Jurgen Klinsmann’s first match as manager of the U.S. Men’s National Team was in Philly.
Klinsmann’s worst match as manager of the USMNT was in Philly. (Well, Chester.)
If his team fails to secure a point against Paraguay on Saturday at the Linc, Klinsmann’s last match as manager of the USMNT will be in Philly too.
Klinsmann has been a polarizing manager since the day he was hired back in the summer of 2011. His time at the helm of both the German national team and Bayern Munich left U.S. fans cautiously optimistic, or perhaps optimistically cautious, about the direction he would take the United States.
Klinsmann’s first match was a 1-1 draw with Mexico, mere months after the Mexicans beat up on the U.S. in the Gold Cup finale, the final straw in the decision to change managers that led to Klinsmann’s appointment.
Many thought last summer’s failure to even reach the 2015 Gold Cup finale — Mexico defeated Jamaica in the sold-out final match at the Linc while Klinsmann’s team unceremoniously lost in penalty kicks in the consolation game against Panama in front of 12,598 people in Chester — would be Klinsmann’s undoing. But U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati showed faith in his manager and technical director, rather unwavering after the Gold Cup debacle and the loss at the Rose Bowl to Mexico this past October, officially knocking the U.S. out of the FIFA Confederations Cup next year.
Since the loss in Philly last July, the USMNT under Klinsmann has a 9-5-1 record, but just a 3-2-1 mark in matches that actually matter. When the United States lost to Guatemala in World Cup qualifying in March, headlines like ‘Could Jurgen Klinsmann actually get fired if the USMNT lose tonight?’ became the norm. (Thankfully, they won.)
Again though, back in Philly, we’re left asking the same question this week.
Gulati was asked about it too, during a roundtable with top U.S. soccer media in Chicago, before the crucial 4-0 victory over Costa Rica which kept the USMNT alive in the Copa America Centenario and made Saturday’s game in Philly so important. Gulati’s confidence in Klinsmann is all but gone. From Steven Goff at the Washington Post:
“Results are what matter and everyone understands that. Results of the last 18 months overall haven’t been what we would have hoped for, especially in the official competitions…it’s the official competitions that matter the most and we haven’t been up to where we would like to be.”
When asked specifically about Klinsmann’s job security, Gulati said, “We need to win a few games, whether it’s now or September, October, November. We have to win games… No one has ironclad job security.”
To be fair, until now Klinsmann basically has.
In late 2013 he was given the role of U.S. Soccer’s technical director, which, combined with managing the national team, makes him the man in charge of everything in the entire men’s program, from the youth level to the full national team.
Consistency made sense at the time, especially given how drastically things were changing under Klinsmann in his first two years on the job. Still, it wasn’t as if the results warranted that much faith in him. But early returns were positive.
There was excitement for the men’s team the following year, buoyed by a 1-1-1 record in the 2014 World Cup group stage “of death”, leading to a spot in the knockout round. But a 2-1 loss to Belgium ruined any hope of further World Cup advancement under Klinsmann, and the post-Brazil hangover stayed with the national side through 2014, finishing the year with a 1-2-2 record in post-World Cup friendlies, including home draws to Ecuador and Honduras and a 4-1 Irish drubbing in Dublin.
2015 under Klinsmann started out poorly as well, but a “dos-a-cero” win over Mexico in April led to Klinsmann’s finest run in the lead-up to the Gold Cup, including road wins over Netherlands and Germany in friendly matches.
Things were finally starting to look up for Klinsmann and the USMNT. And then the Gold Cup happened. And the U-23 team failed to qualify for the Olympics for the second Games in a row. And while the U-20 team advanced to the quarterfinals of the U-20 World Cup, falling in penalties to eventual champion Serbia, the U-17 team — led by wunderkind Christian Pulisic from nearby Hershey, PA — didn’t even win a game in Chile.
There is no doubt Klinsmann, the technical director, has added to the overall talent from which Klinsmann, the coach, gets to choose. But the results haven’t been what we’ve expected and, talent or not, the team doesn’t look any better than they did before Klinsmann took over either job. And the results have been just as good or worse.
The U.S. should never find itself in a must-win against Guatemala in the early rounds of World Cup qualifying just to stay alive. The U.S. should never lose to Jamaica on home soil in a competition that matters. The U.S. should never not qualify for an Olympic Games.
And the U.S. should never come to Philadelphia and lose to Paraguay. This team is too talented to lose at home to Paraguay. And yet, Uruguay lost to Venezuela at the Linc on Thursday. If the 9th-ranked team in the world, per the current FIFA world rankings, can fall to the 77th-ranked team, surely the 31st-ranked USA can fall to 44th-ranked Paraguay. It’s been shown already, anything can happen in this tournament.
Anything can happen in Philly.
The U.S. are 2-0-1 in the last three matches at the Linc, winning here in the 2009 Gold Cup then again in 2010 in a World Cup send-off match, before the draw with Mexico in Klinsmann’s first match back in 2011. Last year’s debacle in Chester notwithstanding, confidence should be high for the United States —both for the players and the fans — and it’s hard to imagine not getting at least a point against Paraguay on Saturday.
And yet, Klinsmann has loftier goals. From Jon Tannenwald at Philly.com:
“Yeah, I think you’re absolutely right. I think this is it. This is already a knockout game on Saturday. This is it, you know?
“You need now to get one point. We are not playing [for] one point. We cannot do that. It’s not our character to go for one. We go for the win. Because otherwise we might punish ourselves there.
“And so, it’s a one-off. And then this is our goal: to go through that on Saturday and then play the next one-off, and learn how to win these one-off games. To mature, kind of in our own way, towards a World Cup where we want to go further. Our big dream is to get into a final four of a World Cup, rather sooner than later.”
A final four of a World Cup may be Klinsmann’s ultimate goal, but he has to get back to the World Cup first. He has to qualify for the World Cup first. To do either, he’ll have to win here, as a result Saturday will put the U.S. in the knockout round of Copa America, potentially to face Brazil, which will certainly buy Klinsmann time on the job in both his roles.
A loss in Philly on Saturday and, well, Klinsmann said it best this week.
“This is it, you know?”