Jurgen Klinsmann is no longer the manager of the United States national team. U.S. Soccer announced that they have parted ways with the man who was brought in to be a transformative figure for the team after just five years, with two years left on his contract. And they did it because they really had no other choice.
Klinsmann's first three years were rocky, with some high points that gave hope to a federation that hired him to turn the U.S. from a CONCACAF power into a world power. His missteps were just the price of progress. But in Year 5, the progress wasn't just absent — the team was worse than ever and Klinsmann had the Americans facing the very real possibility of missing the World Cup for the first time since 1986.
The U.S. lost to Mexico on November 11, their first home World Cup qualifying loss since 2001 and their first home qualifying loss to Mexico since 1972. It was the Americans' first match of the final round of World Cup qualifying and they already found themselves in a hole.
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After falling to Mexico, the Americans went to Costa Rica, where they have never won. And once again, they didn't win. But it wasn't just that the U.S. lost that did Klinsmann in. They lost 4-0, their worst shutout loss in qualifying in over 30 years. They were completely dominated in one of the worst matches in the national team's modern history.
With two World Cup qualifiers down and not a single point, the U.S. were off to their worst start to the Hex in history. They had lost much of their margin for error and, depending on which statistical model you favor, their chances of qualifying for the World Cup were anywhere from 45 percent to 60 percent.
All the while, there appeared to be a rift growing between Klinsmann and his players. The formation he sent the U.S. out in against Mexico was widely derided by the press and, when asked about it, Michael Bradley and Jermaine Jones talked about the team's lack of comfort and unclear roles. This came minutes after Klinsmann placed blame on Bradley and Jones in his post-match press conference for their failings in the system. He also signaled out John Brooks for his mistake on Mexico's goal, something Brooks' U.S. teammates refused to do, saying it was a team issue.
The only thing the U.S. really had going for them was CONCACAF's extremely forgiving qualifying format. In any other confederation, the U.S. would be facing long odds to advance, but CONCACAF lets three teams of the remaining six go to the World Cup, with fourth place getting a playoff to still qualify. That's what gave them hope.
Seeing as the Americans' hope was in CONCACAF's rules and not their own team, they had to make a change. Chalk it up to the flagging results, atrocious performances or the very real risk of missing the World Cup, U.S. Soccer was out of ways to back Klinsmann. It didn't matter how much they poured into him, giving him unprecedented power and money — missing the World Cup would be a disaster of epic proportions and Klinsmann wasn't just flirting with that anymore. He made it a very real possibility with no reason to believe that he was the best man to dig them out of their hole.
Klinsmann defenders — of which there are few left — will point to his resume as proof that he knew what he was doing. They'll say that U.S. Soccer signed on for a long-term project with him, one that was supposed to last through at least 2018, and that cutting it short is not letting him finish the job. That's all well and good, but resumes don't win matches and there was little evidence of progress towards his 2018 goals.
In the end, it came down to results.
Most everything since the 2014 World Cup has been an embarrassment for the U.S. They had the bright spot of Copa America Centenario, but even then their successes were wins over Costa Rica, Paraguay and Ecuador on home soil. That's not exactly a shining light. Meanwhile, Klinsmann's team turned in their worst Gold Cup performance since 2000, lost to Guatemala for the first time since 1988 and got off to a historically bad start in World Cup qualifying.
After the loss to Costa Rica last week, U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati said that they would reconvene after the match and take a look at everything that happened. What happened was losses, ugly soccer and a team that was beginning to come apart. He, and the rest of the federation, didn't have a choice at that point. Klinsmann had to go, and now he is gone.