It's the summer of 2011. The United States Men's National Team, fresh off of winning their (admittedly relatively easy) World Cup group in South Africa, make it to the finals of the CONCACAF Gold Cup with a spot at the 2013 Confederations Cup on the line before completely imploding against Mexico and losing 4-2.
In the wake of that watershed loss, the USMNT manager, Bob Bradley, was fired by the president of the United States Soccer Federation, Sunil Gulati, and replaced by the incumbent coach, Jurgen Klinsmann--whom many suspected Gulati had wanted to hire all the way back in 2006 over Bradley, but who turned the job down.
The 4-0 loss inflicted upon Team USA by the Ticos down in Costa Rica in the CONCACAF Hexagonal is a similarly watershed loss. In fact, it's probably an even bigger loss. No, it wasn't a tournament final with silverware and a Confederations Cup berth on the line, but whatever else you may think about Bob Bradley's tenure as the USMNT coach, his players never, ever quit on him.
Out on the pitch against Costa Rica, Klinsmann's boys pretty obviously had quit on him. It was a resignation by the players that likely had its seeds sown over the course of the year, as serious tactical errors by Klinsmann resulted in eminently winnable World Cup qualifying games away at Guatemala and then here at home against Mexico being losses rather than wins or even draws.
Those tactical errors, however, represent only the tip of the proverbial iceberg. After all, nobody really expected Klinsmann to be a tactical genius when he took the job, not after Jogi Loew was given the credit for Germany's tactics during its time under Klinsmann and certainly not after Jurgen's solitary season helming Bayern Munich.
But player management *was* touted as a Klinsmann strength, and yet during his time managing the Yanks, the list of players whom Klinsmann has, at one time or another and often in full public view, thrown under the bus is an extensive one. Donovan. Bocanegra. Bedoya. Altidore. Nagbe. Fabian Johnson. After the Mexico loss, it was Jones and Bradley. And, of course, Sporting's own Matt Besler when he said that he was focused on meeting his club conditioning goals during the USMNT's annual Camp Cupcake in January and was promptly exiled by Klinsmann for several months.
This is on top of the number of players who have inexplicably been exiled into the international soccer equivalent of Siberia by Klinsmann. SKC's Benny Feilhaber is the most obvious headliner of that particular list, but MLS stalwarts like Dax McCarty, Juan Agudelo, and Matt Hedges as well as internationally-based players like Eric Lichaj, Tim Ream, and Perry Kitchen have all been left on the outside looking in on a team that now appears to be imploding around its embattled manager.
I haven't even gotten to how many of these feuds with players stem from Klinsmann's continual insistence on playing them out of position, with Matt Besler being shunted out into left back multiple times this year despite not having played the position for Sporting since he was a rookie being the most recent iteration of this pattern. I realize that left back is a recurring scar on the face of many a USMNT lineup and that Edgar Castillo has long since run out of chances with the USA faithful, but I'm willing to bet that somewhere in England, Lichaj and Ream were both drinking their early morning coffee and watching the carnage come out of Costa Rica with strain-inducing eyerolls.
I honestly do not know if Gulati will fire Klinsmann immediately. Gulati has made it clear multiple times that Klinsmann is *his* guy, and that it remains Klinsmann's job to lose, but there are some losses which exist as prima facie evidence that a team has reached a point of no return with its current boss and that the boss must be removed. This is one of those games.
And, frankly, I felt like both the Jamaica loss in the 2015 Gold Cup (and really, the 2015 Gold Cup in general, in which the US looked terrible save for a shellacking of Cuba) and the loss to Mexico in the 2015 playoff match for next year's Confederations Cup berth both represented similar watershed losses. Klinsmann was so obviously outcoached against Mexico that it was a minor miracle that the game even made it into extra time, and his response was to send Fabian Johnson home (not a huge problem) and then (this is the huge problem) publicly air that dirty laundry to the press. Meanwhile, Klinsmann oversaw the United States not even make it to a Gold Cup final in 2015, and to lose the 3rd place match to Jamaica, the first time the US did so on American soil.
I cannot even make the "good technical director, bad coach" argument in Klinsmann's favor. While player recruitment has proven to be a forte of his--recruiting players like Johnson and Brooks can and should be considered a coup--his handpicked coach (assistant Andi Herzog) put together an underwhelming Olympic qualifying squad this year that once more fell short of qualification, just as the U23's had in 2012 as well under Caleb Porter. Klinsmann was explicitly brought in with a mandate to advance US Soccer, and it's hard to see how such advancement has even taken place. Indeed, 2016 now looks like a year of genuine regression rather than progression for the program, as does 2015.
So, it's time to thank Jurgen for his time and show him the door. I don't ever relish calling for someone else's job, and the USMNT's performance in the 2014 World Cup in advancing from just about the worst possible draw they could have had is a genuine feather in the German's cap, but if the United States is to salvage its World Cup qualification chances, now is the time to act. A new coach (most likely the out-of-contract Bruce Arena, if sources like Grant Wahl and Steven Goff are to be believed, which I think they probably should be) would have four months, including a Camp Cupcake, to acclimate themselves before the next World Cup qualifying fixtures, and more importantly, there would be a very real chance at restoring the morale of a team that has seemed to simply quit on its current coach.
And if Klinsmann isn't pink-slipped now, the calls for him to go will only increase until either a more catastrophic loss happens or the US misses out on the 2018 World Cup together, at which point Sunil Gulati will finally be forced to act, and American fans will finally get their scalp. But far better to begin such change now, when there is time to do so before matters become even more sour for players and fans alike.