I don't know if anyone was unironically using the old "It's hard to win on the road in CONCACAF" line at any point during yesterday's USMNT embarrassment against Guatemala -- we all know the stats: first loss to Guatemala since before I was born, first loss ever to them in World Cup qualifying, etc. -- but I did see a few people putting out the old standby after the Yanks went down 2-0.
As of this writing, the US are currently ranked 30th in the World Rankings by FIFA. They are likely only there because of their stature as one of the "Big Two" of CONCACAF and the fact that people in FIFA probably still think of them as a Round of 16 team from a "group of death" (which it wasn't, but that's a story long past) in the last World Cup. Based on form, there is absolutely no way they should even be sniffing the Top 30. The company they're keeping with their current form and ability is certainly not befitting of any notable status.
Playing against teams ranked #49, #95, and #141 in the world, the US stands in third place halfway through group play.— KJ (@KJfromtheDeck) March 26, 2016
Naturally, as it has been for a while, the #FireKlinsmann crowd immediately stormed onto the twitterbox following the loss. This was called "the worst loss of Klinsmann's tenure" by a lot of people, so it's not surprising that they were out in full force. Interestingly, I saw a counter-movement as well out there. They were countered by the folks arguing that, hey, look at the player pool he has to work with, he shouldn't be blamed. The fact that both of those factions can co-exist shows exactly how deep in the muck the USMNT really are right now.
I once called Pablo Mastroeni "the shitty Jurgen Klinsmann," but now I kind of feel like I should flip that script around. For all the issues Pablo has faced since he became Colorado Rapids manager, he at least had the excuse of not being a seasoned manager with Germany and Bayern on his CV when he started out here. From the very start, Klinsmann has been making promises to the United States -- hell, several of the things we "knew" he would be doing with the USMNT were being talked about while Bob Bradley was still the team's manager -- since day one and following exactly none of those promises. He has been taken to task on these things zero times by the USMNT brass, and the slow build-up of it all has finally gotten to a point where simply firing him isn't going to fix things overnight.
One of the biggest selling points of Jurgen was the youth movement he was to bring to the country. We knew under Bob Bradley that the team was aging and losing its big names like Donovan, Bocanegra, Dempsey etc. soon. That 2010 team was one with some of the best talents the US ever boasted, but only a few of those talents were to be reaching in their prime in 2014 rather than passing it. (Altidore and Bradley are the first two that come to my mind.) Behind a rather solid 18-or-so-player group from 2010, there were questions about Bradley's player management -- Robbie Findley to the 2010 Cup, anyone? -- and if he would be able to transition a new generation of USMNT players into the older one for another solid World Cup run.
Klinsmann was supposed to be the savior that would not only bring the entire country's resources together and flood the pipeline with talented youngsters, but teach all of those youngsters the type of attacking, beautiful soccer that we normally associate with the Germanys and Brazils of the world. Under Klinsmann, we would stop worrying about producing another Landon Donovan and finally get on with that silly trope of "producing a Messi".
Instead, things have gotten more confusing every year. What we've gotten in terms of new talent being injected permanently into the USMNT squad over the past five years has been a confusing mix of foreign players and MLS veterans like Chris Wondolowski. Players were dropped and put in for seemingly no reason: recall when the US nearly missed the hex in 2013, the two players who saved their bacon, Eddie Johnson and Herculez Gomez, were left out of the eventual World Cup roster for 2014 with Brad Davis and Wondo getting forward spots instead. If there has actually been a talent issue with the newest crop of youngsters that started emerging in 2011 -- I would argue there hasn't been, but this post is already too long -- we certainly haven't had a chance to tell on the pitch. His odd obsession with MLS veterans and the small batch of youngsters he is giving shots to despite form along with his general avoidance of MLS youngsters has kept guys like Wil Trapp, Matt Miazga and Harry Shipp from getting any more than the occasional sniff.
Did we mention his love of using a completely different line-up every single game? He really likes doing that.
The football has been awful as well, but we already knew that. The "attractive" soccer we have been waiting for with bated breath has instead just been a watered-down version of the counter-attacking style that the US had already been using seemingly forever, featuring trios of defensive midfielders, clog 'n' hoof attacking, and all sorts of other things that only Tony Pulis would comment on as being "beautiful". Players being put out of position, a problem specifically awful last night, has been an awful trend as well. Deandre Yedlin ain't a winger.
Combine the incredibly ugly style of play, the inconsistent rosters and the lack of chances for the vast majority of the most talented youngsters in the US pipeline up until now and you have a player pool that is disjointed, relying on miracles and contains a lot of guys who really shouldn't be there but won't be dropped for continuity's sake. (Mix Diskerud has done nothing but have great hair ever since he signed for NYCFC, for instance, yet remains a staple in the team for reasons unknown.) This is a damaged player pool, with precious little time to get it together before the end of this third round of CONCACAF qualifying.
So yes, the players are a problem right now. Anyone coming in to replace Klinsmann would have a mighty task getting this disjointed squad of players to work together coherently in time to save the campaign. Those in the "Why blame Jurgen?" crowd are correct on that. The fact that the players are a problem right now, however, is a problem entirely born of Klinsmann's five-year non-plan.
So yeah, you've heard a lot of this before. A lot of what I put up there is the standard-issue blurb on "why Klinsmann is bad" that gets stuck into every post like this. (And oh yes, there have been a lot of posts like this over the last few years.) But a lot of those posts then go on to say or imply that Klinsmann being fired might solve something. In this case, I think it might be too late for that. Firing the man is a necessity at some point, to be sure, but will only serve as a starting point to rebuild the system back up from the hole he has dug it into. That hole may take the rest of this cycle to escape, maybe until the start of the 2022 cycle if things are as bad as they looked last night.
The miracle that was the near-flawless run through the Hex and push to the Round of 16 in 2013-2014 has thus far been the only bright spot in the Klinsmann regime. Remembering how inept the team was before that and watching them now only serves to make it look more like a fluke. We have now gotten a total of about one calendar year of watchable soccer out of Klinnsy, and it has now been followed by what has arguably been his worst one yet, a year of unwatchable misery that is likely going to leave the USMNT out of the World Cup for the first time since 1986.
Forget the "tough to win in CONCACAF" mentality. This wasn't the US going to Guatemala and losing a hard-fought 1-0 match, it was the US getting outclassed by what should be a very inferior team. There is no excuse for losing that badly to a team 65 places below you in the FIFA rankings. If Belgium were destroyed by Uganda, regardless of the venue, there would be some major, major questions asked. If Colombia were humiliated by Mali, same thing. England and Uzbekistan, Chile and South Africa, Czech Republic and Antigua/Barbuda... any of those teams losing to the other would be an enormous upset on the world stage. Teams are not separated by 65 spots in the rankings by accident. An upset is one thing; an embarrassment is quite another.
And this is not some blip on the radar, but a continuing rot that we've seen before and especially since the tail end of 2014: the USMNT are a putrid example of a national team right now, and they will need yet another miracle run to even get to the hex. Klinsmann has done enough damage that we might have to be reliant on the current crop of teenage wonderkids around the world to get the USMNT back to growing status come 2022. It's going to be expensive and controversial to get the man fired, but they're going to have to at some point if they're going to get better. After five years of hearing his shtick not change in the slightest, it's not unfair to assume that it never will. At least Pablo Mastroeni has admitted his shortcomings as a manager and how he wishes to better himself; if we ever hear Klinsmann do the same, it will be followed by four large horses from the sky announcing the end of times.
I asked Klinsmann why the lack of focus so early. He said that's a good question for the players. #usmnt— Jeff Carlisle (@JeffreyCarlisle) March 26, 2016
It feels worthwhile to mention that while the USMNT were getting dumped on down in Central America, Mexico were comfortably destroying Canada 3-0 at BC Place. Canada are ranked eight places higher than Guatemala in the World Rankings, coincidentally exactly 65 spots away from 22-ranked Mexico. So yes, it is hard to win on the road in CONCACAF... when you suck.