U.S. Soccer has fired United States Men’s National Team head coach Jurgen Klinsmann after a disappointing start to the final round of 2018 World Cup qualifying, the federation announced this afternoon. Klinsmann was also removed from his role as technical director.
From U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati:
We want to thank Jurgen for his hard work and commitment during these last five years. He took pride in having the responsibility of steering the program, and there were considerable achievements along the way.
Many are aware of the historic victories, including leading us out of the Group of Death to the Round of 16 in the 2014 FIFA World Cup, but there were also lesser publicized efforts behind the scenes. He challenged everyone in the U.S. Soccer community to think about things in new ways, and thanks to his efforts we have grown as an organization and expect there will be benefits from his work for years to come.
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. 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.
Klinsmann was hired five years ago to much fanfare, and with a mandate to revamp American soccer. How successful he was at that task depends upon your perspective. They advanced from their World Cup group in 2014 but were thoroughly outplayed by Belgium in the Round of 16. There were impressive friendly victories over European heavyweights, and embarrassing losses to Central American minnows in regional tournaments. Klinsmann pushed players to compete in Europe and constantly put-down and feuded with MLS, all without much effect.
National team players have been frustrated with Klinsmann for awhile, as his modus operandi is to blame players—often by name—for losses, while rarely if ever placing blame upon himself. If the team were succeeding that would probably be a minor annoyance, but as they got stuck in the mud it became untenable.
The final straws were a loss to Mexico and a blowout loss at Costa Rica to begin the final stage of World Cup qualifying. Beginning the cycle with two of the USMNT’s hardest games was rough luck—and they remain in a decent position to qualify because CONCACAF is an easy region to qualify from—but a 4-0 loss to Costa Rica proved to be too much.
While the next USMNT coach hasn’t been officially named, it will almost assuredly be Bruce Arena. Arena led the national team from 1998 to 2006, but after a poor 2006 World Cup his contract wasn’t renewed. Since then he had a unmemorable 18 months leading the New York Red Bulls, and since 2008 has been coach of the L.A. Galaxy, leading them to three MLS championships.
Curiously, given that the United States is a nation of immigrants and that one of our few competitive advantages is the number of dual-nationals growing up abroad who are eligible to play for the United States, Arena—like former USWNT star Abby Wambach—has dumb opinions about potential players born in foreign countries:
“Players on the national team should be–and this is my own feeling–they should be Americans,” Arena told ESPN’s The Magazine.
“If they’re all born in other countries, I don’t think we can say we are making progress.”
The USMNT’s next qualifiers aren’t until March, and presumably the new coach will hold the traditional January training camp featuring offseason MLS- and Scandinavian-based players. The timing of Klinsmann’s firing gives the new coach the most possible time to get acclimated, which will be necessary as the USMNT can’t afford many more mistakes if they want to be playing in Russia in 2018.
This post has been updated.