By Mike Woitalla
Just when everything seemed to be going right for Jurgen Klinsmann -- storming through the Gold Cup with the USA playing the best soccer of his tenure and on a record win streak -- he's hit with a ban from the final.
Both the ejection and suspension were justified. Klinsmann was upset with referee Walter Quesada in the second half and the final straw was the ball spike. All precedents point to a one-game suspension. That it happened in the 87th minute meant that the ejection would hardly have been a punishment without a next-game ban.
It’s easy to empathize with Klinsmann’s frustration -- because Quesada should have been showing yellow cards for persistent and dangerous fouling.
It was good to hear Klinsmann apologize for his tantrum. It was also interesting to hear him speak quite differently about foul play than he has in the past.
“It was just frustration because you feel the health of your player [is in jeopardy] in that moment,” Klinsmann said after Wednesday’s Honduras game.
Here’s what Klinsmann has said in the past:
In May 2012: "I think we need to get an edge -- more nastier. … Maybe we're still a little bit too naive, maybe we don't want to hurt people, but that's what you've got to do.”
As a TV commentator during the 2010 World Cup, the halftime advice Klinsmann offered for Ivory Coast was to foul the Brazilians.
Klinsmann infamously made Jermaine Jones captain while the German product was on a two-month suspension for premeditatedly stomping on the already broken toe of Marco Reus.
The U.S. coach has repeatedly defended Jones, who has in Germany been dubbed the “nastiest player in the Bundesliga” and a “serial offender.”
“You play against a player like Jermaine in central midfield, that’s a handful,” said Klinsmann. “At the end of the day, in these games it’s all about who is intimidating who, who controls who, which we don’t see [from the] outside. And when you play against a guy like Jermaine, you want the other guys to say, ‘Shoot, I can’t fool around. I’m going into the grind.’ He’s good at grinding people [down].”
Condoning foul play when the opponents are the victims -- using euphemisms for cheating -- and then displaying righteous indignation when your players are those endangered is a coaching norm that plagues the game. And it’s hypocrisy we should not have from a U.S. national team coach.