Once again, the United States held onto their manager for too long. Jurgen Klinsman was fired as U.S. manager on Monday, well into his second World Cup cycle in charge of the Americans. It was just another chapter in the same book for the U.S. — manager coaches through one World Cup, making the federation happy enough, then fails at his second World Cup or before and leaves the team a disappointment.
Bruce Arena was the most successful manager in United States history when he took the Americans to the quarterfinals of the 2002 World Cup. After that, it made sense to keep him for another World Cup cycle. Were they really going to do better than the best boss they've ever had?
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Four years later, the U.S. crashed out in the group stage of the 2006 World Cup without a win.
Bob Bradley replaced Arena after that World Cup and did a very good job with the U.S. winning the 2007 Gold Cup, finishing second at the 2009 Confederations Cup and winning the group at the 2010 World Cup, the first time the Americans had won their group at the World Cup in 80 years.
A year later, the U.S. were beaten badly by Mexico in the 2011 Gold Cup final.
Jurgen Klinsmann replaced Bradley after that Gold Cup and won the 2013 Gold Cup. But before he even got to the 2014 World Cup — where the U.S. advanced out of their group — U.S. Soccer chose to give him a contract extension that would keep him in charge of the national team through 2018.
On Monday, after a disastrous 2015 Gold Cup and an embarrassing start to 2018 World Cup qualifying, Klinsmann was fired as U.S. manager.
The last three U.S. managers have all been given more than one World Cup cycle. Every single one of them failed the second time around.
You could excuse U.S. Soccer for giving Arena a second cycle. After all, they had never been so good that they'd wanted to give a manager a second cycle and Arena was coming off of the best World Cup performance by a U.S. team in modern history. He wasn't a complete failure the second time through either — winning the 2005 Gold Cup and easily qualifying for the World Cup, not to mention drawing the eventual World Cup champions, Italy, in the 2006 tournament — but going out in the group stage was a bitter pill to swallow.
U.S. Soccer didn't really want to give Bradley a second cycle. They tried to hire Klinsmann after the 2010 World Cup, but that didn't work out so they went back to Bradley. A year later, he was out and Klinsmann was in. So bringing Bradley back may not have been great or ideal, but they didn't get the man they wanted and, in their defense, they only had one example of a second-cycle manager failing them.
Despite the issues Arena and Bradley had after their first World Cups, though, U.S. Soccer was wholly committed to a second cycle of Klinsmann from the start. He didn't even need to get out of his group at the 2014 World Cup to get a new contract through 2018. The thinking was Klinsmann was also the technical director and changing the way the Americans played. That was a long-term project that he needed seven years for, not just three.
You can see why U.S. Soccer did what he did with Arena. And Bradley. And Klinsmann. But now, over the course of a 16-year span and three managers, all we have seen is second-cycle failures. Whoever U.S. Soccer hires to replace Klinsmann will probably be given a contract through the 2018 World Cup, and that's all it should be. The federation has to stop handing out two-cycle contracts and recognize that history has shown them that their managers are good for a single World Cup.
After a while, managers get stale. Players have listened to them for two, three or four years. They've gone through the gauntlet of regional competitions, World Cup qualifying and a World Cup. They've done it all with the same boss and, after the World Cup, they get back together and are asked to do it over again. For a manager to find a new way to motivate those players to do the same thing over another four-year slog is difficult.
It's not like the Americans are unique in this either. Second-cycle managers struggle all around the world. The success stories are dwarfed by those who failed. It's just the nature of international soccer.
It's possible U.S. Soccer just thought the circumstances each of the last three times were right. Or maybe they thought their national team was unique. After all, they are unique in a lot of ways. But it's been proven now that they are not unique and immune to second-cycle manager syndrome. One World Cup is all they should be asking for from their managers. It's time to learn that lesson.