Jurgen Klinsmann’s mission to transform the United States men’s national team into one that could continue to compete on the world stage while playing a more stylish brand of soccer is now officially a failure. U.S. Soccer parted ways with Klinsmann on Monday in the wake of World Cup qualifying losses to Mexico and Costa Rica.
For the first time ever, the USMNT has zero points through their first two Hex matches. They’re still slim favorites to finish in the top three of CONCACAF’s final round of qualifying, but face a must-win game at home to Honduras in March, followed by a must-not-lose match against Panama, who have an away win and a draw against Mexico in the bag already.
Klinsmann was lucky not to lose his job in 2015, following the USMNT’s worst Gold Cup performance in the professional era. His side lost to both Jamaica and Panama at home, finishing fourth in the competition. While his team lost the resulting CONCACAF Cup game to Mexico, meaning they failed to qualify for the Confederations Cup, the USMNT pushed El Tri to extra time and performed well enough to keep Klinsmann employed.
In 2016, a heavy loss away to Guatemala put Klinsmann under fire again, but a solid performance at the 2016 Copa America Centenario saw the Americans make the semifinals with wins over Ecuador and Paraguay. It didn’t buy Klinsmann as much time as he might have expected, though — two bad results just five months later were enough for U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati to show him the door.
This time around, poor judgment and leadership were the problem more than losses themselves. Klinsmann started with a formation his team hadn’t used before against Mexico, then the players appeared to stop playing their hardest in a 4-0 loss to Costa Rica. Klinsmann confirmed as much, saying "the players didn't have the fight to get back into the game."
Klinsmann leaves the USMNT with some solid accolades: a 2013 Gold Cup win, a table-topping performance in the Hex, a trip to the World Cup knockout stage, and a Copa America semifinal. He’s also set some records for futility, laid out exhaustively here by Pablo Maurer. The Klinsmann experience was a roller-coaster ride.
Time will tell if Klinsmann’s influence in recruiting duel nationals, hiring new youth national team coaches, and reforming the Development Academy system improves history’s perception of him. There are conflicting stories about how much he has to do with all of that — Jay Berhalter has wrestled some control from Klinsmann behind the scenes — but Klinsmann will make sure everyone knows that everything good that happens to U.S. Soccer over the next decade was his idea. Ultimately, Klinsmann’s constant need for spin control will be his biggest enduring legacy.