returning to the club side on a high after beating the U.S.

For D.C. it’s been an up and down last few weeks. They picked up huge wins over Portland and Seattle in the final two months of the season, only to settle for scoreless draws against the porous New York Red Bulls and abject horror show in FC Cincinnati. As always, there will be plenty of pressure on Rooney to produce some magic, and his side will need it if they want to keep their season alive. Toronto, playing at home, has the edge here.

3. Real Salt Lake v. 6. Portland Timbers — Saturday, 10 p.m. ET

Mike Petke was fired by Real Salt Lake in mid-August after serving a two-week suspension for berating the referee – and saying some unacceptable terms – after a Leagues Cup game in July. In his place, interim coach Freddy Juarez has done quite well with the squad, winning seven games in the final three months of the season to cruise into a top-three place and earn a home game in the playoffs.

Former Manchester City and Queens Park Rangers defender Nedum Onuoha has been a rock at the back alongside youngster Justin Glad, and RSL may have the most underrated attack in the league. Albert Rusnak, Damir Kreilach and Jefferson Savarino have all been brilliant at points this season. If the trio put it together, RSL could be a dark horse for the title.

The Timbers beat expectations a year ago as Giovanni Savarese led his team to another final – his fourth straight final as a coach. It will be an incredible achievement if they make it this time around. Portland has elite offensive capabilities when everyone is firing on all cylanders. Sebastian Blanco, Diego Valeri, and even Dairon Asprilla can create moments of magic, while Jeremy Ebobisse has had a breakout season with 11 goals, though he’s missed a few he’ll want back. The issue is the team defensively, and they’ll have to be on their game to slow to RSL’s front three on the road.

Of course, the Timbers did win both matchups against RSL this season, so even on the road, they should be confident they can get it done again.

Spanish FA once again opposes La Liga match in U.S.

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For the second consecutive season, La Liga and Relevant Sports have proposed a league match to take place this winter in the U.S.

And once again, the La Liga proposal doesn’t have the support of its national soccer federation.

[READ: La Liga wants to move Villarreal-Atletico Madrid to Miami]

Luis Rubiales, president of the Spanish Football Federation (RFEF), told reporters on Thursday that it would oppose the match taking place outside of Spain’s borders, keeping a consistent line in the sand on how far globalization can go in soccer.

“It would disrupt the competition,” Rubiales said, via AS. “To play a game in Miami, La Liga needs permission from five bodies that it doesn’t have.”

The five bodies Rubiales referred to are the RFEF, FIFA, CONCACAF, U.S. Soccer and MLS.

Last time around, Relevant Sports and La Liga announced a long-term, lucrative marketing contract to expand the brand’s footprint in the Americas, and soon after, petitioned to move Girona’s home game against Barcelona to Miami’s Hard Rock Stadium, the home stadium of Relevant Sports owner Stephen Ross and his Miami Dolphins.

Ultimately, La Liga president Javier Tebas and Relevant Sports were unable to get permission from the RFEF or FIFA to hold the event outside Spain and it went off as expected in Girona. At the time, Spain’s player’s union and fans groups opposed the move. Tebas has filed a lawsuit in Spain to try to force the RFEF to approve their request, but it seems unlikely to be awarded and it surely doesn’t provide any good will between the two parties.

There’s been plenty of talk about bringing league games abroad before, but it has just been talk so far. The Premier League considered adding an extra game to the season to be played all over the world, but never went through with creating plans for matches.

Associations – not leagues, to be clear – have brought things like Super Cups abroad. For example, the RFEF moved the 2018 Spanish Super Cup to Tangiers, Morocco, while the France Football Federation has brought its national Super Cup match to both the U.S. and Montreal, Canada in recent years. However, the argument in favor of bringing those games abroad is they’re basically meaningless. Meanwhile, one result in a league season could – in theory – determine whether a team is relegated or not, especially if the margin is three points or less.

We could see another legal fight on our hands, so watch this space, there’s plenty more to come.

Rodgers excuses Maddison’s behavior after England departure

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Leicester City and England midfielder James Maddison made headlines for the wrong reasons after he was pictured last week watching the England match at the Czech Republic from a casino.

Despite the negative attention from Maddison’s decision to watch the game at that venue, he has the backing of his club manager, Brendan Rodgers.

“The kid went away with the international team and took ill while he was away,” Rodgers said, via the Guardian. “He wanted to stay and hopefully be ready for the second game. But the England medical staff – which I can understand, as he had flu and they didn’t want that to spread to his teammates – decided it’s best for him to leave the camp. So he leaves, gets some tablets with our guys at the club, then he feels better.

“He watched the game at home on his own on the Friday and then goes out at half-time – probably he’ll make better decisions in his life but he went to a casino on his own to sit and watch the second half by a poker table. The suggestions are he left England purposelessly and then goes to a casino but that’s totally not the case at all. But his eyes have been opened now to the wider world in terms of what he did. He knows in hindsight he’s made a mistake.”

Considering all that went on during England’s international break, from the poor performance in Prague to the horrible racism endured in Bulgaria, this is a bit of a silly scandal. To be honest, as long as Maddison is taking care of his body and himself, why does it matter if he was at a casino, or a pub, or anywhere?

However, there’s no denying that the optics look bad. Folks didn’t know that he arrived to England camp with the flu, or a flu-like illness at least, and the England medical staff are right to send him away to make sure no one else gets sick. He may have been feeling better by Friday and wanted to get out of the house. I think we’ve all been there after being sick for a few days.

The most important lesson for Maddison is to learn that his actions, out of context, can be misunderstood. In terms of soccer, after Ross Barkley’s performance for England, Maddison will have to prove in his club form that he should still have a place in the England team for the near future. There’s only two more international dates left before the 2020 Euros, so time is running out for Maddison to make an impact to Southgate.