Klinsmann ousted as coach of U.S. team
Losses in two straight World Cup qualifiers led to change; Arena set to return to post
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.