By the time you read this, the U.S. men’s national team will have most likely completed its opening 2018 World Cup qualifier against St. Vincent and the Grenadines, winning handily.
If that hasn’t happened, USA coach Jurgen Klinsmann should be fired immediately. In fact, he should be fired immediately if the game is even the slightest bit in doubt beyond the first half.
Why? Well, for one thing, it gets a lot tougher from here. For example: the team heads to Trinidad & Tobago on Tuesday, which is itself no pushover -- just ask archrival Mexico, which failed to beat T&T in its last two meetings -- especially at home.
Thankfully, the USA has been dealt a kind draw in its first phase of World Cup qualifying, as it should come out on top in home-and-away games against Guatemala next year, and then in its remaining games thereafter, against T&T at home, and St. Vincent & the Grenadines away.
Having said that, in an interview with Goal.com, USA legend Landon Donovan has absolutely hit the nail on the head by calling out Klinsmann for his team selection for these first two qualifiers. For example, on leaving out former USA captain Clint Dempsey, Donovan says: "If I'm the manager, I want Clint to be part of what we're doing -- period, end of story. Maybe if it's a friendly game that's different and you can start to look at other players but in a World Cup qualifier, there's no room for error. This round of qualifying on paper isn't as difficult as the final round of qualifying but there are only six games. If you throw away a game or two games you might not even advance to the next round.”
Later in the interview, Donovan criticizes the USA coach for the team’s recent run of one win from six games in all competitions, saying: "I think there's just been a little too much mixing and matching of players and positions. Our players are definitely good enough and they know they're good enough but I think they need to be put in positions to succeed and then have some time to jell together."
Indeed, Landon, Klinsmann’s endless tinkering with the squad -- once seen as a positive for the program -- has, at this point, gotten out of hand. Clint Dempsey is, by a very great distance, the USA’s best and most consistent goalscorer. Never mind that he’s now 32 and that U.S. Soccer badly needs to find someone to replace him going forward. It would have been fine to call up one or even two inexperienced forwards, but not including the Texan is, simply put, the wrong move; World Cup qualifying is not a dress rehearsal.
And this is where Off The Post takes issue with the way the German goes about his business: by not picking the likes of Dempsey and going instead with new blood in the first two qualifiers, Klinsmann is once again exhibiting an uncomfortable lack of humility before what is a Concacaf region that has visibly improved since the last time his USA squad faced a World Cup qualifying match that actually mattered -- way back in the summer of 2013.
Then again, maybe he sees something in this team that the rest of the country doesn’t? Unfortunately, that too often seems to be the case with Klinsmann. Take, for example, his comments about the 3-2 overtime loss to Mexico in the Concacaf Cup: "I agree with the fact that we didn't get the results that we wanted, but I don't agree with the fact that the performances were not the ones we wanted to see," said Klinsmann said Thursday. "I think we had a very, very good game actually against Mexico…but we came out on the short end. We lost it. That's the bottom line." What does that mean exactly—that they were unlucky? In soccer, it’s hard to concede three goals in any game and come out on top -- regardless of the fact that two of the goals were conceded in extra-time.
With that being said, Off The Post fully expects the U.S. should to come through these next two games with, at minimum, a win and a draw; anything less should signal the end of the German’s time in charge of the U.S. national team. (U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati for his part expects that the USA will qualify and Klinsmann will be the coach.) U.S. Soccer cannot toy with the prospect of its team not qualifying for Russia 2018, and there are plenty of candidates capable of replacing him, namely, current LA Galaxy and former USA coach Bruce Arena, who has already suggested that he would be open to coaching the national team again if asked. In OTP’s opinion -- and indeed, the opinion of many others he’s spoken to -- the American is tactically a better coach than Klinsmann; he is certainly more experienced.