(This was supposed to get posted Friday morning but life and work got in the way.)
There have been mixed reactions to Landon Donovan’s comments, in which he suggested that if the U.S. loses to Mexico Saturday (tonight) in the crucial CONCACAF Cup game that Jurgen Klinsmann should be fired. Some pundits and fans agree with him, and some obviously do not. Some even went further and took the opportunity to angle criticism at Donovan personally.
The fact that his words garnered such a reaction is a statement in and of itself that soccer in the U.S. isn’t quite where we all want it to be. This question should be asked more often and not met with such surprise and angst when it is asked.
ESPN FC spent half a show talking about his comments, and the website made it their top headline for the day. Granted Donovan was a guest on the ESPN FC segment, The Boot Room, when he made the statement.
It also made headlines elsewhere, but most ended up focusing on the fact that maybe Donovan was bitter because of his turbulent relationship with Klinsmann, and therefore his statements lacked objectivity.
It was a simple question though from the former U.S. midfielder. Donovan was saying if you hold players accountable, you should hold coaches accountable. He implied that U.S. Soccer is better than these recent results and should expect better and there should be consequences if they don’t meet those expectations.
It’s the same question that would be asked in any other major soccer nation. It’s that pressure that other countries put on their teams that Klinsmann says he wants. He’s said in the past that if the U.S. players lose and play badly, he wants there to be such an outcry by the public that the players wouldn’t want to go to the grocery store the next day. Well, that’s a long way off as the general public wouldn’t recognize 90% of U.S. players, but I do appreciate that sentiment.
Part of what makes these statements newsworthy is that Donovan is calling out his former national team coach with whom he had a prickly relationship, to put it nicely. They never saw eye to eye and Donovan being left out of the 2014 World Cup team for what would have been his swan song with the U.S. National Team surely didn’t leave a good taste in his mouth. So that makes his statements a little more juicy, but if the golden boy of U.S Soccer can’t ask the question, who can?
The candor with which Donovan talked about Klinsmann and the necessity to win on Saturday was refreshing. He wasn’t trying to make tabloids, but simply put some pressure on Klinsmann. Which is what the U.S. coach says he wants. It’s actually fairly smart on Donovan’s part, because Klinsmann can’t come out and really disagree or be upset with Donovan’s comments. Klinsmann asked for the pressure, now he has to deliver.
It must be said though that in this particular game on Saturday (tonight) against Mexico I’m not sure a loss can rest solely on the shoulders of Klinsmann. Mexico is a good team. Yes, the Gold Cup was a horrible showing and I believe much of that failure should be directed at the German. His team choice was questionable and the way he set up tactically against lower quality opposition like Jamaica was lazy. He underestimated the other teams and maybe overestimated his players.
Overall though, with the current talent pool available to Klinsmann you could argue his results throughout his tenure, minus the Gold Cup debacle, have been respectable.
I do agree with Donovan’s statements, however, isn’t this what we asked for from U.S. Soccer and Klinsmann?
I know I did. A long look at our players, and focus on youth, and the future, knowing we’d take some knocks in the short term. Yes, we need to win this game and Klinsmann has taken every measure to ensure we can’t critique his player selection. He’s chosen a team for Saturday that is the old guard, the best we have to offer at this moment. Can’t think of one senior player who isn’t available for the U.S. that’s a usual starter, or considered the best at his position. With the exception of Landon Donovan — tongue and cheek of course, but aren’t these the kind of games where you want him? When you look at some of the older players like Kyle Beckerman, Jermaine Jones, and Clint Dempsey, you sort of wonder with frustration why Donovan couldn’t keep it going a little longer. His choice though, and you have to respect that.
I don’t think Klinsmann should or will lose his job if the U.S. falls to Mexico tonight, but it’s good to put him under pressure. We should give him a year of World Cup qualifying and time to see how the young guys and his approach pan out, because let’s be honest, half of the starting lineup for tonight’s game won’t be around for the 2018 World Cup.
The real barometer though is how we match up against top South American and European teams. Most coaches could navigate a U.S. team through the mild waters of CONCACAF qualifying without much trouble. We should easily qualify for the World Cup, so that’s not so much the benchmark for Klinsmann anymore, but instead the manner in which the U.S. plays in qualifying games and how they do in friendlies against the top countries. And of course how far we make it at the World Cup. If he’s still the coach then.
U.S. will win tonight, but the question by Donovan is a good one.