While it may be too early to throw in the towel on the current Copa America campaign, it is not premature to call out the rotten state of the U.S. men’s national team. Let’s examine some of the reasons behind this demise.
S**t flows downhill, so let’s start with the man at the top of the USMNT food chain.
After five years in charge, it is evident that the much ballyhooed German is running out of ideas (assuming he ever had
any). Jurgen Klinsmann (JK) came in promising to revamp the players’ mentality, the soccer culture in the United States and to bring in a “proactive” style of play. Fast forward five years and the man in charge is publicly throwing young players under the bus (in a recent Wall Street Journal interview) for not being good enough and is continuing to blame the system, mentality, everything and everyone but himself. Although some of the criticism may be warranted and the root causes may be outside of his personal purview, it is impossible for Klinsmann to absolve himself of responsibility when he, as USMNT Technical Director, is (technically) in charge of all men’s and youth national teams at all levels. In other words, there is no one better qualified or more optimally positioned to disrupt the status quo and bring in positive change.
The team, Klinsmann’s squad, is playing uninspired soccer, having been embarrassed on home soil at last year’s Gold Cup and defeated in embarrassing fashion by the 91st ranked team in the world (Guatemala) during the current qualifying campaign for Russia 2018. Klinsmann has had enough time to make his imprint on the program and bring about positive changes. Fact of the matter is that the U.S. men’s team is in no better shape today than when the current coach took over in 2011.
Lack Of Peak Talent
Some of the claims laid out by JK are indeed valid. The team is lacking star power at the moment, an important factor to consider when criticizing the squad selection. Michael Bradley, arguably the best player on the roster, has had a bunch of mediocre performances for the national team, the latest case in point being a bad giveaway in Friday’s game against Colombia that led directly to The Cafeteros second goal.
Landon Donovan is not walking through that tunnel, and Dempsey’s best years are far behind him. Even goalkeeping, usually a world-class strength of the U.S. soccer program dating back to the early days of Brad Friedel and Kasey Keller, is becoming an issue.
While the program may have more depth than ever before, the lack of bonafide star power or top level talent at the moment is major cause for concern. There is reason to believe that the future is bright, with guys like Pulisic, Yedlin and (hopefully) Jordan Morris showing tremendous promise. In the meantime, the current generation of players that is hitting their collective career peak leaves a lot to be desired.
Lack Of Identity & Spirit
During their most successful World Cup campaigns, the U.S. had developed a combative style, based on speed, aggression and the belief that no opponent was in better physical form. The team believed it was well equipped to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. All you need is a few minutes of 2016 game footage to conclude that the current squad is not outmuscling or outrunning any opponent and is more likely to snatch defeats. Klinsmann preaches physical preparation and a New Age-y commitment to fitness, but in reality this team lacks the fight, the cojones of teams past. This is more of an issue when you consider that the hard men on the team are on the downward spiral (Dempsey, J. Jones are in their mid-30s) and the “man bun generation” of Bedoya and Zusi don’t exactly intimidate anyone with their athletic prowess or steely nerves.
As important as the next two games may be for the USMNT’s success in Copa America, I do not anticipate that the quality of play or results will determine Klinsmann’s future at the helm. This is somewhat unfortunate as the team and the program are in dire need of a reset.