Let's not quibble: For the good of the USMNT, the United States Soccer Federation needs to relieve Jurgen Klinsmann of his managerial duties.
That's not a reaction purely based on Wednesday's dire performance against Jamaica, though that match should serve as the final nail in Klinsmann's coffin, so to speak. No, this has been building for quite awhile, thanks to a lot of mediocre results, frustrating losses and head-scratching decisions. He's supposed to be making the entire national team program better, but the senior side has stalled in their development, and it's made his position untenable.
Too often, the USMNT look utterly unprepared for their opposition's tactics. Take the Jamaica match as an example. Everyone who's watched Jamaica play at this Gold Cup knew that they'd play tight, organized soccer, then try to win the ball back in midfield and launch lightning-fast counters, using their pace and athleticism to their advantage. They would concede possession and try to capitalize on the few turnovers the USMNT committed. And guess what? That's exactly how they played.
But watching how the U.S. played, you wouldn't think that they had a clue about Jamaica's approach. Time and again, they willingly stretched themselves out, then looked shocked that they had to get back in a hurry because Jamaica won the ball back and were beating the pants off of what few United States players were in good defensive position. Preparation for an opponent's strategy and situational awareness comes from management. Klinsmann's teams regularly come up short in this respect.
That issue also presents itself in Klinsmann's team selection. He changes up the USMNT's shape and mindset quite frequently -- too frequently, perhaps -- but it usually doesn't take long in a given match before the USMNT breaks down into a bunch of guys playing vaguely defined positions, figuring things out for themselves, rather than playing a cohesive tactical strategy. The players should take some blame for that, but it's more on the preparations made in training, and that's 100 percent on Klinsmann.
Just look at how much Michael Bradley is moved around the pitch, or the different roles that Gyasi Zardes, Alejandro Bedoya, Fabian Johnson, Mix Diskerud and DeAndre Yedlin are asked to play. A lot of players are shifted around often enough that it's fair to wonder how well Klinsmann understands his players.
That understanding, or possible lack thereof, of his player pool tends to leak into the squad choices themselves. Klinsmann frequently leaves glaring holes when he chooses who to call into the side, especially in terms of depth. It's hard to get away with that in friendlies and the like, but in tournaments it's impossible, and Klinsmann tries and fails over and over again to skate by with weird, half-formed ideas for his squads.
At the World Cup last summer, the USMNT couldn't afford an injury to Jozy Altidore because there was no one in the squad who could adequately replace him or play in the same role. Naturally, Jozy got hurt, and the U.S. were left toothless at striker. At this Gold Cup, Klinsmann brought one defensive midfielder in Kyle Beckerman, who is getting old, has lost almost all of his pace and is way too prone to rash fouls and yellow cards -- in other words, a player who is utterly unreliable in a tournament format.
So what happened? Beckerman looked exhausted coming into the Jamaica match, clearly struggled with their pace and nearly got sent off for committing a bunch of rash fouls before getting yanked out of the match. Once more, Klinsmann didn't pay attention to the factors involved in his squad selection beyond the names on the team sheet, and it bit his team where it hurts.
There are definitely things Jurgen has done well -- in addition to improving the quality of play from the senior side, he was given two tasks when he was hired. First was to recruit more players who were eligible to play for the USMNT through their parentage, but hadn't committed to play for the other countries they were able to represent -- a controversial system, but if bringing in eligible players born abroad makes the team better, then so be it. The second task was to improve the youth development system, which had struggled for years, providing little in the way of national team-level quality players.
Both are things Klinsmann succeeded with, especially on the recruitment side -- the U.S. are much better off having talents like Gold Cup players Johnson, Diskerud, Aron Johannsson, Ventura Alvarado and John Brooks, along with youngsters like Julian Green and Gedion Zelalem. The youth system has developed more players capable of contributing to the national team in the last few years than it had in a long time before that, with guys like Yedlin, Zardes, Perry Kitchen and Jordan Morris all looking like they have bright futures. Klinsmann deserves full credit for those accomplishments, because the long-term future of the side looks much brighter thanks to his efforts than it did before he arrived.
But it's also become increasingly clear over the last year that in terms of the now -- how this current senior squad performs right now -- they've pretty much hit the ceiling of what Klinsmann can offer. It's time to bring in a new coach who can sort out the issues the side is having, and who can commit to building a young core around what Bradley offers and what Clint Dempsey has left in the tank.
It's time to move on from the Klinsmann era -- he can stay with the wider U.S. setup to keep on with his recruiting and development work, if he wants -- but the USMNT needs a better first team manager. Klinsmann can't take them any farther.