The German coach had many faults but he leaves the game in America in a much better place after his time in charge
The end came on Monday, in a terse press release from US Soccer, with a couple of nice quotes tacked on. Jrgen Klinsmann, the manager hired to great acclaim in 2011, was out of a job. Two bad losses to Mexico and Costa Rica in World Cup qualifying proved too much for USSF President Sunil Gulati to stomach. It is thought that the LA Galaxy coach, Bruce Arena, will return to the job he held from 1998-2006.
Many American fans are likely to cheer Klinsmanns departure just as many of them welcomed his appointment in the first place. The sunny former Germany star had charmed many five years ago when he promised to raise the level of the players and the competition. By 2016, his act had grown tired many fans saw a man who refused to accept blame for mistakes, and many of his players seemed to quit on him.
The volatile politics in America also played a role, even though many fans will not admit it. As the recent presidential race signaled an inward turn for the country, many fans had become distressed with Klinsmanns perceived focus on German-American players. This attitude was seen up and down the development ladder, and parents at the youth and ODP levels seethed, feeling their children would never get a fair shake under Klinsmanns regime. Their discontent was vocalized when one of the biggest stars in the womens game, Abby Wambach, criticized the immigrant members of the squad, drawing some angry rebukes but in hindsight, she was merely expressing a current coursing the nation as a whole.
As a result, in the past year, every misstep Klinsmann made was magnified. One prominent blogger maintained a list that purported to make the case that the manager was the worst ever in American history. (In fact, Klinsmann finishes with the second-best record as coach, behind only Arena. John Kowalski, who coached only two games in 1991, cant really be counted.) Some journalists actually called for his firing, which Klinsmann rightly called disrespectful.
Klinsmann is hardly blameless, of course. He alienated a good number of players with his tactics and selections. He was also more than happy to hang some of them out to dry in public: his treatment of Landon Donovan in the run-up to the 2014 World Cup was particularly tawdry.
The German did not always distinguish himself behind the scenes either. His development work in the USA was mediocre at best: his hand-picked coaches blew two chances to qualify for the Olympic Games, and the entire development pyramid in the nation can fairly be called a mess. His penchant for going off script exhausted the rank-and-file folks over at South Prairie, who saw a much more controlling and demanding boss than Klinsmanns sunny public faade suggested. And, yes, Klinsmanns side lost some real stinkers.
Despite those caveats Klinsmann leaves soccer in America in a better place than he found it. Klinsmanns program got big wins: beating Italy, Germany and Holland. His team finished a respectable fourth at the Copa Centenario it is no shame to lose to Argentina, after all and got out of the Group of Death in Brazil. He won the 2013 Gold Cup. And he got the USAs first-ever win at the Azteca, snapping a long record of futility.
Klinsmann also brought real wattage to the American game. For the first time, ever, the Americans had a true international superstar at the helm, and that paid off in ways difficult to measure. Excitement around the program surely shot up among casual fans; with that came added expectations something Klinsmann actively courted. For the first time, American soccer players were put under real pressure, just as all other sportsmen are. To say that was a sea change might be selling it short.
Klinsmann also greatly expanded the player pool, with teen star Christian Pulisic just the latest gem to be unearthed (the Dortmund forward was also coveted by Croatia). Key players to emerge under Klinsmann include Fabian Johnson, DeAndre Yedlin, Julian Green, Bobby Wood, Jordan Morris and Aron Johansson. For all the hand-wringing that has accompanied Klinsmanns selections, a look at the massive number of names that he brought into the program shows a manager with a catholic eye, willing to take chances on guys from every league and every level.
Which brings us to the one thing Klinsmann had little control over. The simple truth is, despite the fact that he looked at 70-odd guys over the last year, his talent pool is actually weaker than it ever has been.
American goalkeeping, once an international strength, has dried up, with Tim Howard injured and Brad Guzan simply useless. There simply isnt much top-caliber talent in the pipeline, the excellent Pulisic aside. Clint Dempsey, sidelined with a heart ailment, was a killer omission as the Hex started. And certain players Jermaine Jones, Kyle Beckerman, Guzan are starting to look very old. (This is reflected in England as well: only one player, Lynden Gooch, is getting steady and significant playing time, and that at one of the worst clubs in the Premier League.) MLSs defenders will point to Michael Bradley and Jozy Altidore at Toronto; but the fact remains that the domestic league is several notches below the best competitions in the world.
Whoever takes over the job will have to deal with that problem first. He will also have to try to repair a fractured and fractious development pyramid that simply wastes too much talent. And, he will have to guard against the USAs national team becoming a club again, an insidious notion Klinsmann wisely smashed.
But the fans got their wish Monday afternoon. Like many in this nation after the presidential election, they may live to regret it.