The writing may finally be on the wall for Jurgen Klinsmann. There was already a considerable amount of unhappiness with Klinsmann but fan frustration is boiling over after the poor results to start the Hex. With the growing unrest the pressure to replace him continues to grow. Throw in the apparent dissension within the team and U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati may have no choice.
With the U.S. losing for the first time at home in qualifying against Mexico since 1972, the first home qualifying loss since 2001 and the Columbus magic spell broken, not to mention an embarrassing loss in Costa Rica and the pressure is on like never before.
While matches against Mexico anywhere and Costa Rica away will always be tough, starting the Hex with two straight losses is not looking good. It’s not just losses in tough matches, it was how they lost. Coming out against Mexico with a 3-4-3 or a 3-5-2 (depends on who you listen to) and not being ready to play that formation is inexcusable. Some blame has to fall on players but he is the one that chose those players and was responsible for preparing them.
There were reports that a meeting between Klinsmann and U.S. Soccer was going to take place as early as Friday but Klinsmann is in Europe for a dinner with Barack Obama and Angela Merkel so it may take a little while. When Gulati and Klinsmann do finally get together, there is a chance Sunil will just want to make sure Jurgen has a plan to get on track but it is more and more likely that he will be informed his services are no longer needed.
Could Gulati also be asked to step aside? Gulati was the driving force behind the hiring of Klinsmann. Sunil could not get Klinsmann to stop undercutting the country’s top domestic league. Under Gulati’s watch the men have failed to make the last two Olympics and the women bombed out of the last Olympics. U.S. Soccer has not exactly won the public relations contest with the women over their CBA nor about equitable compensation issues between the men and women.
Let’s focus on Klinsmann for the moment since he is most likely of the two to get his walking papers.
If this was the beginning of the cycle right after a World Cup the criteria for a new coach would be different. If someone is brought in now, they will have ten games to get their team together, qualify and be ready for Russia. The new boss will need to hit the ground running and make the most of the pool of players that is available to him.
Who should replace him? What should U.S Soccer look for in a coach?
A Klinsmann replacement should probably be an American. This is not a xenophobic dislike of great coaches from around the world. It’s more a practical thought that an American coach will better understand and be able to inspire the dig deep, believe we can win against any odds, patriotic win for Old Glory mentality that has carried the U.S. to results in the past. Men that have worn the flag on their jersey may be better conditioned to get that out of their team when needed.
One of Klinsmann’s many mistake was saying that the U.S. could not win the World Cup in Brazil. The players are not stupid, well most of them of them are not. They know they are the underdog in any World Cup. They know they are not Brazil, Germany, Argentina or even France. They may intellectually know that but in their heart they needed to believe they could go all the way. I am sure the Besler’s and Dempsey’s of that team believe they could but they did not need their coach undercutting that belief.
Long term a non-American coach can instill an identity on a team (another one of Klinsmann’s failings) and not need that history as much but a quick turn it around job will need every motivating trick they can pull out of their bag of coaching magic.
The new boss needs to have some measurable success to be able to come in and have the credibility to make the changes needed and go forward. That may be having played at the World Cup level or having coached and won titles and preferably both.
Major League Soccer is pretty busy right now with playoffs and teams planning their next season, signing new players and planning for drafts. But they are not in the middle of a season. An MLS coach is more likely to be able to step away from his team easier than an employed coach from Europe.
Bringing a coach from MLS would hopefully eliminate the National Team coach favoring low level European leagues over MLS. It would also reinforce U.S. Soccer’s belief that MLS can develop international level talent.
Two sides to development. The new manager needs to be able to help guide the younger players to improve over the next year. Not just tell them “go play in Europe” but help them get to locations where they can play at the highest level and not sit on a bench. If that is with teams in MLS so be it.
The other half is getting the youth national teams on track. This may apply more for a manager brought in later or could be someone that just works with the senior team manager but needs it needs to be continuously addressed. That was supposed to be a strength of Klinsmann but the results have not shown up yet if that is the case.
The top three?
ESPN and other sources have it narrowed down to three main candidates that have been approached over the last year.
Bruce Arena, Peter Vermes and Tab Ramos seem to be the top candidates to replace the embattled U.S. boss. All three have their strong points.
Pro: Arena has to be the top of just about every list. He has the “been there, done that, got the vintage U.S. Soccer logo track suit” to prove it credentials. He knows the current players, the player pool and the bureaucracy that is U.S. Soccer. He’s had good success before and has had his LA Galaxy near the top every year. He knows CONCACAF and the difficulty qualifying. Arena cannot be overlooked on any short list of potential replacements.
Con: While Arena has had great success with LA, he has also benefited from one of the highest payrolls in the league each year and a city that many foreign players want to live in. Bruce was able to bring in more and higher priced designated players than most of the other teams combined. That has changed a bit over the last couple years but it was an advantage. To his credit he was able to meld the high price talent in and win with them.
Would definitely be seen as a “safe” choice but that might work against him in the long run. Could be seen as a just another coaching carousel retread.
Pro: If there is anyone that believes in implementing a system of play and sticking to it, Vermes is the man. Players will not be confused as to their roles. Sporting Kansas City’s manager knows the American player and can get the most out of them. He has had his club at a high level since taking over although the last couple years have not been what was expected.
Critics of Vermes think that his teams play too high tempo, too physical, too willing to foul. In CONCACAF that could be seen as a strength.
Peter has managed some big egos, mostly getting the best out of them.
Vermes is a big picture guy also; he has his fingerprints on every level of a club that has made the leap from candidate for relocation to a model franchise that MLS shows off regularly. From building the youth academy, the affiliates, the Swope Park Rangers that went to the USL final their first season, Vermes has been a driving force behind all of it.
Vermes has also been one of the main consultants in building the new National Training and Coaching Development Center across the highway from Children’s Mercy Park. He would not have to leave town to bring his team in for camp.
Con: One thing Vermes has not seemed willing to do is spend money on big players. He has found bargains and reclamation projects galore and has had really good success with them but spend money on a big DP just doesn’t happen. Of course that would not be a problem with the U.S. role.
Another potential con is that Vermes sometimes shoehorns players into position but that mainly seems to be an issue with never having enough wingers. Another problem that should not be too big of an issue for the national team either.
Knowing how much Vermes has taken on the last few years, he might try to coach both the U.S. and Sporting KC. He has become better at sharing the load and delegating but still is involved in everything.
Pro: Ramos has performed at the highest level as a player and is viewed as one of the best U.S. players of all time. Ramos knows what it takes to become a better player and can help develop the younger talent. Tab also knows the U.S. system since he is currently an assistant under Klinsmann.
Con: Might be seen as a band-aid, a temporary pick and as an assistant could be seen as bearing some of the blame for the team not performing better. Has yet to manage a senior team at any level.
Other MLS candidates:
Dominic Kinnear – A few years ago and Dom would have been a top candidate but a few years of his teams struggling and he just doesn’t seem a good fit for the top spot.
Jason Kreis – Seemed like he could do no wrong at RSL but since has not had much success. Should rise back to the top of the candidate pool but not now.
Jesse Marsch – Smart coach but not a lot of experience. Do you hand an emergency fix over to the such a young coach?
Oscar Pareja – Only non-American in this group, has turned around Dallas but is that a result of his coaching or a great youth system that was in place before he took over?
Caleb Porter – Not a lot of experience but had Akron at the top of the college game and he did take Portland on the run to the MLS Cup. Every other year was mediocre and was also the coach of one of the U23 teams that failed to qualify for the Olympics.
Sigi Schmid – Another coach that a few years would have been a top candidate. Has had success everywhere he has went, even in Seattle. Took the Sounder s to lots of Open Cups but could not keep them together for a good MLS Cup run. Lost his team over the summer when SKC destroyed them and was rumored to have issues with some of the big personalities on the team.
Who will it be? Who should it be? Or will Klinsmann remain?