After 18-month downward spiral, Klinsmann falls on his own sword

11 Comments

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 (USSF) on Monday by USSF president Sunil Gulati, the man who tasked him with taking the USMNT to new heights on and off the pitch.

[ MORE: Klinsmann fired ]

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.

HOUSTON, TX - JUNE 21: Head coach Jurgen Klinsmann of the United States looks on prior to a 2016 Copa America Centenario Semifinal match against Argentina at NRG Stadium on June 21, 2016 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images)
(Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images)

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.

ATLANTA, GA - JULY 22: Clint Dempsey of United States of America and Jurgen Klinsmann the head coach / manager of United States of America walk off the field after the 1-2 defeat in the 2015 CONCACAF Gold Cup Semifinal between USA and Jamaica at Georgia Dome on July 22, 2015 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Matthew Ashton - AMA/Getty Images)
(Photo by Matthew Ashton – AMA/Getty Images)

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 criticisms 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.

Stagnation and regression 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.

CCL Wrap: LAFC makes history, Sounders eliminated

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Major League Soccer already saw three clubs into the CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinals. Two more needed to overcome obstacles to see MLS remain perfect through the Round of 16. While LAFC did its share of heavy lifting, the Seattle Sounders collapsed late as Olimpia advanced to the quarterfinals.

LAFC, in front of a brilliant tifo from the home fans at Banc of California Stadium, needed to overcome a 2-0 first-leg loss. The home side poured on the pressure all match, winning 3-0 to become the first MLS side to eliminate a Liga MX club after falling behind by multiple goals in the first leg. They absolutely battered the Mexican club, proving vicious on the counter and solid at the back.

Carlos Vela had an early miss, breaking down the right flank before firing wide of the near post with the outside of his boot on seven minutes. LAFC had another chance for the opener in the 11th minute but Marc-Anthony Kaye was denied by a brilliant reflex save from Rodolfo Cota who got a hand to the close-range shot despite falling down backwards on the line. Cota was on hand again to reject LAFC its much-needed breakthrough as he lept to tip a long-range Eduard Atuesta effort over the bar.

The hosts were robbed of first blood in the 26th minute when LAFC broke spectacularly three-on-two but Diego Rossi hit the post and while Carlos Vela put the rebound into the back of the net, the flag went up for offside on the initial effort. They would finally break through moments later, however, as a ball across the end line found Vela at the near post who tipped the ball towards the goal mouth, with the final touch coming off Cota who fumbled the ball over the line.

LAFC absorbed some pressure to end the first half, and Kaye was lucky to stay on the field as, already on a yellow card, he stamped on the ankle of Luis Montes and absolutely could have earned a second caution. After the break, LAFC regained the front foot but past the hour mark could not find the critical second goal. They had another huge chance on 71 minutes but Rossi whiffed after Vela teed him up on the doorstep. As LAFC became more desperate, Vela struck with 14 minutes to go, punching home Tristan Blackmon’s feed from deep on the right.

With LAFC level on aggregate with a 2-0 home lead, Diego Rossi atoned for his early miss with an absolutely stunner to win it for the hosts, delivering a cross brilliant ball to the far corner that came off the underside of the crossbar, then the inside of the post, and into the back of the net.

Up the coast to the north, Seattle had plenty of chances, leading 4-3 on aggregate late, but they collapsed as Olimpia equalized to send the game to penalties, where the Honduran side advanced 4-2.

Just five minutes in, Olimpia went in front on a set-piece as Elvin Oliva headed in a corner, with the ball squeaking past Cristian Roldan who was guarding the near post. The early strike mirrored the first leg when Seattle scored six minutes into the eventual 2-2 draw.

El Savladorian referee Ivan Barton was not shy about handing out early cards. In the very first minute he cautioned German Mejia for barreling through the back of Joevin Jones, while Seattle’s Nouhou Tolo was cautioned for a seventh minute foul in the air. The Sounders finally built themselves into the match, holding more possession than in the early minutes, and it paid off as Christian Roldan headed in off a set piece to put Seattle level on the match 1-1 and on aggregate 3-3, holding the away goal advantage.

Nouhou had the ball in the back of the net on 27 minutes, but the flag correctly went up for offside. Seattle continued to pressure the Olimpia back line after the break, and nearly had a second. Jordan Morris delivered a 56th minute cross along the goal mouth that Edrick Menjivar couldn’t handle and a streaking Joao Paolo just missed the bobbling ball.

The sealing goal would come in the 64th minute as Roldan delivered a vicious ball from the right flank and it found Paolo who this time converted, thanks in large part to a slight deflection off the knee of Johnny Leveron that wrong-footed Menjivar. Olimpia would not be phased, waiting until the 86th minute before drawing back level as Carlos Pineda rifled a long-distance equalizer.

In the penalty shootout, Christian Roldan skied his effort over the bar and Kelvin Leerdam’s spot-kick was saved by Menjivar. Stefan Frei got his hand to Edwin Rodriguez’s penalty but couldn’t keep it out as Olimpia didn’t miss any of its four efforts to advance.

MLS Week 1 preview: New teams, players, and stars

Getty Images
Leave a comment

AThe 2020 Major League Soccer season is here. This weekend, the new campaign gets under way with two new teams, a new defending Supporters’ Shield winner, and a new superstar.

Debuts are the theme as Inter Miami and Nashville SC both take the field for the first time this weekend across Saturday and Sunday. The defending champions Seattle Sounders host the Chicago Fire and their new logo. Chicharito leads the L.A. Galaxy as the visit the Houston Dynamo.

The new clubs both get tough welcomes to the league, with Nashville hosting Atlanta United and Inter Miami traveling to Western Conference finalists LAFC. Atlanta has plenty of new faces of its own, with captain Michael Parkhurst retired while both Darlington Nagbe and Julian Gressel having departed. Miles Robinson is injured to start the season, and given how Atlanta started the season last year, they could be vulnerable this weekend. LAFC has seen Walker Zimmerman and Tyler Miller move on, and after playoff disappointment last season, they have plenty to prove themselves.

Last year’s Eastern Conference regular season champions NYCFC starts the season on the road at Columbus on Sunday afternoon, under new management in Ronny Deila. Gedion Zelalem also joins, although he struggled last season at Sporting KC. The Philadelphia Union, off a 55 point season last campaign, visit FC Dallas who doesn’t have much new of note except new contracts for Paxton Pomykal and Jesus Ferreira.

The defending champs host the Chicago Fire, with Seattle seeing a designated player depart in Victor Rodriguez with Joao Paulo arriving in his stead. RSL, who finished third in the West last season, announced Thursday the addition of Guiseppe Rossi and he could be in line to see time as they travel to Orlando S.C. on Saturday. After a promising season of growth, Minnesota United switched out goalkeepers, bringing in LAFC’s Miller for Vito Mannone. Abu Danladi is also gone, having departed for Nashville in the expansion draft, and Luis Amarilla has arrived in his place with a promise of goals, with a West Coast trip to Portland his first challenge.

Full MLS Week 1 slate

Saturday:
D.C. United v. Colorado Rapids (1:00 p.m. ET)
Montreal Impact v. New England Revolution (3:00 p.m. ET)
Houston Dynamo v. LA Galaxy (3:30 p.m. ET)
San Jose Earthquakes v. Toronto FC (5:30 p.m. ET)
FC Dallas v. Philadelphia Union (6:00 p.m. ET)
Orlando S.C. v. Real Salt Lake (6:00 p.m. ET)
Nashville S.C. v. Atlanta United (8:00 p.m. ET)
Vancouver Whitecaps v. Sporting KC (10:30 p.m. ET)

Sunday:
Columbus Crew v. NYCFC (12:30 p.m. ET)
New York Red Bulls v. F.C. Cincinnati (1:00 p.m. ET)
Seattle Sounders v. Chicago Fire (3:00 p.m. ET)
LAFC v. Inter Miami (5:30 p.m. ET)
Portland Timbers v. Minnesota United (7:30 p.m. ET)

Arteta ‘hurt’ by Arsenal’s Europa League exit

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Mikel Arteta wasn’t shy about his feelings towards Arsenal’s Europa League elimination.

“It hurts, big time,” Arteta said after the match. “We had a lot of hope in this competition. It was a great way for us to be able to go to Europe and it is a very beautiful competition to try to win.”

For much of the second leg against Olympiakos, Arsenal was flat. The Gunners conceded a goal shortly after halftime, and with the aggregate score 1-1 through 180 minutes, the game went to extra-time. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang appeared to have struck the winner for Arsenal in the 113th minute, only for Olympiakos to level the score back up in the 119th minute and go ahead on away goals.

[ ROUNDUP: Early Europa League kicks | Late kicks ]

“I think we did a lot of positive things in the game,” Arteta said. “I think we created enough chances to win, but if you concede two set-pieces again in a tie like this you put yourself in big trouble.”

The Gunners, in truth, did not create much, at least not through regulation. It may have been enough to expect victory, but it was not enough for a team with an attacking mentality. Arsenal racked up 2.19 expected goals through the match, but their two best chances came late with Aubameyang’s last-gasp miss and Alexandre Lacazette failing to strike with a 77th minute diving header.

“This is football and sometimes it is very cruel when the emotions are right here [raises hand high],” Arteta said in the press conference, “then in another moment they’re somewhere else [lowers hand]. You have to able to handle that if you want to be in this industry so now it’s up to us, and up to me, to bring this place back in and move forward.”

The Gunners are still in the FA Cup, with a fifth round match against Portsmouth on Monday. They sit ninth in the Premier League table, four points back of Manchester United in fifth.

Giuseppe Rossi signs with Real Salt Lake

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Former Manchester United, Villareal, and Fiorentina forward Guiseppe Rossi has signed with MLS side Real Salt Lake in yet another bid to revive his injury-plagued career.

Rossi, a New Jersey-born striker who infamously chose to represent Italy at the international level, has struggled mightily for game time over the past few years thanks to a string of bad injury luck. He most recently made 9 Serie A appearances for Genoa through the latter half of the 2017/18 season, without a competitive match since May 20, 2018.

“For me, MLS has been growing every year and has produced an exciting product,” Rossi said upon signing. “I’m lucky enough to have RSL be my first contact in the league during this process. The club’s respect and kindness towards me is something I appreciate immensely. I can’t wait to see and meet the fans and immerse myself in the RSL culture. Along with the rest of the team, I can’t wait to begin this season and enjoy the journey together.”

The 33-year-old has suffered five major knee injuries throughout his career, including three ACL tears. According to the soccer database Transfermarkt, Rossi has missed upwards of 1,200 days due to injuries throughout his career.

The signing represents an exciting moment for Rossi, who despite his struggles is thought to be a supremely talented player when healthy. No matter how this tenure goes, Rossi’s chance to play back in the United States marks a significant transition for a player who has had a contentious relationship with USMNT fans due to his national team decision. While it’s not as exciting a signing as it would have been 5-7 years ago, Rossi’s return to his home nation is a move with plenty of upside.

Through his European career, Rossi racked up 170 La Liga appearances, 62 in Serie A, 16 in the Premier League, and 12 in Champions League play. Rossi has 29 caps for the Italian national team, scoring seven goals including two against the United States in a 2009 Confederations Cup match.

Real Salt Lake starts its 2020 season against Orlando City on Saturday.