Many and varied are the flashpoints that shaped the national team coaching stint of Jurgen Klinsmann, who
as a playervictimized many a defense by his relentless energy and nose for goal.
Lacking elegance but brimming with confidence, Klinsmann personified the type of striker not
especially fast nor exceptionally skilled yet wonderfully efficient in the attacking third. He flourished for several major clubs – Inter Milan, Bayern Munich, Tottenham Hotspur – as well
as the German national team. At every stop, his hunger for goals and positional acumen earned him success in a clearly defined role.
As coach of the U.S. national team, he didn’t
match his prowess as a player. Seldom did the team settle into a style of play it could impose upon good opponents, and avoidable breakdowns at crucial moments persisted. That tired old cliché
“goals change games” can apply to careers as well, and towards the end of Klinsmann’s five-year tenure there are three such moments that didn’t fall his way and ultimately cost
him the job.
Oct. 11, 2015 Rose Bowl Pasadena, Calif. Concacaf Cup Playoff Mexico 3, USA 2 (OT).
AGUILAR STRIKE DOWNS STUBBORN USA. On the balance of play, the Americans were fortunate to be in extra time at all. Mexico looked majestic knocking balls
around and scything through tackles to fire shots at Brad Guzan, who had assumed the starter’s role during Tim Howard’s sabbatical from the national team, and held the spot
after his return. Several sharp saves by Guzan kept the game close as Mexico came forward in waves, backed by a crowd of 93,723 swathed mostly in green, red and white.
during September had provided Klinsmann the opportunity to change direction after a fourth-place Gold Cup imposed by a semifinal loss to Jamaica and penalty-kick defeat to Panama in the third-place
match. Rather than inject some new spirit into the team’s persona -- talented midfielders Benny Feilhaber and Sacha Kljestan come to mind -- he stayed the course, despite evidence
that failure against mid-tier Concacaf opposition indicated at least some dysfunction.
Granted the second game against Brazil didn’t present an ideal testing ground for innovation,
but a preceding match with Peru certainly did. The Americans, as expected, beat Peru, 2-1, and suffered a 4-1 trouncing by Brazil. Up next: an unprecedented playoff against Mexico -- a matchup of the
2013 and 2015 Gold Cup champions -- for a spot in the 2017 Confederations Cup.
A Mexican team reeling from the dramatic firing of head coach Miguel Herrera, who fought with a
reporter in a Philadelphia airport after Mexico’s defeat of Jamaica in the Gold Cup final, seemed to present the U.S. a real chance to atone for its July debacle.
As they have done
for decades, the Americans battled a more skillful opponent and kept fighting back. They equalized twice -- with an early header by Geoff Cameron and an extra-time strike from Bobby Wood
– and were within two minutes of a penalty-kick shootout when Mexico brought down the hammer.
A partially cleared free kick was lobbed back into the box and nobody reacted to close
down Paul Aguilar, who lashed it first-time towards the far post. Guzan, stationed close to the near post, lunged for the ball but couldn’t get a touch as it flashed into the net. The
final whistle blew a few minutes later.
Thus the Americans failed in their second attempt to meet one of Klinsmann’s priorities for 2015: to qualify for the 2017 Confederations Cup.
As the 2013 Gold Cup champion, the USA would have qualified by repeating in 2015. If not, the playoff was their only opportunity, and despite the USA fumbling a second opportunity in three months,
U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati decided to stay the course.
Nov. 11, 2016 MAPFRE Stadium, Columbus, Ohio Hexagonal Round 1 USA 1, Mexico 2 MARQUEZ STINGS THE USA YET AGAIN. The shutout run during four straight ‘Dos a cero” home qualifying defeats of Mexico ended when Miguel Layun scored in the 20th
minute as the visitors ran past and through a squad of Americans out of position and out of sorts. After switching to a 4-4-2 formation, the USA gained some traction and early in the second half Wood
scored to tie the game.
The Americans carved out a few more chances and survived two threatening counterattacks -- one courtesy of a sliding goalmouth clearance by Fabian Johnson
-- to enter the final minutes tied at 1-1, which would have been a greatly disappointing result given the history in Columbus yet still worth a valuable point in the 10-game qualifying schedule.
Instead, a defense altered by Guzan’s entry to replace an injured Tim Howard and two other substitutions fell victim to Mexico’s first corner kick of the game in the 89th
minute. One of the more notorious characters in this rivalry, Rafa Marquez, ran past the near post to an unprotected area and met Layun’s corner with a superb header that looped past
Guzan and inside the far post. A wonderful goal, yes, but also preventable.
After the game, Klinsmann placed blame on defender John Brooks, though Jozy Altidore let Marquez
brush past him as the players jockeyed for position, and denying a strong, smart, experienced veteran like Marquez a run to the near post is a tall order in any situation. The back post was not
guarded by a player, though the near post was, and many teams also station a player in the goal area to cut out just such a ball as played by Layun.
Set plays work both ways. Defending
them is just as important as exploiting them. Marquez scoring the goal inflicted an additional dose of pain, yet the Americans -- because of assignment confusion or improper positioning or fatigue or
all three -- wilted against their bitterest rival in the nation’s favorite fortress. In preparation as well as execution they were not up to the task.
Nov. 15, 2016 Estadio Nacional San Jose, Costa Rica Hexagonal Round 2 Costa Rica 4, USA 0
BOLANOS GOAL IS THE FINAL BLOW. Several times in the past two years
Klinsmann had cited the exodus of U.S. players from Europe -- as players from Mexico and other Concacaf nations headed overseas – as one reason for the team’s difficulties.
However, few such players were on the rosters of Jamaica and Panama when those teams prevailed in the Gold Cup; many more play in MLS. Such was the case again when the Americans took the field in San
Jose, where in nine previous qualifiers it had lost eight and tied one. Those MLS players who play for Costa Rica outshone their American counterparts as well as the U.S. foreign contingent.
In the 44th minute, Cristian Bolanos (Vancouver Whitecaps) ran down a ball near the corner flag and exploited the slow approach of Omar Gonzalez to whip a near-post cross that
Johan Venegas (Montreal Impact) nailed into the net with Brooks in futile pursuit. On this play, Gonzalez's Liga MX title with Pachuca last spring and Brooks' Bundesliga matches for Hertha
Berlin meant nothing.
Despite that crushing blow, the Americans showed a bit of spirit -- not much, but some -- as the second half unfolded. The offense continued to sputter as the score
stayed 1-0, a scenario that offered the possibility of the U.S. nicking a goal off a set play or goalmouth scramble to snatch an undeserved point. Even a 1-0 defeat, given the team’s terrible
record in such matches, would have been respectable; disappointment but not humiliation.
Instead, as had been the case in Columbus, they cracked again. Bolanos raced behind Brooks and in
front of Timmy Chandler (Eintracht Frankfurt) to stab home a cross from Bryan Ruiz (Sporting Clube, ex-Fulham). Guzan got a piece of the point-blank blast but it caromed over the goal
The Ticos celebrated lustily, then tacked on two more goals against a lifeless group that gave nothing for the final 20 minutes. Thus ended the stint of Jurgen Klinsmann, the
man whose lack of respect for MLS helped speed his departure.