Jurgen Klinsmann called it the most painful defeat of his five-year tenure. American soccer fans probably find it hard to disagree. The men’s national team’s 4-0 loss in Costa Rica Tuesday left many feeling empty—except for a tinge of frustration, perhaps even anger or rage. That very sensation has arisen a tad too often over the past five years, and particularly over the past two.
Tuesday night was terrible; but it wasn’t totally out of character for a team and coach that have slumped to a number of deflating defeats. Since Klinsmann took over, to his credit, he’s overseen some notable friendly wins, a Gold Cup title, a World Cup knockout berth and a Copa America semifinal run. But he’s also lost some games of great significance, several of which stand above the rest as particularly poor or catastrophic.
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Here’s a look at the five worst defeats for the U.S. under Klinsmann, with five (dis)honorable mentions below:
Costa Rica 4, USA 0: 2018 World Cup qualifying Hexagonal
There’s no need for a full explanation here. You saw it, or at least read about it. You probably also read about what has become an increasingly popular opinion, that Klinsmann has to go. Tuesday night was a full-fledged disaster, and, as Klinsmann said, might be the worst defeat of these five.
If you were to pick out a 45 minutes when the Klinsmann era turned sour, it may very well be the first 45 in Atlanta last summer. The U.S. had cruised to the semifinals of the Gold Cup on home soil, but goals from two MLSers—Darren Mattocks and Giles Barnes—five minutes apart were destabilizing to say the least.
Michael Bradley pulled a goal back right after halftime, but the U.S.’s 40-plus-minute search for an equalizer returned nothing but despair.
Sure, the game was fluky. The Jamaican goals came off a long throw and from a free kick after Brad Guzan, trying to spring a counter, had strayed outside his box with the ball in his hands. The U.S. monopolized possession and chances, especially after halftime. But that didn’t mitigate the embarrassment of a loss on a big stage–and on home soil–to a clearly inferior opponent.
Though the U.S. was thoroughly outclassed over 120 minutes, the extra-time defeat in Los Angeles wasn’t an abjectly terrible result—at least not superficially. But it represented a big-picture shortcoming: The Yanks missed out on the 2017 Confederations Cup, a stated goal, and a tournament of real significance the last time the U.S. qualified in 2009.
Paul Aguilar’s stunning volley was the difference in a back-and-forth game that saw the U.S. come from behind twice. But Mexico fully deserved its victory.
Excluding Olympic qualifying, this—the Gold Cup semifinal exit coupled with the CONCACAF Cup loss—was the first, and perhaps only, definitive large-scale failure of the Klinsmann regime.
Guatemala 2, USA 0: 2018 World Cup qualifying semifinal round
The U.S. kicked off the competitive portion of 2016 with a pathetic 2-0 loss in Guatemala in the penultimate round of qualifying. Having drawn 0-0 with Trinidad and Tobago back in November, the result left the U.S. in third place in a group out of which only two teams would advance.
The match’s script was becoming an all too familiar one. Klinsmann made confounding lineup decisions. Shaky play at the back in an unfamiliar environment gifted goals to a lesser opponent. The U.S., which found itself down 2-0 after 15 minutes, then struggled to break down that lesser opponent.
The U.S. would eventually qualify for the Hex with relative ease. But the ignominy of this night on Guatemala City would linger.
Argentina 4, USA 0: 2016 Copa America Centenario semifinals
A run to the semifinals of a tournament that featured top South American teams and Mexico should have been seen as a success. In retrospect, however, all anybody could think of were these putrid 90 minutes in Houston. The U.S. was disjointed and underwhelming, even relative to expectations. Klinsmann’s side didn’t record a single shot of any kind. And they were subjected to Lionel Messi’s magic.