Klins­mann ousted as coach of U.S. team

Losses in two straight World Cup qual­i­fiers led to change; Arena set to re­turn to post

Baltimore Sun - - SPORTS - By Kevin Bax­ter

Jur­gen Klins­mann was fired as coach of the U.S. men’s na­tional soccer team Mon­day, a vic­tim of both height­ened ex­pec­ta­tions and poor per­for­mances that have the United States in dan­ger of miss­ing the World Cup for the first time in more than three decades.

Klins­mann is ex­pected to be re­placed by Bruce Arena, the coach and gen­eral man­ager of Ma­jor League Soccer’s Los An­ge­les Galaxy, who guided the United States to two World Cup ap­pear­ances. The U.S. Soccer Fed­er­a­tion was re­port­edly in ne­go­ti­a­tions with the Galaxy on Mon­day in an ef­fort to free Arena from a con­tract ex­ten­sion he signed this fall.

A fed­er­a­tion spokesman con­firmed in­ter­est in Arena, while both the coach and the Galaxy de­clined to com­ment. Klins­mann was silent af­ter a morn­ing meet­ing with fed­er­a­tion pres­i­dent Su­nil Gu­lati and CEO Dan Flynn near the coach’s South­ern Cal­i­for­nia home.

Gu­lati, who has sched­uled a con­fer­ence call for to­day to dis­cuss the coach­ing change, is­sued a lengthy state­ment Mon­day in which he praised Klins­mann’s “con­sid­er­able achieve­ments.” But, he con­tin­ued, con­sec­u­tive losses in World Cup qual­i­fy­ing

ear­lier this month “left us con­vinced that we need to go in a dif­fer­ent di­rec­tion.”

When Gu­lati hired Klins­mann in 2011 af­ter years of pur­suit, the coach promised sweep­ing changes that he said would close the gap be­tween U.S. Soccer and the rest of the world. How­ever, many of the changes didn’t work, and Klins­mann’s reign be­came marked more by in­con­sis­tency than in­no­va­tion.

In 2013, for ex­am­ple, he led the U.S. team on a record 12-game win­ning streak en route to a Gold Cup ti­tle. He was re­warded with a con­tract ex­ten­sion through 2018, one that paid him a re­ported $3.2 mil­lion an­nu­ally while ex­pand­ing his du­ties by mak­ing him U.S. Soccer’s tech­ni­cal di­rec­tor as well.

But af­ter the United States reached the knock­out round of the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, Klins­mann’s suc­cess wore off. A year later, the United States failed to fin­ish in the top three in the CON­CA­CAF Gold Cup for the first time in 15 years, part of a run dur­ing which the Amer­i­cans lost four con­sec­u­tive games to CON­CA­CAF teams on U.S. soil for the first time in 50 years.

And though Klins­mann never lost his en­ergy, faith or en­thu­si­asm for his planned makeover, his pen­chant for tin­ker­ing with line­ups and for­ma­tions, of­ten forc­ing play- ers into po­si­tions and roles with which they weren’t fa­mil­iar, led to a slide that bot­tomed out ear­lier this month. He was 55-27-16 in 51⁄ years with the United States.

The back-to-back losses to Mex­ico and Costa Rica made Klins­mann the first U.S. coach to start the fi­nal round of World Cup qual­i­fy­ing 0-2, leav­ing the United States in dan­ger of miss­ing the qua­dren­nial tour­na­ment for the first time in 32 years. Worse yet, the team ap­peared to quit in the sec­ond half of the 4-0 loss in Costa Rica, some­thing that might have sealed Klins­mann’s fate.

A World Cup cham­pion as a player with Ger­many, Klins­mann, 52, also guided his na­tional team to a third-place fin­ish in the 2006 World Cup dur­ing a two-year stint in which he went 20-6-8 as its coach. When Klins­mann con­tro­ver­sially de­cided to drop Lan­don Dono­van from the 2014 World Cup ros­ter, he took along rel­a­tively in­ex­pe­ri­enced play­ers such as John Brooks, Ju­lian Green and DeAn­dre Yedlin. Brooks and Green were among five Ger­man-Amer­i­cans on the 23-man World Cup ros­ter, which drew crit­i­cism from some in the Amer­i­can soccer com­mu­nity.

Once Gu­lati de­cided to fire Klins­mann — the first time the United States has changed coaches in the mid­dle of the fi­nal round of Cup qual­i­fy­ing since 1989 — Arena be­came Jur­gen Klins­mann watches his play­ers train for their World Cup qual­i­fier ear­lier this month against Costa Rica. The play­ers ap­peared to quit in the sec­ond half of that game, a 4-0 de­feat. the log­i­cal suc­ces­sor. Not only has he coached more games with the U.S. na­tional team than any­one else, win­ning a record 71 times be­tween 1999 and 2006, but he’s also the only man who has led the United States to two World Cups.

Arena, 65, has four months to pre­pare for the re­sump­tion of Cup qual­i­fy­ing in March, when the United States meets Hon­duras in Salt Lake City and plays Panama in Panama City. And though he needs to win at least one of those games to get the United States back on track, the CON­CA­CAF qual­i­fy­ing tour­na­ment is ex­tremely for­giv­ing, with three of the six teams earn­ing au­to­matic World Cup berths while the fourth-place fin­isher ad­vances to an in­ter­con­ti­nen­tal play­off where another World Cup in­vi­ta­tion will be at stake.

MOISES CASTILLO/AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

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