Now is the Time to Fire Jurgen Klinsmann

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From Last Word on Soccer, by Joe Hojnacki

After this nightmare of a weekend that saw the United States Men’s National Team end a historic winning streak against Mexico and follow it up by their worst World Cup Qualifying defeat in 36 years, Jurgen Klinsmann’s time at the head of the team should be over. He has consistently shown his inability to pick a useful team in big matches. His tactical knowledge is far too limited for this level. He may have a knack for developing young players that we have not seen yet, but that is not a good reason to keep him in charge of the senior team.

Now is the Time to Fire Jurgen Klinsmann

His laundry list of failures is too long to address, so let’s just stick to using this weekend as our conversation starter. The mistakes made agaisnt Mexico and Costa Rica are plenty representative of errors made during the 2015 Golf Cup and more.

Poor Team Selection

Klinsmann has consistently neglected to address poorly performing areas of his team. He has refused to call in proper defenders, particularly full backs and not used the best ones on his roster.

Fabian Johnson, who had been playing left back for the national team, is best utilized in the midfield. This past weekend, when Klinsmann used Johnson as a wide midfield player to help on the attack, he called in… no actual full back to take his place. Instead, he went with a three man back line followed by a a four mine line with Matt Besler, a central defender, playing outside. This was a recipe for disaster, particularly against Costa Rica, who scored twice because of over adventurous and overly centralized full back play.

There are plenty of players who can step in and perform better at full back than Besler. Klinsmann, for some reason, refuses to give any of them a look, even in non-competitive friendlies.

His midfield selection was baffling as well. Sacha Kljestan is in the form of his life and really should have started over the still rusty from injury Jermaine Jones. This became evident shortly after kickoff agaisnt Mexico. Jones was off on his passing, looked slow, and just didn’t seem up to speed to face Mexico. Kljestan could have added a more forward dynamic to the attack and pull pressure off the young Christian Pulisic, who was asked to do way too much for his age in the middle of the pitch.

Poor Tactical Planning

Klinsmann has repeatedly shown to have zero knowledge of a tactical system that best suits his team. He routinely plays players out of position, like the Johnson example above, but there’s more. Teenaged Christian Pulisic was asked to spearhead an attack against the best team CONCACAF has to offer. For all his talents, he does not have the maturity and game intelligence to handle that role at this point in his career. As manager, Klinsmann has to see that.

He often is too stubborn to adapt when things aren’t going well. I’m convinced it took the begging and pleading of Michael Bradley and Jermaine Jones to get him to step away from that awful three man back line against Mexico. He never should have been using that weird 3-5-2 formation to begin with. The idea isn’t a bad one and, with a little work in training and friendlies, it could work someday. However, pulling out an untested formation against your biggest rival in a World Cup Qualifying match is nothing short of madness.

Keep Him as Technical Director, If You Must

The one place where the Klinsmann apologists have a real point is in the man’s ability to develop a youth system. Just look at how Germany has performed in the years since he left. Yes, Germany were already a strong team, but the developments brought on by Klinsmann down at the development level more than eight years earlier helped them win the 2014 World Cup.

Nobody is going to say the USA will win the World Cup in 2022 or anything, but this sort of thing takes a lot of time to implement, especially in a nation not very rich in soccer tradition like the United States. Klinsmann’s youth soccer reforms have not been around long enough to have taken any effect at the senior team level. If you think he is doing well with developing youth programs and creating talent down there, he can stick around as the man in charge of those programs. This is no reason to keep him at the senior team level.

Fire Him Now, While There’s Time for Transition

The United States Men’s National Team does not have another competitive match until March 24 against Honduras at home. With five months between now and then, now is the best time for a managerial shake up. This period would give Sunil Gulati and the US Soccer Federation plenty of time to pick out the right candidate. It would give the new coach plenty of time to survey his talent pool and develop a tactical plan that can work.

Once a plan is developed, the January camp will be the time to put it into action. The extremely low pressure friendlies will be the time to pick out a style that can work in an actual competitive match.

Gulati and his federation need to step in and take this team away from him. Yes, the United States doesn’t have the talent to compete with the giants of the soccer world. They will need time to develop young players that might have a shot at reaching that level. But now, as in the future, they will need a manager who is capable to taking the player she has and building a reliable system with them. That is the area that Jurgen Klinsmann has constantly failed in. For that, it is time to replace him as senior team coach.