The US men’s national team lost 2-1 to Jamaica in the Gold Cup semifinals, crashing out of the most important tournament in North American soccer in shocking fashion.
As Gold Cups go, this was as big as it gets. Every country brought it’s “A” team (unlike 2013, when the US beat a depleted field), and winning the whole thing would have automatically qualified the US for the Confederations Cup in Russia in 2017. It was the second-biggest competition the US has played under Jurgen Klinsmann.
By any measure, it was a failure. Jamaica is ranked 76th in the world. It’s the first time the US has lost to a Caribbean team at home in 47 years. SI’s Grant Wahl called it the biggest upset loss in American soccer history.
Even beyond the Jamaica game, the US underwhelmed. Coming into the tournament as favourites, the US eked out two narrow wins and a draw in the group stage, during which they were outshot 51-20:
A 6-0 win over a Cuba, which was already one of the weakest teams in the Gold Cup before a string of defections, proved to be an aberration. While there’s an argument to be made that the US deserved a better result against Jamaica, you can’t say that the US played well enough to win this tournament.
In the aftermath, we’re seeing the US soccer community start to question Klinsmann. From player selection (starting the young pair of Ventura Alvarado and John Brooks in central defence), to tactics (playing Michael Bradley as an attacking midfielder), to preparation (how weren’t they ready for Jamaica’s counterattacks?), Klinsmann is facing his most heated criticism since World Cup qualifying got off to a dicey start in 2013.
Leander Schaerlaeckens of Yahoo asked if the US is really any different under Klinsmann than they were over the last decade:
“Going by the results, and by the visual evidence as well, Klinsmann’s national team is not demonstrably better than any of its previous incarnations. The revolving door along the back line continues to give away results. The midfield remains incapable of imposing itself consistently or nurturing the ball with the care it requires. And the front line is a grab bag of shoulda-beens, might-one-day-bes and never-weres.”
ESPN’s Jeff Carlisle wrote about the Alvarado/Brooks pairing:
“Given the success that Klinsmann has had in the past gambling on younger players, especially at that aforementioned World Cup, one was inclined to give him a pass on his decision when it was made. But this was one occasion when the U.S. manager’s roster compass was way off, and it was evident throughout the tournament. When paired together, neither Alvarado nor Brooks ever managed to put in a complete performance, and there was a growing sense that a good team would punish the mistakes that the Americans were making.”
MLS.com’s Matthew Doyle had this assessment of Klinsmann’s tenure:
“Klinsmann’s results through four years have not been better than [Bob] Bradley’s, and they have been worse than Bruce Arena’s. All while our style of play has regressed to the bad-old-days of hopeless long-balls and hopeful crosses.”
Klinsmann isn’t your typical national team coach. He’s also the technical director, meaning his job description and goals go behind results. That’s what makes him so hard to evaluate. The results are the same or worse as his predecessor, the style of play is just as far from the top teams in the world as it was in 2011. But he has also grown the player pool by recruiting dual-nationals and giving chances to young players like DeAndre Yedlin. In addition, you could argue that this is a team in transition that was always going to struggle before the post-Donovan/Dempsey generation matured.
Now, all eyes will turn to October 9, when the US will play a one-game playoff against the 2015 Gold Cup champion to determine which CONCACAF team goes to the Confed Cup. Lose that game, and Klinsmann will be under even more heat.
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