Time For A Change / by Drew Olsen

By Drew Olsen (@drewjolsen)

Warning: This is an atypical piece from us. It's purely an opinion piece. There are no numbers or graphs below. If you're looking for unbiased and hot-take free writing, skip this one. We'll be back to our normal analytics stuff shortly.

Inspired by this piece over at LA Galaxy Confidential from our own Sean Steffen, and surprised at how easy it was to find his email address online, I set out to write a short email to the president of the United States Soccer Federation, Sunil Gulati, on why it's time for Jurgen Klinsmann to be fired as head coach.

It soon turned into something of an existential personal release and awakening on the state of the USMNT, and more for me than for him. At the encouragement of my fellow ASA writers, I'm posting it here. Feel free to send me your own thoughts (or tell me how wrong I am) on twitter.

The text of my painfully long email and Gulati's response are below.

Prof. Gulati,

I want to thank you for your service to US Soccer and your continued progress in promoting the beautiful game in the United States. I do not think it is an understatement to say that no other person has had as important an influence on American soccer in the last decade. I know you are currently facing lots of pressure from all sides, and I do not envy your position right now.

I write as a passionate fan of the USMNT and nothing else, but nonetheless hope you will take my (and other fans') concerns seriously. With that said, I write you to express my belief that it is time to change our head coach. 

The USMNT's performance at the World Cup and the leadership that Jurgen Klinsmann provided there was laudable. But since returning from Brazil, Coach Klinsmann's lack of progress in developing new players, confused tactics, disappointing results in games that matter, and scapegoating of individual players have led me to the belief that it is time for a change.

I remember where I was when I heard that coach Bob Bradley had been let go after the embarrassment that was the loss to Mexico in the 2011 Gold Cup Final. I included myself among those that thought it was time for him to go. When Klinsmann was given the job to replace him, I could not have been more optimistic. I was so excited, I jumped at the opportunity to travel to Philadelphia for his first game as head coach, which fittingly ended in a 1-1 draw against Mexico. Though I had been to USMNT games before, it was my first game ever sitting with the American Outlaws, and I left the game hoarse after cheering my lungs out. I've been sitting and traveling with the AO ever since.

When he took over, Klinsmann said all the right things. He was going to keep a positive attitude. He was going to 1) fundamentally change the historically defensive style that the USMNT has played. He was going to 2) recruit and develop younger prospects. Most importantly, he was 3) going to return the USA back into the preeminent team in CONCACAF. We were assured the 2011 Gold Cup Final would not be repeated.

Even after excluding Landon Donovan from the World Cup roster, I was willing to give him a pass. Aside from a wonderful 60 minutes against Portugal, I was ready to ignore the reactive and defensive scheme he played in the World Cup. I was elated when we won friendlies on European soil against top teams. 

But I've run out of ways to excuse our performances. 1) Our style has not changed. No game exemplifies this better than the CONCACAF Cup game on Saturday, where we played reactively and cynically. Indeed, even when we have won games against major opponents (be they Holland, Italy, Germany or any other top 25 teams), it was the US that sat back and counter-attacked our way to victory.

2) We have not developed or recruited enough quality young players. The team on Saturday had six players aged 30 or above and three more who will be by 2018. Young players like Julian Green and Timmy Chandler have only worsened in form since the World Cup.

3) It is true that the 2015 Gold Cup was not a repeat of 2011, but only because we did not make it to the tournament final. Losing at home to Jamaica was the the worst loss by our national team since before we hosted the World Cup in 1994. When we got our chance against an attack-minded but defensively vulnerable Mexico side this weekend, we proved we weren't up to the task. Not only is Mexico clearly the superior team right now, but the USA may be the 3rd or 4th best team in CONCACAF right now. Tonight's game against Costa Rica may or may not confirm that.

Couple these failures with a few confusing examples of ineptitude, such as his calling-out of Bedoya on the national broadcast at halftime of the Brazil game, and his public shaming of Fabian Johnson after needing a sub in the Mexico game, and it is clear that Klinsmann's message is not being delivered. The facts are that Bedoya was trotted out in a new position against one of the best players on one of the best teams in the world, and that Johnson was coming off a serious injury and had played 110 minutes.  Not only has Klinsmann failed to admit his own shortcomings and mistakes, he has chosen to scapegoat his own players.

If those actions had coincided with positive results, then they are excusable. Instead, they have coincided with some of the worst performances in years. If we are to hold Klinsmann to the same standards his predecessors and admit his failure to accomplish his stated goals, then we must admit that his time has run out. 

Luckily, there are plenty of capable and accomplished candidates to replace him. Peter Vermes has helped turn Sporting KC into one of the most accomplished clubs in MLS. Jesse Marsch has done wonders with a Red Bulls roster that was expected to disappoint. Jason Kreis, while struggling with a difficult ownership group at NYCFC, has proven himself as an impressive and eager young manager. Ben Olsen has built his own successful defensive style at DC United. Even the likes of Carlo Ancelotti, who is now living nearby in Canada, has a resume that speaks for itself.

Not only has our current manager failed to live up to his own expectations, but he is increasingly showing he does not know how to handle his own players or how to assemble a team worthy of competing in CONCACAF. I urge you to relive him of his duties and recruit a new coach that can deliver on the promises that Klinsmann has failed at.


Drew Olsen
Washington, DC