The United States Men’s National Team is in a bad place right now. A few days after losing the opening game of the final round of World Cup qualifying 2-1 to Mexico, they traveled down to Costa Rica and got played off the pitch by Los Ticos from the first whistle. Costa Rica are a perfectly fine team with a roster of decent players, but the USMNT is more than capable of putting up with a team like that. Instead, our boys turned in one of the worst performances of the Jurgen Klinsmann era (the USMNT has never trailed by four goals in a World Cup qualifier since 1980) and got smoked.
Soccer scorelines don’t always fairly reflect the margin between teams, especially in blowouts, but 4-0 is a completely accurate portrayal of the shit that the USMNT took on the field tonight. Klinsmann trotted out a conservative lineup with a pair of fullbacks who didn’t push forward and a pair of holding midfielders who stayed tucked back. The typical U.S. attack would go something like this: Omar Gonzalez and John Brooks pass it back and forth, occasionally squibbing the ball over to left back Matt Besler, right back Timmy Chandler, or Bradley; one of those five would then loft an aimless, useless pass up to the waiting heads and feet of the Costa Rica defenders, then flail around until they got the ball back—usually not until Costa Rica had burst through the U.S.’s tissue-soft defense to take a pop on goal.
The U.S. managed just a single shot on target, and it was a soggy long range effort that Keylor Navas could have saved with his butt if he wanted. Christian Pulisic was not his usual effervescent self in his first true competitive game on Central American soil, and the rest of the attacking corps provided him with no support and even fewer outlets. The United States never seriously threatened Costa Rica and never built up anything resembling a competent move.
Believe it or not, but the backline was somehow even worse. When they weren’t busy passing it to each other, they were getting skinned alive by relatively simple movement from Costa Rican players. Look at sorry-ass John Brooks cosplaying a statue then giving Joel Campbell—the player he should be watching above all others—half a square mile of wide open space to sprint in behind into and own Brad Guzan.
(Sweet little jig by Campbell, though.)
That was the worst of the allowed goals and it sure looked a lot like Brooks just sort of gave up. The USMNT has played bad games before, they’ve looked slow and incapable of dismantling the simplest of threats before, they’ve been unprepared before, they’ve struggled to string together coherent offensive play before, but never have they so comprehensively failed to do anything right in an eminently winnable game. Klinsmann has been on the defensive this week after Bradley publicly expressed puzzlement at his tactics, and he’s never been more at risk of getting canned.
It’s become abundantly clear that for all of Klinsmann’s gifts as a recruiter, motivator, and long-term visionary, he is not a good soccer coach. He is erratic in both team selection and tactical setup, he has no idea how to balance the attacking and defending duties of a midfield, and he retreats into hyper-conservative setups when playing any opponent of substance. The USMNT player pool is not exactly good, but the players aren’t terrible—which is how they played tonight and too often during Klinsmann’s tenure.
If Klinsmann bites it, as some analysts suggest he should, Bruce Arena is reportedly the leading candidate to replace him. The United States is fewer than two years away from a World Cup they are still on track to qualify for, so if the United States Soccer Federation were to replace him, it would have to be very soon. They’ve always committed to Klinsmann and they have backed him effusively at every previous low point. But at some point, vision and grandiose ideas about What American Soccer Could Be must bow to the simple fact that Jurgen Klinsmann is out of his depth and should hit the fucking road.