It’s all anyone wanted to talk about regarding the U.S. national team team for months now, and Landon Donovan’s comments on Tuesday only brought the discussion into further focus, so let’s talk about what happens to Jurgen Klinsmann if the USMNT loses to Mexico on Saturday, eh?
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The easy answer is, “He gets fired.” Of course, it’s not that simple. Let it be known that I am 100 percent against firing any coach for one result in one game, no matter the coach, the sport, or the situation. Furthermore, Klinsmann is an especially unique case as he holds both head coach and technical director titles. Firing Klinsmann the head coach would mean firing Klinsmann the technical director, as well.
If Klinsmann is to be fired following Saturday’s game against Mexico, it won’t be because he lost a single game against Mexico. It will be because he coached the USMNT to its worst-ever finish at the Gold Cup, showed no signs of learning or accepting responsibility for his mistakes, alienated and repeatedly blamed his players for said coaching errors, and lost to Mexico all in the span of three months.
Back in spring, Klinsmann called the 2015 Gold Cup the most important stretch of games during the calendar year. In fact, he did so on numerous occasions leading up to and even during the early stages of the tournament. As the tournament wore on, however, that rhetoric disappeared and in its place phrases like “experimenting with young players” and “building for the future” were born while more experienced players who had won previous editions of the Gold Cup — Matt Besler, Omar Gonzalez and Benny Feilhaber, to name three examples — sat either at home or on the bench as the Yanks lost to Jamaica in the semifinals and Panama in the third-place game.
Klinsmann made qualifying for the 2017 FIFA Confederations Cup his no. 1 goal this year, yet took a largely inexperienced squad to the Gold Cup, and failed. If the USMNT loses to Mexico on Saturday, Klinsmann’s bunch will have exhausted all options to get into the Confederations Cup, and failed again.
As Donovan pointed out on Tuesday, saying what so many have been saying for months now, he should answer to someone for that. It’s far from “sour grapes” from the player infamously cut from last summer’s World Cup team; it’s a veteran of the game, an American soccer legend, and someone who cares about the game going forward, speaking truth about the harsh reality of top-level soccer.
Around the world, if a player plays poorly and a player has a bad string of results, they get dropped from the team.
Jurgen said many times he wants our players to feel pressure — so if they lose a game they can’t go to the grocery store the next day. If they lose a game, they are getting hammered in the press.
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.
Unfortunately, the four-year contract extension handed to Klinsmann prior to the 2014 World Cup — an unheard of practice in the international game — means answering for his shortcomings will likely amount to a friendly lecture from U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati and a full-tooth, grinning “We’ll get ’em next time” rallying cry.
The standard defense of Klinsmann has long been one of two things: 1) “He’s trying to build a new program for the future and that takes time,” while ignoring that results still matter in the present tense; 2) “He doesn’t have good enough players because MLS isn’t good enough,” while ignoring that 10 players from the USMNT’s 23-man World Cup — a tournament at which the congregation of Klinsmann swears the USMNT did so well to get out of the “group of death” — including seven key contributors, came from MLS.
[ MORE: How will the USMNT line up vs. Mexico? ]
Klinsmann has held exactly two other managerial job during his post-playing career — Germany and Bayern Munich — neither of which for a period longer than 24 months following a series of substandard results, by their respective measures. Is it really a surprise he’s failed to deliver on his grandiose plans through 50 months on the job?
In the end, the USMNT’s shortcomings under Klinsmann have often been due to self-inflicted handicaps that left the squad and/or lineup ill-prepared to achieve the kind of results he was hired to deliver. Never before has a USMNT head coach been armed with such compensation, such control over the entire system and such depth within the player pool, which also means that never before has — or, should have — a USMNT head coach been held to such a standard.
If Klinsmann merely achieves the same as those who came before him, that’s a clear failure to deliver his stated objectives. He won’t be fired even with an embarrassing defeat on Saturday, which means he has three more years to show us that both he and his USMNT can be better than they have been for the last four.