After witnessing the decimation of the US National Team’s confidence against Costa Rica, I tried to find some positive straw to grapple onto before descending into a pit of attrition where the only way out required a sacrificial German lamb. However, this time, there would be no saving grace. No silver lining to cling to. Just a tactical mess that left us with more questions about our identity as a soccering nation, than were to be answered.
This was not all Jurgen Klinsmann’s fault. The players need to be held accountable too. You can give up on a coach but you do not give up on the shirt when you play for the national team. This isn’t your club. You are playing for your country and everyone in it. The last 20 minutes of the match in San Jose left me bitterly disappointed. I can live with poor decision making on the part of the manager. I can even live with players not performing at their best. What I cannot live with is players walking around with their shoulders slumped waiting for the clock to strike 90:00.
Yet Jurgen shares the blame equally, if not more so. Going into Mexico and playing a 3-4-3 formation barely practiced against a proven tactician like Juan Carlos Osorio was madness. You can still see Michael Bradley screaming at Jurgen that they need to switch back to their usual 4-4-2. Klinsmann eventually conceded and the US pushed back to make it a contest in the second half, even if in vain.
To say Jurgen Klinsmann was a failure would be a mistake. He accomplished some feats that will bear fruition in the future. For instance he expanded the US player base further than has ever been done before. He encouraged and opened the doors for many of our US youth players to play abroad. It would be a mischaracterization to say Klinsmann disliked the MLS, but he knew if you wanted to beat the best, you needed to play against the best.
Jurgen isn’t a tactician. In fact, he readily admits that to this day. He is a motivator, a player’s coach. Or some thought. Philip Lahm, who played under Klinsmann during Jurgen’s failed stint as the manager of Bayern Munich, did not hold back in his autobiography:
We practically only practiced fitness under Klinsmann. There was very little technical instruction and the players had to get together independently before the game to discuss how we wanted to play.
All the players knew after about eight weeks that it was not going to work out with Klinsmann. The remainder of that campaign was nothing but limiting the damage.
Philip Lahm isn’t just some random player. At the time, he was widely regarded as the best fullback in the world. He is also not the only superstar to come out against Klinsmann. Real Madrid’s Toni Kroos had these illuminating words on Jurgen:
During his time at Bayern I personally missed everything: An idea of how to play football, adequate communication -- and success.
For me there will always be two Jurgen Klinsmanns’. Philip Lahm and Toni Kroos paint a picture of a man with little tactical ability who obliviously lost the locker room at Bayern Munich. It all seems too familiar as if this story has been told before. Players giving up on their coach and relying on their own ability and knowledge of the game to get the job done. Similar to how Michael Bradley was coaching Jurgen on the sideline as to what tactical formations the US should be playing in Costa Rica.
The second Jurgen is the charismatic charmer who wore his heart on his sleeve at every match. What he lacked in tactics he made up for in heart. Jumping up and down like a madman and dancing after a scored goal. He was everything we wanted in a United States coach. Just not what we needed.
I would be remiss if I didn’t credit Charlie Stillitano with calling exactly how this would play out. Champagne Charlie knew once fans and the media started pointing fingers toward Sunil Gulati, Jurgen would be out of a job. Sure enough, a few days after the media started to turn on Gulati, Klinsmann was out. All I can say for Sunil Gulati is if Bruce Arena, or whatever long term plan in place, doesn’t pan out - he’s running out of people to blame.