By Jason Davis – WASHINGTON, DC (Nov 15, 2016) US Soccer Players – If you find yourself surprised by the USMNT’s performance in Costa Rica on Tuesday night, you haven’t been paying attention. This USMNT–the USMNT that fell behind to Mexico thanks to a disastrous opening half and saw it’s unbeaten run against El Tri in Columbus come to an end as a result and then laid a massive egg in San Jose against the Ticos in a truly depressing soccer showing–is the new normal. 4-0 is the new normal. This is Jurgen Klinsmann’s USMNT.
Off of the disappointing loss to Mexico on Friday, the Americans headed to Costa Rica licking their wounds and with more than a few questions about the direction of the team. Klinsmann’s 3-5-2 gambit to open the Hex had gone so poorly that any chance at building confidence into the match against another CONCACAF power, on the road, was dead on arrival. Rafa Marquez’s late headed not only gave Mexico a win in Columbus, it drove home the reality that the US is spiraling into dysfunction.
That dysfunction was on full display Tuesday night. After escaping the first-half unscathed by sheer luck and Costa Rican benevolence, the US collapsed into a fiery heap in the second-half. Players all over the field looked bereft of the necessary energy and confidence needed to even make a draw possible in San Jose, much less a win.
It’s true that the United States has never won in Costa Rica. So on that front the loss shouldn’t be too much of a surprise. The Americans have gone to Central American full of confidence in the past, only to see their hopes of three points on the road dashed. Costa Rica’s unique brand of fast, physical play combined with a rabid home crowd is hard to handle. Steaming into San Jose on limited power made this game nearly a foregone conclusion.
It’s not the loss that’s makes the game worth talking about. It’s the evidence, for all to see, that this team has quit on Klinsmann. The defensive showing was so atrocious it doesn’t seem real. Talented players, players who can boast of being regular starters in high quality, respected soccer leagues made egregious error after egregious error. Costa Rica has dangerous attackers who don’t need help from the opposing defense to put the ball the back of the net, but they’ll certainly take it.
The Americans went to San Jose bearing gifts. If this was a diplomacy mission, then job well done.
It wasn’t, of course. It was a soccer game, and one that will have the American soccer media asking difficult questions about Klinsmann’s job security for the next four-plus months. The USMNT won’t play another qualifier until March. That leaves plenty of time to ponder (again) whether Klinsmann is the right man to lead the United States forward.
When asked after the game about whether he would consider a coaching change, Sunil Gulati did the usual. He suggested the organization would take some time to sit down and think about the result. That’s probably wise considering the humiliating nature of the scoreline and the dander that is up across American soccer. However, even a ponderous consideration of the USMNT situation doesn’t change the troubling fact that Klinsmann’s team isn’t just failing, it’s failing in embarrassing fashion.
How the players are doing at club level resonates. They’re playing excellent soccer domestically. The player pool can’t be turned over any time soon, so at some point the excuses made on Klinsmann’s behalf stop carrying any weight. Other USMNT coaches have put out more competitive teams with half the talent the current boss has at his disposal. The argument that Klinsmann should stay on the job because there’s some notion it’s not his fault is defeatist at the very least. There’s no benefit to holding onto a losing coach. Especially when there’s at least some chance someone else, bringing a fresh set of eyes and a new voice, could improve upon the current state.
The are reasons US Soccer might not want to let Klinsmann go. His contract buyout is likely significant, presenting a financial problem for a nonprofit organization that has other teams and programs it has to fund. By signing Klinsmann to a contract extension before the 2014 World Cup, US Soccer locked up the man they thought would transform their men’s program. Instead, they seem to have painted themselves into a corner now that the promised revolution is clearly not coming.
Gulati also said when asked about Klinsmann that “facts matter.” The fact is that the United States was never in the game against Costa Rica, four days after they gave away their psychological edge at home against their biggest rival. The facts dictate that Klinsmann should be in serious jeopardy.
As for the man himself, it’s hard to tell if he’s even sure anymore. When asked whether he’s still the right man to lead the USMNT forward towards Russia, Klinsmann replied “I think so.”
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