Three goals that killed the American dream of Jurgen Klinsmann

Many and varied are the flashpoints that shaped the national team coaching stint of Jurgen Klinsmann, who as a player victimized 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.

Two friendlies 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 line.

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. 
13 comments about "Three goals that killed the American dream of Jurgen Klinsmann ".
  1. Bob Ashpole, November 25, 2016 at 6:05 p.m.

    I vote for giving JK a rest. Surely there are other topics worthy of articles.

  2. John Soares, November 25, 2016 at 6:32 p.m.

    Nah, let's keep at it a little longer

  3. John Soares, November 25, 2016 at 6:47 p.m.

    It's not his failings as a coach that deserve the "ribbing". It's his enormous ego. The man has no mirror.... it's always somebody else's fault. With Mexico, it was Altidore and Brooks. With Costa Rica, it was those "no talent"(CR) MLS players that did us in:). As for other topics... Aren't there are a couple of important games coming up this week!?
    How about the fact that the coaches are new, nearly new, Americans and MLS products... There's got to be a story there???

  4. Boris Spektor, November 25, 2016 at 7:45 p.m.

    Klinsmann is very bad coach.

  5. Goal Goal, November 26, 2016 at 11 a.m.

    JK. Excellent player. Good person. Poor coach. Let it rest.

    US SOCCER. No direction from the top. Coaching at the youth level suspect. Coaching at youth national level questionable. Let's not let this one rest.

  6. Vince Leone replied, November 26, 2016 at 8:59 p.m.

    Agree with Fanfor on all counts. Let's add the biggest issue of all: U.S. players are not as skilled as they need to be. The fact that Christian Pulisic is one of our best we speaks volumes.

  7. Andrew Kear replied, November 27, 2016 at 10:39 a.m.

    In the past the good coaching of Bradley and Arena made up for those deficiencies.

  8. beautiful game, November 26, 2016 at 5:49 p.m.

    Fanfor soccer says it best. At the end of the day it's a double edged sword, JK failed and so did the players.

  9. Goal Goal, November 27, 2016 at 4:55 p.m.

    I am sitting here watching Colorado and Seattle play in the conference championship. If this is soccer the way it is supposed to be played I am Sir Alex. Watching this game you can understand why we have the problem competing in the national arena. Both teams play a different version of two touch. One touch from the back to the midfielder and then one touch from the midfielder all the way across the pitch to the winger running like hell up the field. No touch with the ball just as we saw in national team play. The worst part is it is happening at the DA club level and at the youth national team level. All these coaches want is to get up the pitch as fast as they can and score. Pitiful!

  10. Bob Ashpole replied, November 28, 2016 at 11:44 a.m.

    There is nothing wrong with playing direct when the opportunity arises and nothing wrong with wanting to score goals. A lack of skills is regrettable, but not the same thing as playing direct. I also don't believe there is a "right way" to play in general, although there may be a "right way" for a particular team to play in a particular match. The best players should be able to play any style of soccer.

  11. Goal Goal, November 28, 2016 at 2:08 p.m.

    Bob I agree with everything you say but what I am saying is the long ball or direct should not be the norm particularly at the young ages. If you attend some of these showcases which I have that is basically what they are playing and evidently that is what they are teaching. If a kid gets creative the other team brings him to the ground which is another subject because the officiating is questionable at best anyway.

  12. Bob Ashpole replied, November 29, 2016 at 4:02 a.m.

    I don't agree Fanfor. At every level a direct attack and penetrating passes are always preferred over less aggressive attacks. One of the first things you teach young players about team tactics is making the initial decision about where that first pass should go after winning the ball. That first pass signals by its positive or negative direction whether the direct attack is on or not. What is generally criticized is taking risky chances in the defensive and middle thirds when safer alternatives exist. In any style more risk is acceptable in the attacking third because the potential payoff is greater. But it is all relative. A lot of turnovers by amateur players are caused by poor off the ball play.

  13. Bob Ashpole replied, November 29, 2016 at 4:05 a.m.

    Here is something to think about. USSF a few years ago directed that clubs would teach the 433 system. A key trait of the the classic 433 system is early balls to the forwards.

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