I, like so many others, was dismayed when the U.S. Men’s National Team dropped its opening match of the 2016 Copa Centenario 2-0 to Colombia. Then, in an excellent piece at ESPN FC, Noah Davis reminded just how far the USMNT program and my own soccer fandom has come.
Last night, in a must-win situation, the USMNT again proved it was unafraid of the moment. A convincing 4-0 victory over Costa Rica was expected, but it was impressive all the same.
I am by no means a diehard soccer fan. I didn’t play it much outside of the schoolyard growing up and am largely ignorant of its history. But if the USMNT is involved, I am there. It’s taken a few cycles, but I’m pretty much all in any time the National Team is playing.
I say this because even I know its time to ask a difficult question: Is it time to move on from Jurgen Klinsmann? How much longer can the program go before taking the next step?
There is little doubt that Klinsmann has improved the state of U.S. soccer. The fact that there was genuine dismay that the USMNT lost to Colombia, the fourth best team in the world, is enough evidence of that.
And many of the players Klinsmann has pushed into the starting XI have proved their worth. As Davis writes:
In soccer, hope springs eternal, with another group of players just around the corner. For most of Klinsmann’s tenure, that next group has disappointed, a procession of guys failing to meet their potential. These last six, eight or 12 months, however, we’ve started to see some young men find the right club situations and grab their opportunities. Klinsmann doesn’t deserve all the credit or even most of it. He does deserve some.
Still, there are questions that Klinsmann and the squad need to answer. For example, Klinsmann sure took his time getting his allotted three substitutions into the match last night and when he finally did he chose to give time to veterans Graham Zusi, Chris Wondolowski and Kyle Beckerman.
Now, all three subs played more than fine. Zusi scored the team’s fourth goal less than 20 minutes from being sent on and Beckerman sent away a Costa Rica chance by clearing a ball out of the box late to preserve the clean sheet. But why not give time to 25-year-old Darlington Nagbe or the latest wunderkind “future of American soccer,” 17-year-old Christian Pulisic?
It’s possible Klinsmann wanted to maintain a goal differential advantage, one of the key Copa tiebreakers. But the USMNT did more than enough work in the first half and a 3-0 advantage would seem like the perfect situation to get younger players more experience.
To be fair, Klinsmann got his team to play about as well as they are capable in a do-or-die match. But was it enough? The U.S. certainly had a shaky first few minutes until earning a penalty that Clint Dempsey put home for the match’s first goal. Costa Rica had an awful lot of chances and tested the U.S. back four, though they failed to break through.
Klinsmann relied on his veterans and they definitely came through. They may even have enough to beat Paraguay on Saturday. But if the USMNT wants to evolve and take another step up the ladder of international soccer they will have to think hard about whether or not Klinsmann is the capable of leading them there.