Commentary

Klinsmann failed test in Guatemala City

By Ridge Mahoney
(@ridgemax)

The song remains the same.

Perhaps it was inevitable that the U.S. unbeaten streak against Guatemala in qualifying play had to end, but the timing sure was lousy. The USA is riding a bleak streak of ineptitude against Concacaf opponents, both in friendlies and games that count.

Since stumbling against Jamaica and Panama (on penalties) in the Gold Cup semifinals and third-place match, respectively, last summer, the Americans have beaten only St. Vincent & the Grenadines in competitive play and bested Canada in a friendly. They lost the Concacaf Cup playoff to Mexico and a follow-up match against Costa Rica in October, got a road point in a qualifier at Trinidad & Tobago five months ago, and stumbled in Guatemala.

The six-match semifinal round leaves little margin for error and the Americans wiped out just about all of it by losing, 2-0, in Guatemala City on Friday. It’s not unreasonable to think they can win their three remaining games and qualify for the Hexagonal -- and perhaps even win the group -- with a 4-1-1 record.

But the psyche of this team remains an enigma. It had plenty of veteran leadership on the field Friday, yet conceded two goals in the first quarter of an hour and squandered numerous opportunities to get back into the game. Many times during the reign of head coach Jurgen Klinsmann  it has sputtered early and rallied dramatically but lately the comeback magic has vanished.

It fell behind Guatemala on the second of back-to-back corner kicks initially surrendered on a poor back pass, then let a goal kick zip past two players and between two others for Guatemala’s most dangerous player to collect uncontested and stroke into the net.

These are terrible goals to concede in a friendly. In a qualifier, they are unforgivable. Yet still there were 75 minutes to salvage something out of the game, but the Americans lacked the ruthlessness of their opponents when chances arose. Bobby Wood, Alejandro Bedoya, Clint Dempsey, Jozy Altidore and Michael Bradley all faltered at the crucial moment.

Dempsey forced a good kick save by keeper Paulo Motta, as did Altidore, but also fired perhaps the best U.S. chance of the game right to the keeper. Such misfortune can occasionally befall the best of players, but the squandered chance seemed entirely appropriate given the team’s dysfunctional persona.

So, too, does the ongoing saga that is  Mix Diskerud. Set aside for a moment his miscast role as the holding complement to Bradley in central midfield. On a set play such as corner kick, a defensive player has two responsibilities: either win the ball or prevent your mark from doing so.

Instead, defender Rafael Morales overpowered Diskerud and headed a ball that bounced off the U.S. midfielder and into the net. On Guatemala’s coast-to-coast goal kick, the ball just cleared Bradley and bounced right past Diskerud as well as between centerbacks Omar Gonzalez  and Michael Orozco. Both goals reeked of confusion and uncertainty inexcusable at the senior level.

Did Diskerud and/or Klinsmann put too much stock into his performance during a 1-0 friendly defeat of Canada Feb. 5? Was there confusion over responsibilities because probable starters John Brooks and  Matt Besler were late scratches because of injuries sustained in training? How many players out of position is too much to overcome in a qualifier against an opponent brimming with renewed confidence in the wake of a coaching change?

For whatever reason, the Americans lacked a vital ingredient -- belief -- at the start of the game and only gradually regained their stride as the match unfolded. But the desperately needed goal never came, and with a two-goal lead, the Guatemalans seldom bothered to run dribblers at left back Edgar Castillo or push aggressively through the middle at Gonzalez and Orozco.

Such won’t be the case for the return leg Tuesday in Columbus, when counterattacks could be on from the opening kickoff. Guatemala is playing with house money now, and by squeezing out at least point would also deprive the U.S. of a must-win. The Americans can rectify their immediate dilemma by winning but the long-term forecast remains murky.

The match in Guatemala further dented Klinsmann’s mantra that the U.S. suffers by not having players competing in the UEFA Champions League. Mexico and Costa Rica are certainly superior in that regard, but Panama and Jamaica and Guatemala are not.

All that matters right now is Concacaf. The Copa America Centenario is destined to be a great spectacle and a rich resource for players, fans, coaches, journalists, and broadcasters -- not to mention sponsors -- but the task for Klinsmann and his players is to regain relevance within the region. And by the way, Costa Rica is in the USA’s Centenario group.

The players must be faulted for faltering at critical moments, but if the true test of a head coach is to give his team a maximum chance to succeed, Klinsmann failed in Guatemala City.

23 comments about "Klinsmann failed test in Guatemala City".
  1. Mark Torguson, March 28, 2016 at 3:53 p.m.

    It mite not be time to panic yet, but it is getting very close. We did have a similar situation last WCQ campaign, but turned things around in the snow of Denver. Sooner or later we are not going to be able to recover from a poor start, and not making a WC is a disaster, no other way to look at it.

  2. Kevin Leahy, March 28, 2016 at 4:05 p.m.

    The lack of width that, this team plays with is appalling @ this level. Yedlin can't strike the ball consistently. Dempsey is still the most creative player available. We are getting handled in our own region in a way that, is sad to see! The players need to dig a lot deeper. Who cares about the Copa Centenario. The over the top cost of the tickets is enough to make me sick!!

  3. Robin Goodman, March 28, 2016 at 4:08 p.m.

    I can't honestly say who it should be, but clearly Klinsmann is not the one to lead the USMNT into the future. I have tried hard to support him, at one time was almost a believer that he was the one he claims to be, but the play over the past 1 1/2 - 2 years speaks [loudly] for itself. Surely we can do better than this, and we should not expect anything but improvement. He has had long enough. Both Bruce Arena and Bob Bradley gave me more reason for optimism than JK does.

  4. Delroy Wallace, March 28, 2016 at 4:39 p.m.

    Same sterile,useless player pool. No coach on earth can help this technically weak team, compounded by poor vision and support play. Goodbye USMNT . We are 2nd tier level.

  5. Brian Kraft replied, March 28, 2016 at 5:14 p.m.

    Delroy, what makes you say that? Is it justifiable to play most of your players out of position? Can you justify playing Orozco, who has not played for his club in months? Can you name a coaching success of Klinsmann's that has stood out?

  6. Bob Ashpole replied, March 29, 2016 at 1:35 p.m.

    Seems it is a lynch mob mentality out there. Generally speaking, I think too much blame is being placed on the players and not enough on the coaching. A crafty forward surprises and splits the center back pair. Another crafty forward makes space for himself in front of the goal by pushing his marker down. The keeper fails to save a ball defected off a friendly player's back. Surprises, mistakes, and bad bounces are all part of the game. On the other hand, no clock is running and no opponent is pushing the coach to the ground while the coach is determining the lineup. Things a coach cannot control such as injuries and illness may explain players missing from the lineup, but whether Diskerud plays behind Bradley is entirely within the coach's control. The substitution of fresh, uninjured players without making a change to the formation also strongly suggests coaching errors, if not in the original lineup then in the substitutions.

  7. Allan Lindh, March 28, 2016 at 4:47 p.m.

    Not my fault, I would have fired him after he cut Donovan before the WC. Philip Lahm had it exactly right, he is an egotistical fool.

  8. Ric Fonseca replied, March 28, 2016 at 8:56 p.m.


    alan, enuff awready with the Landicakes situation. That was then and this is now, and as I've said before, LD dug his own grave and spilled his own milk. And for thos guys that call for Bradley or Arena, again, that was then 8-15 years ago, and indeed the players themselves must believe in themselves.

  9. Ric Fonseca replied, March 28, 2016 at 8:58 p.m.


    Alan, enuff awready with the Landicakes situation. That was then and this is now, and as I've said before, LD dug his own grave and spilled his own milk. And for those guys that call for Bradley or Arena, again, that was then 8-15 years ago, and indeed the players themselves must believe in themselves.

  10. Allan Lindh replied, March 28, 2016 at 9:25 p.m.

    Ever since he dropped Landon from the WC squad it has been clear that he can't pick a squad intelligently, can't fill out a lineup card. Any of us could have put a better team on the field last week, and the idiot will almost certainly pick the wrong people again this week. A team is built up the spine, he picked Orozco, Gonzalez, Mix and Bradly. I would have picked Cameron, Gonzalez (if no one else is available) Bradley and Bedoya. A lineup built around those guys might have won last week, and I suspect both of you agree with me. As to who replaces him, if Arena won't step in, then I would give the job to Caleb Porter or Dom Kinnear. If you or I can fill out a more intelligent lineup card than numbnuts, either of those gentlemen can also. If his record doesn't get him fired, then whoever is calling the shots should be fired.

  11. haendel lazo, March 28, 2016 at 5:01 p.m.

    results speak by themselves, what kind of organization is this, a dictatorship than nobody can challenge, the team is performing worst than the teams of the 70's

  12. Daniel Clifton, March 28, 2016 at 5:21 p.m.

    I was calling for his firing last fall. These guys don't appear to want to play for Klinsmann and they do not appear to know how to play as a team for long stretches of time. I never had this feeling about Arena or Bradley. The US should be set up to win this next game. Ruiz can't make the trip because of a legal issue of some kind. I don't feel very confident about this game. Four years ago they rose to the occasion. This is a different situation because of the recent past and these players are too often not playing up to their capabilities under Klinsmann. The constant lineup changes and playing players in different positions than they play on their club teams has to have a negative effect.

  13. Ric Fonseca, March 28, 2016 at 9:02 p.m.

    Hey re; El Pescadito Carlos Ruiz, didn't he get a red card that landed him a six month suspension for having allegedly hit a referee? When did this happen, i.e. how long ago, and if his suspension went into last Friday's game, why was he allowed to play? Just wondering!!! And as for players "...not playing up to their capabilities under Klinsmann...(sic)" are you implying that it is BECAUSE of JK they aren't playing to their potential? If so, there is some chaep beach front property for sale in Arizona.

  14. Bob Ashpole replied, March 29, 2016 at 12:53 p.m.

    The national FA controlled the suspension. They ended the ban in February after 6 missed matches. Ruiz might argue that he made an overenthusiastic gesture while dissenting rather than an assault. (It took 3 team mates to prevent him from reaching the referee after the red card.)

  15. David V, March 28, 2016 at 9:27 p.m.

    Fire JK, get a young generation of players and let them work together for the next 8-10 years (18-22 years old and hope for the best in 2026). And hope that US soccer gets overhauled from the youth ages now (for 8 year olds and up) for the 2034 or 2038 cup. I've been watching this deal for nearly 50 years and that's the best we can do... even though right now the world is at a low/lull in terms of quality (Spain was a peak, but we aren't likely to see a real peak for sometime on the world stage), the US can't/won't doing anthying on the world stage in the next 2 world cup cycles... no way will they. We just don't have skillful players with savvy... we just don't... most of our players on the USMNT make the games look like College Level at best.

  16. PJ , March 28, 2016 at 10:25 p.m.

    The most important change to the USMNT lineup that JK needs to make is to move Bradley from the 8 to the 6. Then we can play the 4231 or 433 (depending on opponent) and open up the top. Bradley has to play a stud 6, but he can do it and he can be a strong vocal captain and solid link from the back to the middle and start fast counter attacks with long through balls or balls over the top. Nagbe is our most creative distributor and also our most reliable technical player so he needs to be in the middle and on the ball as much as possible to distribute to goal scorers on the wings and up top. This one change will make us more defensively stout, give us more reliable possession in the middle, and more dangerous up top with Nagbe distributing to the forwards/wingers.

  17. sterling yates, March 29, 2016 at 12:01 a.m.

    WHY IS KLINSMAN STILL HERE ????

    LOOK AT HIS RECORD AND RELATIONSHIPS WITH HIS PLAYERS.

    SUNIL DON'T YOU HAVE CLUE ????

    OR ARE YOU STILL IN YOUR POSITION IN SPITE OF THE GOINGS ON ACROSS THE OCEAN, IN THE CARIBBEAN, ETCETCETC.

    YOU BOTH CAN TALK A WALK, BIG TIME.

  18. beautiful game, March 29, 2016 at 10:53 a.m.

    Panic for what? The performance was below mediocre. The squad sucked; no energy, no execution, no physicality, no passion.

  19. Joe Linzner, March 29, 2016 at 3:22 p.m.

    I find it incredible that the coach gets razzed for what was an incredibly crappy performance by all members of the team. When passes do not connection when clearances get passed directly to the opposing team to allow them yet another chance to regroup and attack afresh. When the team falls back into bunker and pass and pray, how does that fall on a coach. Does anyone really think he wants them to play in that manner. It is apparent to me that there is no way you make a silk purse out of a sows ear. You can certainly show them a different way but with these players????? Not so much!!!!! Start ragging the players, they are the ones that certainly deserve it!!!!!

  20. Wooden Ships replied, March 29, 2016 at 3:48 p.m.

    Mostly agree Joe. For me it would help if a more capable Captain emerges to replace MB. The players better get it right tonight. I don't see much pride with them. Actually, give me someone that's not wearing the band, because MB will again tonight, that will demonstrate some fury with his fellow players when needed. Damn, these boys are so nice to each other, its like they've gone to the old time finishing school for girls. I wish us well tonight.

  21. Kevin Leahy, March 29, 2016 at 5:25 p.m.

    I'm with Ric. I don't want to rehash an old coach & there are a few good options. Tonight will tell the tale. With a win, Sunil will let him live another day. A tie or a loss should, send him packing. I am tired of seeing balls squeeze through the box and no one around at the back door!

  22. David V, March 29, 2016 at 7:34 p.m.

    PJ Rawlins is what is wrong with American Soccer mentality... read his post above... The USA plays too many long balls... when I was young, we used to make fun of the way the Brits played (we would say you were playing like "chickens with their heads cut off" - it represented kick and run, 50/50, jungle ball stuff... until we can eradicate this mentality, the USA won't go anywhere... (MOSTLY, not always) play the ball on the groun. And learn to possess with skill

  23. Andrew Kear, March 31, 2016 at 6:14 a.m.

    Klinsmann has become the most maligned coach in USMNT history. That is quite an accomplishment. He earned it with his bizarre player selection and absurd game strategy. However, the golden dunce cap belongs to Gulati, who hired this oaf to begin with.

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