Jurgen Klinsmann’s Inconsistency Destroying US Soccer

On March 25, the US Men’s National Team (USMNT) suffered a devastating 2-0 loss to Guatemala in Guatemala City. Since taking over the team in 2011, US manager Jurgen Klinsmann has received harsh criticism for the way he has managed his team since the last World Cup in 2014. This loss to Guatemala, the first loss to the Central American nation since 1998, has undoubtedly increased the amount of US fans that think a manager change is necessary.

During the game, the entire US team looked disjointed with an especially fragmented and weak defensive line. Rather than playing as a unified team (what the US is known for on the international stage), they played as 11 individuals who didn’t know their roles. 

Klinsmann did have to deal with a number of injuries and suspensions, including those of key players Matt Besler, John Brooks and Fabian Johnson, but still is to blame for failing to ensure the back line was strong and experienced enough to handle the pressures of playing in a big international game. And when things were clearly not working, Klinsmann didn’t make the sensible substitutions to fix the problem.

Klinsmann did (partially) accept the blame for the team’s performance, but did so begrudgingly, mentioning that his players were truly to blame because of their “individual mistakes that you cannot do at this level.” He also blamed his players for their “lack of focus, concentration and wrong decisions” that he claimed led to the early goals by Guatemala.

In response to questions about why the team lacked that focus, Klinsmann deflectingly replied “That’s a good question for the players.” 

Klinsmann’s blaming of his players is ridiculous given his unwillingness to provide any consistent structure that those players can learn to play in. He consistently changes players positions (he plays Deandre Yedlin at right back and as a right midfielder in different games intermittently, as well as Geoff Cameron at both right back and center back) which results in them not knowing their roles in the team. He also unwaveringly picks different players and a different formation in every game, which are not actions conducive to consistency and learning how to play within a structured system.

The US was temporarily at risk of not qualifying for the 2018 World Cup in Russia, which would have been disastrous given Klinsmann’s goal of reaching the semifinal of the competitionThis would be another major loss in a string of failures in major competitions, including the 2014 World Cup and the Gold Cup exit to Jamaica in the semi-final (especially considering that Klinsmann stated the US needed to win the Gold Cup if they wanted to be remotely successful). 

Midfielder Michael Bradley

Midfielder Michael Bradley

After the loss, US star Michael Bradley said that “everything” needed to be better for their next meeting in World Cup Qualifying against Guatemala on March 29, one that they could not lose. Guatemala had never lost on US soil, and enough, the US pulled through in a 4-0 victory in Columbus, Ohio over the same team that almost prevented the US from qualifying for soccer’s most prestigious competition.

The US dominated the game, winning key individual battles and maintaining a solid structure in their formation throughout the game. Coming into the game, the US had a 91% chance of moving on to the next stage of World Cup qualifiers if they beat Guatemala, but only a 10% chance of qualifying if they lost according to ESPN’s Soccer Power Index (SPI).

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Striker Clint Dempsey celebrating a goal. Striker Jozy Altidore in the background

After the game, striker Clint Dempsey stated “We showed our pride. You have to do that if you want to make it to the World Cup. You’ve got to show that you want it.” US fans were left wishing that the team and the manager would “want it” in all games, not just when they are at risk of complete failure and embarrassment.

The difference between the two games was drastic. The first game brought back memories of the USMNT 20 years ago when they were significantly behind the rest of the world, while the second game was exactly how US fans want to see their team play. And while you can laud and praise Klinsmann for being able to turn it around so fast, it raises questions about his consistency and the lack of stability he brings to the team. The team only seems to show up for big games.

On the topic of the team’s lack of consistency, Klinsmann said “Every coach’s wish is always to be consistent with his players being available, everybody at your disposal. Unfortunately it’s not reality.” It is as though Klinsmann forgets that almost every other manager, both in domestic and international play, has been able to be consistent with their team even with worse injuries and suspensions than Klinsmann has faced. Heck, Klinsmann himself was consistent as a manager for Bayern Munich and the German national side!

Part of the inconsistency could be the result of playing in too many competitions. The US is currently battling for World Cup Qualification, will play the Copa America Centenario this summer on home soil, is looking towards the 2016 Olympics, just played in the Gold Cup last summer and will partake in the Confederations Cup.

It is certainly hard for any team to play in so many competitions, especially when they do not consistently practice together like a club team would. But the lack of playing time is only more reason for Klinsmann to adopt a solidified structure and pick the team more consistently, and does not excuse repeatedly disappointing results against less than mediocre teams like Guatemala. He could start the process of implementing structure by bringing squad and tactical stability to the all important Copa America, especially given that the US needs to perform well against extremely tough competition to prove its competitiveness on the international stage.

Since Jurgen Klinsmann has taken over as manager of the USMNT, I have been frustrated watching the US team devolve in both their emotional state and style of play. What has bothered me most is the inconsistency of the team and the lack of preparation for long term success despite such success being Klinsmann’s stated goal. Just this week, the US Men’s Under-23 team lost to Columbia and are now disqualified from competing in the 2016 Olympics.

Watching the second game versus Guatemala, I had thoughts of soccer heresyI almost wanted Guatemala to win so the USMNT could have a reason to be rid of Jurgen Klinsmann and all the discontinuity and frustrations he has brought to the USMNT and its fans.

This US team used to be all about a group that was greater than the sum of its individuals, one that played with true heart. That heart is slowly being torn out of the body of US Soccer by Jurgen Klinsmann, and something needs to be done about it.

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