Jurgen Klinsmann’s sack as the head coach of United States Men’s National Team came as a bit of a surprise to most of us who thought he was in a position made to be ‘unsackable’. Of course, we looked dumb when he did indeed receive the axe (or at least some of us). However, we wasted a few minutes here and there and came up with the following on his overall influence and legacy with U.S. soccer, as well as what his successor brings to the table:
Mario Vontey: The USMNT took a severe beating against the Costa Ricans; severe in every sense of the word. Many pundits and analysts have contorted their version of the game, but the general point that everyone agreed upon is that the Americans simply gave up after conceding the first goal. Never, ever, in a sporting competition, should that be considered okay. Especially in a professional football game, and in a World Cup qualifier at that. If someone’s looking in from the outside, it may not have seemed so bad as many were suggesting. The U.S. is, after all, just two games into the Hex round of qualification (albeit with a negligible number of points). However, it’d be downright ridiculous to suggest that this wasn’t worrying to the extreme degree that the media have blown it up to. Gulati needed to take a decisive course of action, and even though he’s known to be an admirer of Klinsmann, parting with the German will bode well for this nation going forward (not to jinx it, but if we do indeed move forward).
Ben Huebner: Although I don’t agree that that game should’ve been the straw to break the camel’s back, I thought Klinsmann was very worthy of a firing. In his entire tenure as USMNT coach, Klinsmann has exhibited a confused leadership style that I doubt has done much to inspire the collective spirits of his team. His decision to leave off hero Landon Donovan for the 2014 World Cup roster appeared to be somehow vindictive, as if he could not relate to a human being ever wanting to take a break once in a while. I found his supposed philosophy of focusing on future potential over past accomplishments to be unbalanced and bordering on plain wrong. His constant tiffs with the idea of MLS were not constructive and felt like ridicule directed at USMNT players who ply their trade at home. His refusal to select a hot hand for the USMNT also felt vindictive and like a tiff against MLS. His consistent selection of a relatively old Chris Wondolowski because of his past performances in MLS seemed blindly hypocritical in multiple ways. In this past summer’s Copa Centenário, Klinsmann tried to rally the team around shedding their underdog mentality. Perhaps I am nitpicking, but I strongly felt that this underdog mentality is exactly what the USMNT should have been (and should still be) embracing.
When your coach does not exhibit great leadership, you put your faith in him having great tactics. Sadly, I have come across many more observers wondering what on earth Klinsmann was doing on the field than I have of anyone enthusing his team’s formations and movements. It is hard to make a good soccer coach out of insipid leadership and questionable tactics. When Sunil Gulati hired Klinsmann, U.S. fans had visions of a team maturing like a lowly caterpillar into a beautiful, elegant butterfly. Yet, after nearly five-and-a-half years, it feels like we are all still stuck in a tightly wrapped cocoon.
The experienced hands of Bruce Arena will prove critical for the future of USMNT and the direction this team intends to move towards.
David Baleno: Days after the choice to remove Jurgen Klinsmann as U.S. Men’s National team coach and replace him with Bruce Arena, some of the most important questions have already been answered. Does Sunil Gulati have the courage to fire Klinsmann after the consecutive losses to Mexico and Costa Rica? The successive defeats have left the USMNT in disarray going into 2017. As far as who was going to replace Klinsmann, Bruce Arena was the logical choice as the man who could give the U.S. an immediate boost in terms of identity and consistency—some of the biggest qualities lacking from JK during his time with the national team. Multiple formations with different starters and out-of-position experiments speckled the tenure of the former Bayern Munich coach. A combination of this with the double responsibility of serving as Technical Director of U.S. soccer, which likely took a toll on the energy and focus needed for his other daytime job (i.e. head coach), perhaps those last two results aren’t much of a surprise.
In truth, the national team coach of any country can usually say whatever they want as long as they continue to win. Klinsmann’s comments about the MLS, promotion/relegation, the quality of American players, NCAA soccer, and using many foreign-based players in his lineups have all led the U.S. fan base to form an opinion on the coach. In the end, he never produced the results to afford himself the freedom to make these beliefs public.
Some pundits had suggested Tab Ramos (assistant to JK) for the job, but it was too much to ask for a potential future coach to be placed under such immediate and intense pressure with World Cup qualifying at stake. Bruce Arena is an experienced and well traveled coach who’s already led the U.S. from 1998-2006, and is a logical choice to guide the USMNT at such a delicate time. Without a doubt, Tab Ramos and Claudio Reyna are the future of the U.S. head coaching position, but throwing them into the blender so early would be too risky. Arena will come in as a man who knows the environment as well as many of the players. His reputation is already well known and respected throughout USA, having won at the NCAA and MLS level.
The two biggest things Arena brings are identity and confidence. In the last six to ten months, the USMNT did not seem to be in sync with the ideas and concepts of Klinsmann, and results have shown this. Their lack of success in terms of both results and consistency of play throughout the Copa America and Gold Cup were a precursor. Both Sunil Gulati and U.S. fans alike will look to Bruce Arena to the show his ability to guide the USMNT into a transitional phase where they can regroup over the next few months and introduce a new identity to the team. The biggest questions now are over how long Arena will stay in the post. Most probably, he will be the man leading the U.S. to the World Cup tournament in Russia in 2018. More interestingly, however, questions have also been asked on whether Arena will bring Landon Donovan back into the national team.
It doesn’t sound so ridiculous now, does it?