Coming off a pair of utterly dispiriting losses in World Cup qualifying, Jurgen Klinsmann has been fired by U.S. Soccer. Klinsmann had been serving as the head coach since 2011 when he replaced Bob Bradley, who was also fired.
Rumors are rampant that Bruce Arena will replace him, at least in the short-term. Arena coached the USMNT for eight years from 1998-2006, the only coach in the country’s history to take his team to two World Cups.
“While we remain confident that we have quality players to help us advance to Russia 2018, the form and growth of the team up to this point left us convinced that we need to go in a different direction,” U.S. Soccer President Sunil Gulati said in a statement. “With the next qualifying match in late March, we have several months to refocus the group and determine the best way forward to ensure a successful journey to qualify for our eighth-consecutive World Cup.”
While the United States had never before replaced a head coach in the midst of a World Cup-qualifying cycle, the timing does make a good deal of sense. The USMNT current sits at the bottom of the Hex — CONCACAF’s final six-team qualifying group — and probably need at least 15 points from their final eight matches. This is the longest break in the qualifying process, as the USMNT won’t play another match until they face Honduras on March 24, which allows whoever takes over the best chance to succeed.
Klinsmann had recently expressed confidence that he’d retain his job and even lashed out at critics in an article published just yesterday for “not understanding soccer.”
Gulati obviously disagreed, finally deciding that the reality of all of Klinsmann’s success had corresponding failures that were too much to ignore. The first World Cup qualifying loss to Mexico at home in the modern era of the USMNT and one of the worst losses ever were just the latest marks against Klinsmann. Advancing out of the so-called “Group of Death” in the 2014 World Cup was offset by losing to Mexico at home in Confederations Cup qualification; Making it to the Copa America semifinals was offset by a historically bad performance in the 2015 Gold Cup; Recruiting dual-nationals like Fabian Johnson was offset by the seemingly unfair dismissal of a Landon Donovan or ignoring various other domestic-based players.
Klinsmann’s relationship with the Sounders was a sort of microcosm of this. Sure, he gave Brad Evans a chance few others were willing to give him, but he also inexplicably failed to ever give someone like Chad Marshall the time of day. Similarly, he gave Jordan Morris’ career a huge boost, but also tried his best to convince the Mercer Island product to play in Germany instead of Seattle.
It would be unfair to deem Klinsmann’s tenure as USMNT head coach and technical director a complete failure, but it would also be ridiculous to try to claim he came anywhere near accomplishing what he set out to do five years ago. U.S. Soccer might not be in an appreciably worse state than where he found, but it’s also not in a much better one.