SAN JOSÉ, Costa Rica — It’s time for Jurgen Klinsmann to go.
Whether the U.S. men’s national team coach’s boss, U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati, ends up agreeing with that opinion remains to be seen. But Gulati certainly didn’t give Klinsmann a clear vote of confidence in the moments after the U.S.’s dumpster-fire 4-0 World Cup qualifying loss to Costa Rica on Tuesday.
“We won’t make any decisions right after games,” said Gulati inside the Estadio Nacional as red-clad Tico fans celebrated with glee outside. “We’ll think about what happened today and talk with Jurgen and look at the situation. Obviously it’s not a good start to the Hex, and today in particular was not a good performance.”
The U.S. was putrid across the board in the second half, conceding three of the four goals and failing to execute on basic defensive aspects like putting pressure on crosses and marking the recipients of those crosses closely. The midfield gave the ball away too easily. John Brooks, Jermaine Jones, Timmy Chandler and Omar González all had poor games, but this was a total team effort when it came to the failure.
Did some U.S. players quit on Klinsmann in the second half? It's not 100% clear, but the fact that question needs to be asked says a lot in itself.
Here are the facts: The U.S. is in last place in the 10-game CONCACAF World Cup qualifying Hexagonal with zero points from the first two games—the first time the U.S. has ever lost the opening two games of the Hex (covering a span of six World Cup cycles).
Thanks to the comically forgiving tournament format, the U.S. still isn’t in any acute danger yet of missing World Cup 2018. Four of the six CONCACAF teams are likely to make Russia 2018, the top three automatically and the fourth in a playoff exactly one year from now against the fifth-place team from Asia. (Have you ever visited Uzbekistan, Saudi Arabia or the United Arab Emirates in November? Well, the U.S. might get that chance.)
How low is the bar for qualifying for Russia 2018 from the Hex? Well, keep in mind that Mexico won just two of 10 Hexagonal games in 2013—two of 10!—and still qualified for World Cup 2014. So it’s possible to say now that the U.S. is playing historically bad soccer to start the Hex, and yet chances are still good that the Americans will reach the World Cup.
“When you lose two games, there’s obviously some concern,” Gulati said. “But Mexico qualified [for 2014] with 11 points. There’s a lot of points left on the board, 24 to be exact. As I’ve said the last two cycles, the sequence of games matters a lot, and we’ve had what one would consider our two toughest opponents early … I’d be more concerned if we didn’t have any points and it was some of the other opponents.”
U.S. Soccer in 2016: USMNT and USWNT year in photos
Klinsmann fired, replaced by Arena
Jurgen Klinsmann was fired after the USA's World Cup qualifying loss in Costa Rica, bringing an end to more than five years in charge. He was replaced by Bruce Arena, who returns to the bench after coaching the USA from 1998-2006.
USMNT vs. Costa Rica, November 15
The dejected faces on Bobby Wood, left, and John Brooks say it all, as the U.S. drops to 0-2-0 in the CONCACAF World Cup qualifying Hexagonal following a 4-0 loss and embarrassment at Costa Rica.
USWNT vs. Romania, November 13
Morgan Brian gets a congratulatory hug after her converted penalty kick, which helped the U.S. women close out 2016 with a 5-0 rout of Romania at StubHub Center in Carson, California.
USMNT vs. Mexico, November 11
Mexico players celebrate Rafa Marquez's late winner, which delivered a 2-1 triumph for El Tri over the USA to open the CONCACAF Hexagonal. It ended years of U.S. domination over Mexico in Columbus.
USWNT vs. Romania, November 10
Crystal Dunn congratulates Christen Press on one of her three goals as the USA handled Romania with ease, winning 8-1 at Avaya Stadium in San Jose, California.
USWNT vs. Switzerland, October 23
Carli Lloyd gets a hearty welcome after scoring on a long-range blast to kick-start the U.S. in a 5-1 rout of Switzerland in Minneapolis.
USWNT vs. Switzerland, October 19
A new-look U.S. women's team routed Switzerland 4-0 at Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy, Utah, with Samantha Mewis (3) at the center of the celebrations after scoring the final goal of four-goal second half.
USMNT vs. New Zealand, October 11
Julian Green is congratulated by captain Michael Bradley after scoring the opener, but the U.S. was forced to settle for a 1-1 draw vs. New Zealand in the last game before the CONCACAF World Cup qualifying Hexagonal kicks off.
USMNT vs. Cuba, October 7
Chris Wondolowski scored a goal and assisted on another, as the USA continued World Cup qualifying preparations by beating Cuba 2-0 in a historic friendly in Havana.
USWNT vs. Netherlands, September 18
Carli Lloyd celebrates her goal that kicks off the scoring for the USA in a 3-1 win over the Netherlands at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta.
USWNT vs. Thailand, September 15
U.S. women's national team co-captain Carli Lloyd happily signs autographs after scoring a hat trick in a 9-0 romp over Thailand in Columbus, Ohio.
USWNT vs. Thailand, September 15
Megan Rapinoe kneels for the national anthem ahead of the U.S. women's national team's match vs. Thailand, continuing her public protest in line with that of San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick.
USMNT vs. Trinidad & Tobago, September 6
Fabian Johnson, Christian Pulisic and Sacha Kljestan celebrate during a 4-0 win, which cemented the USA's place atop its World Cup qualifying group and a berth in the CONCACAF hexagonal.
Hope Solo's USWNT contract terminated
Following the USWNT's Olympic loss to Sweden, Hope Solo lashed out at the opposition, calling them "cowards" and drawing the ire of U.S. Soccer. The incident pushed the federation over the edge, and it terminated the goalkeeper's contract while suspending her six months–meaning any chance at reinstatement won't be possible until February.
USWNT vs. Sweden, August 12
The long and stunned faces say it all, as the U.S. women try to comprehend a penalty-kick loss to Sweden in the Olympic quarterfinals. The 4-3 PK defeat after a 1-1 draw marked the earliest ouster for the U.S. women in a major competition ever.
USWNT vs. Colombia, August 9
Hope Solo lets a Catalina Usme free kick slip through her hands and legs in a shocking 2-2 draw. The USA still won its Olympic group despite the slip-up.
USWNT vs. France, August 6
Carli Lloyd scores the only goal in a 1-0 win over a stout France side to punch the USA's ticket to the knockout stage at the Olympics.
USWNT vs. New Zealand, August 3
Carli Lloyd celebrates her goal in the USA's 2-0 win over New Zealand in their opening match of group play at the Olympics. Alex Morgan doubled the USA's lead in the second half.
USWNT vs. Costa Rica, July 22
Christen Press and Carli Lloyd celebrate an easy 4-0 win, which sent the U.S. on its way to Rio with an unbeaten record in 2016.
USWNT vs. South Africa, July 9
Hope Solo salutes the crowd after posting the 100th clean sheet of her career in a 1-0 win in Chicago. Crystal Dunn scored the lone goal.
USMNT vs. Colombia, June 25
For a second time at Copa America, the USA falls to Colombia, with Carlos Bacca's goal the difference in a 1-0 result in the third-place match in Arizona.
USMNT vs. Argentina, June 21
Lionel Messi converts an incredible free kick to punctuate a dominant performance for Argentina against the USA in the Copa America semifinals.
USMNT vs. Ecuador, June 16
Goal scorers Clint Dempsey and Gyasi Zardes share a celebratory hug with Matt Besler in the Copa America quarterfinals, where the Americans held on for a 2-1 win and a place in the semis.
USMNT vs. Paraguay, June 11
Clint Dempsey celebrates his goal in a 1-0 win over Paraguay, which secured the USA's place in the Copa America knockout stage.
USMNT vs. Costa Rica, June 7
Bobby Wood caps a dominating first half for the USA in a must-win game vs. Costa Rica in Chicago at Copa America. Clint Dempsey, Jermaine Jones and Graham Zusi also scored.
USWNT vs. Japan, June 5
Co-captain Becky Sauerbrunn defends as the U.S. bounces back to shut out Japan 2-0 in a rain-shortened friendly in Cleveland.
USMNT vs. Colombia, June 3
James Rodriguez beats Brad Guzan from the penalty spot in Colombia's 2-0 win over the USA to open Copa America Centenario.
USWNT vs. Japan, June 2
Lindsey Horan heads the USA in front to cap a comeback from two goals down, but the Americans conceded in extra time to 10-woman Japan, settling for a 3-3 draw.
USMNT vs. Bolivia, May 29
Christian Pulisic scores his first international goal in the USA's 4-0 win over Bolivia in a final tune-up for Copa America. Gyasi Zardes scored twice, and John Brooks added one of his own in the triumph.
USMNT vs. Ecuador, May 25
Darlington Nagbe is hugged by Christian Pulisic after his 90th-minute volley delivers a 1-0 victory for the USA in a pre-Copa America friendly.
USMNT vs. Puerto Rico, May 22
Tim Ream scores the opening goal in the USA's 3-0 win over Puerto Rico in the first meeting between the two sides. Bobby Wood and Paul Arriola scored as well.
USWNT vs. Colombia, April 10
Julie Johnston, left, is mobbed after one of her two goals in a 3-0 USA win at Talen Energy Stadium in Chester, Pennsylvania.
USWNT vs. Colombia, April 6
Allie Long, left scores twice, and five other players score as well in a 7-0 rout of Colombia in East Hartford, Connecticut.
USMNT vs. Guatemala, March 29
Christian Pulisic, 17, makes his U.S. debut in a World Cup qualifier in Columbus, Ohio, becoming cap-tied to the USA. He was otherwise eligible for Croatia.
USMNT vs. Guatemala, March 29
Clint Dempsey and Jozy Altidore celebrate during a thorough 4-0 World Cup qualifying win, putting the USA's campaign back on track after the setback in Guatemala.
USMNT vs. Guatemala, March 25
There was no way through for DeAndre Yedlin and the USA during a 2-0 loss in Guatemala in what was a stunning setback in the Americans' World Cup qualifying campaign.
USWNT vs. Germany, March 9
The USWNT celebrates the inaugural SheBelieves Cup title after beating European powers England, France and Germany in succession.
USWNT vs. Germany, March 9
The U.S. celebrates Alex Morgan's equalizer vs. Germany in the SheBelieves Cup in Boca Raton, Florida. Samantha Mewis's winner a few minutes later cemented the Americans' overall triumph in the competition.
USWNT vs. France, March 6
Alex Morgan scores the game-winner in a 1-0 victory over France in the second game of the SheBelieves Cup in Nashville, Tennessee.
USWNT vs. England, March 3
Crystal Dunn is mobbed after her game-winning goal kicks off the SheBelieves Cup in a 1-0 triumph in Tampa Bay, Florida.
USWNT vs. Canada, February 21
Lindsey Horan celebrates her goal that helps the USA to a 2-0 win over Canada and a first-place finish in CONCACAF Olympic qualifying.
USWNT vs. Trinidad and Tobago, February 19
Alex Morgan celebrates one of her three goals that helped the U.S. clinch a berth in the 2016 Olympics after a 5-0 triumph in Houston.
USWNT vs. Puerto Rico, February 15
Crystal Dunn scores one of her five goals, tying a single-game U.S. record in a 10-0 rout to close group play in Olympic qualifying.
USWNT vs. Mexico, February 13
The U.S. needed a penalty kick from Carli Lloyd to beat Mexico 1-0 in the second match of CONCACAF's Olympic qualifying tournament.
USWNT vs. Costa Rica, February 10
Alex Morgan scores the fastest goal in U.S. history, netting 12 seconds into the USWNT's Olympic qualifying campaign and sending the Americans on their way to a 5-0 win.
USMNT vs. Canada, February 5
Jozy Altidore heads in the winner to secure a 1-0 win over Canada at StubHub Center to cap the annual winter training camp.
USMNT vs. Iceland, January 31
Steve Birnbaum heads in a late winner in a 3-2 victory over Iceland in the opening match of the year.
USWNT vs. Ireland, January 23
17-year-old Mallory Pugh scores on her debut, helping cap a 5-0 win for the USA to open the year. Carli Lloyd led the way with a hat trick, and Alex Morgan scored as well in San Diego.
The conventional wisdom has always held that Klinsmann would only be fired if and when the U.S. was eliminated from qualifying for World Cup 2018. But now the calculus has changed.
It’s time for him to go because Klinsmann set up his team to fail against Mexico with a major formation switch that should have been tested first in a game with lower stakes, a formation switch that left his players unsure and disjointed as a unit. It’s time for him to go because the U.S. was not just beaten but overmatched against Costa Rica, and it’s a giant red flag anytime you’re wondering if the players have quit on their coach.
It’s time for him to go because you can imagine other coaches, including realistic replacements like Bruce Arena, getting more out of the same players than Klinsmann is for a paycheck in excess of $3 million a year. And it’s time for him to go when the captain, Michael Bradley, says other teams have a “clear idea” of what they’re being asked to do, one implication being that the U.S. does not.
Is Klinsmann the right coach to lead this U.S. team forward?
“We’ll sit down tomorrow and look at things,” said Gulati.
When asked if the results against Mexico and Costa Rica will influence the way he examines the coaching situation, Gulati replied: “Well, do facts matter? The answer is yes. It’s simple. The analysis is always different based on results and what you see. It’s not specific to the coaching situation, it’s just in general. It would be the equivalent of asking Jurgen, ‘Is your view of all the players different today than it was four days ago?’ Of course it would be when you lose two games.”
After the U.S.’s 3-2 loss to Mexico in October 2015 capped a miserable year-plus following the World Cup, we suggested that U.S. Soccer would be better off letting Klinsmann keep his job as U.S. men’s technical director and bringing in another person to coach the team.
That idea still makes sense. Klinsmann is a big-picture guy whose talents lie in formulating a long-term plan. But I also think such a move is unrealistic, both on Klinsmann’s end (it's doubtful he would accept such a demotion) and on that of a new coach (who would be doubtful to accept the job with Klinsmann still hanging around).
After Tuesday’s game, Klinsmann called it the most painful loss of his five-year tenure as the U.S. coach. But does he still think he’s the right coach to lead the U.S. team forward?
“I think so,” he said. “But I obviously understand when you lose two games, and especially two World Cup qualifiers right after each other, that there will be a lot of your comments. That is just part of the job. It’s part of the game. I told the team at the end, the last cycle we lost here too, so we gave away these three points here as well. We didn’t give away the three points at home against Mexico, so now we are three points behind what we did in the last cycle, and we won the group with 22 points at the end of the day.”
“We know we have to come back right away in March against Honduras at home and then away [at Panama].”
The crazy thing: If the U.S. were to beat Honduras 3-0 at home in their next qualifier in March, the U.S. would probably be in fourth place—and the fourth place team from CONCACAF is likely to make the World Cup.
But the four months that stand between now and March would be plenty of time for a coach to come in and get familiar with everything needed to move forward with the U.S. team. Arena is no stranger to World Cup qualifying, and his contract with the LA Galaxy is set to end next month.
Arena would help the U.S. rediscover an identity, one that has eluded this team since the end of World Cup 2014. It’s time to thank Klinsmann for his work. He got the U.S. out of a difficult World Cup 2014 group, and he steered the Americans to the Copa América semifinals this year. He did a terrific job recruiting dual-nationals and spotting prospects like Bobby Wood and Jordan Morris. Klinsmann also happens to be a really good guy and a World Cup-winning legend as a player.
But it’s time for him to go.