The US Men’s National Team suffered an embarrassing and surprising 2-1 defeat at the hands of Jamaica in the Gold Cup. The FIFA rankings, although not always accurate, say everything in this case, with USA ranked 34th and Jamaica ranked 76th. Of course, an upset loss in a big tournament is not enough by itself to question US soccer, specifically Jurgen Klinsmann’s leadership. However, the reason WHY they lost may fall back on the coach along with other lackluster results.
Sure, USA has turned out some spectacular performances in friendlies recently. But those are friendlies, soccer’s definition of an exhibition game where players/strategies are experimented with. This was a serious tournament where the more-talented Americans played like the inferior team in virtually every way.
Jamaica did what they always do: try to play disciplined, defensive soccer while using their speed on extremely quick counterstrikes. Pretty much any top soccer team would have been ready for their strategy – although Jamaica should be given credit for how well they executed it. But execution or not, the Americans kept over-pursuing offensive chances and getting caught off-guard when Jamaica would force a turnover and start their counterstrike. This was not a flaw with the players, it was a flaw with Klinsmann’s approach to managing the game.
Klinsmann’s managerial strategy wasn’t the only problem here because, once again, his odd approach to constantly tinkering with lineups created a dilemma. It’s fine to test different strategies on the road to the 2018 World Cup in hopes of finding the winning combination. But at some point every key player on the team needs to know exactly what their role is when it matters most. The Gold Cup semifinals game mattered greatly, yet several players were once again shifted around and used in a variety of ways, leading to another uncohesive performance.
His choice of players leaves something to be desired as well, like midfielder Kyle Beckerman, who has seen his best years pass by. The 33-year-old consistently looked slow while resorting to a number of fouls that finally got him benched by Klinsmann. It was a big factor in the game and one that allowed Jamaica to work their strategy to perfection.
Will Klinsmann be fired following this humiliating home loss to Jamaica? The likely answer is no, because he’s done some good things as well. He’s definitely been a factor in improving the USA soccer developmental structure, which was abysmal at best before his arrival. Now it’s looking more and more like America might be able to turn out quality talent on their own. DeAndre Yedlin, Gyasi Zardes and Perry Kitchen are excellent examples of this fact.
Meanwhile, Klinsmann has also done an excellent job of recruiting players who, through FIFA rules, are eligible to compete for multiple countries. Fabian Johnson, Aron Johannsson, Ventura Alvarado and John Brooks are all products are of this effort.
But if the USA soccer program wants to make a cold and calculated decision on what’s best for the USMNT, then there’s probably a better manager available in the way of in-game management and match preparation. From an overall standpoint, Klinsmann has definitely done a solid job up until now. However, it may be time to go another direction with regard to taking the USMNT to another level.