By Paul Kennedy
I'll begin by saying Project Klinsmann is too big to fail, so Jurgen Klinsmann
is going nowhere.
With that said, the U.S. men's national team reached a new low with its 4-1 loss at Ireland on Tuesday. It's hard to
remember a game in which the USA played so poorly and lost so badly to such a weak team as the Irish, playing their second-stringers, threw out.
You probably have to go back to the U.S.
Cup in January 1997 for a similar performance. The USA -- with the likes of Brad Friedel
, Alexi Lalas
, Claudio Reyna
and Cobi Jones
in the lineup -- fell, 4-1, to a Danish "B" team that got a career game -- all four goals -- from
The problem with the Ireland game was the outcome was entirely predictable. In each of the three previous games, the USA fell apart,
blowing leads in all three games.
What's Klinsmann to do to restore confidence? Here's my advice. 1. Come clean on the Donovan
Whether anyone will admit it or not, the cloud of Klinsmann's decision to drop Landon Donovan
from the World Cup team hangs over
the program. Indeed, the USA is playing like a jinx has been cast over the team. Its last good outing was the 40-minute start to the Ecuador game -- Donovan's last appearance with the national
More so than most, I gave Klinsmann the benefit of the doubt on his decision to drop Donovan. In fact, I wasn't surprised it happened. The problem is, a belief has taken hold within
a segment of the soccer community that the decision was personal -- Klinsmann had it out for Donovan, he never intended to take him to the World Cup and he brought him into camp so he could humiliate
I don't believe that, but nor do I accept Klinsmann's explanation he gave at the Stanford camp: "I just see some other players slightly ahead of him." That opens the door to ask why
he took a player, Aron Johannsson
, who had a bad ankle and couldn't play more than the first game of the World Cup.
Klinsmann doesn't have to do it
now -- he should wait until after the MLS season so his comments won't be a distraction to Donovan's final title run with the Galaxy -- and he doesn't have to say he regretted not taking him -- even
if he does -- but he has to say something more. 2. Take some of the blame.
Klinsmann is great about saying what his players should or
shouldn't do. Avoid soda. Keep their cell phones in their pockets. He has a million pet peeves. All good things to live by. But when should, should, should, becomes should've, should've, should've --
past tense -- you have to start to question the messenger.
Whether you agree with Klinsmann's "nastier" remarks or not, you have to start questioning if the players are getting his
message if he has to repeat it.
Those remarks aside, little of his message relates to what takes place on the field. "A lot of the work down the road will be done for us off the
field,” he said again after the Ireland game. But it begs the question, are the players good enough? Are Klinsmann's tactics good enough?
The closest Klinsmann comes to taking blame
concerns all the off-the-field stuff. “We have to educate the players better," he said after the loss to Ireland.
At halftime of that 1997 U.S. Cup debacle against the Danish league
XI, U.S. coach Steve Sampson
was so upset he stormed off the field. "I have no excuses whatsoever," he said afterwards. "Our effort today showed a complete lack
of respect for our fans."
No one would have faulted Klinsmann if he had come out after the Ireland game and said, "Today, the performance of our players was unacceptable. Us coaches
should have prepared them better."
How could you have faulted him for being honest? Everyone wants the USA to succeed, so he would have been given the benefit of the doubt.
3. Make peace with MLS.
The back and forth between Klinsmann and MLS owners is going to continue until he makes a strong statement of support for
MLS. Just Saturday night, Seattle Sounders majority owner Joe Roth
ripped into Klinsmann, saying the U.S. coach was devaluing MLS with his remarks -- and on top
of that Klinsmann was wrong. Roth is one guy Klinsmann doesn't want to mess with.
Whether Klinsmann is right or wrong is beside the point, the national team is going to rise or fall in
the next three years because of MLS unless Rubio Rubin
suddenly blossoms into the next Lionel Messi
. It's as simple as
that, and Klinsmann should accept that fact.
That doesn't mean he can't say players should aspire to the highest level possible, but Klinsmann should organize a January camp, require all
MLS players to attend and open it by saying the future of the national team depends on MLS players. What better way to create competition within the camp and put attention on MLS at a time when the
league might need a positive message (CBA negotiations reaching their head). 4. Find a new captain.
The January camp offers Klinsmann
an opportunity to start a new era with a clean slate and begin that by naming a new captain. The USA is in desperate need of leadership.
There's been nothing wrong with current captain
, but it is unlikely he'll be around in 2018. Carlos Bocanegra
was an exemplary captain, but dropping him
from the lineup created all sorts of issues at the beginning of the Hexagonal.
That commanding presence was sorely lacking in the Ireland game. Klinsmann was hoping young players like
and Joe Corona
might emerge as leaders in midfield, but Diskerud's performances have been -- well -- mixed,
to say the least, and Corona had a quiet few games before getting hurt.
One of the problems is that many of the players in the back are soft spoken. That's why the conversion of Jermaine Jones
to the backline makes sense, but he too won't likely be around in 2018. Michael Bradley
the logical choice, but he is coming off a very difficult season. Another option would be Jozy Altidore
, but that would depend on his being in the right
situation, secure in a starting job somewhere. In a crazy way, a move back to MLS for Altidore -- just what Klinsmann has been preaching against -- might be in the national team's best interest.
5. Stop scheduling games in Europe.
The days when the nucleus of the national team is based abroad are over. Only a handful of
European-based players remain automatic choices. Brad Guzan
in goal. Alejandro Bedoya
if he stays in Europe. Altidore,
despite everything. The German-Americans Fabian Johnson
and John Brooks
if they can regain their form. A couple of the
youngsters, DeAndre Yedlin
, if his move to Tottenham goes through, and the promising Rubin are in the picture. Throw in Greg
in Mexico, and that's it for the foreign brigade until all the U-20s and U-17s in Europe start knocking on the door.
But scheduling games in Europe simply for the sake of
convenience has to stop. This fall, Klinsmann has needed every European he could find, whether he deserved to be there or not, because the best MLS players were unavailable. All the more reason for
Klinsmann to make peace is to convince MLS to shut down for the September and October fixture dates. (The league has no choice in November because it can no longer afford to compromise the playoffs
without foreign players called up to their national teams.)
Klinsmann should use the three fixture windows to organize friendlies in the United States -- plenty of Concacaf and Conmebol
teams will want to come ahead of the 2016 Centennial Copa America -- and build the team around MLS players. Those foreign-based players who are playing well should be called up. All the better to
create true competition within the team.