Saturday, March 26, 2016

U.S. Loses to Guatemala: The End of an Era in a Sane World

Yeah, yeah, she's dead. We can do worse.
I'll keep this short. In spite of past promises, of course.

When Jurgen Klinsmann first coached the U.S. Men's National Team, American fans were told there would be a transition period. This would be the time when Klinsmann would implement a new system that would make the U.S. Men better, more sophisticated, better prepared to "take it to the Big Boys of international soccer," your Spains, your Germanys, your Brazils, your Argentinas...uh, honestly, I don't really know what comes after those teams.

The U.S. looked confused in those early days, unsure of how to implement Klinsmann's "proactive system," how to dismantle any opponent calmly and with composure. Still, we were all assured that it would come, that Dear Jurgen would show us the way.

Anyone who watched the U.S. lose to Guatemala tonight – and, no, I don't give a lazy, disinterested fuck if that game happened in Guatemala, because I'm told that the U.S. hasn't lost to Guatemala since Reagan (partially) occupied the Oval Office (look Nancy Reagan was our fucking president back then, just like Woodrow Wilson's wife seriously might have been the first female president) – should completely appreciate one damningly unavoidable point: after six-plus years under Klinsmann, the U.S. men still have no goddamn idea what they're doing when they take the field. They concede the first goal more often than not, so they're always playing from behind, etc. The U.S. spent the first half against Guatemala lumping long balls to forwards running into space? That's progress?

Worse, even had a couple decent U.S. shots gone in, what would that have really meant in the long term? Where are the green shoots? Where is any tangible sign of improvement with the U.S. National Team? And if anyone points to wins over Germany and the Netherlands last year, or whenever the hell that answer is this: the cold, stark reality is that the U.S. lost tonight to Guatemala, one of the most stagnant teams in CONCACAF, a side that trotted out at least three frankly ancient barrel-chested players. And I'm not knocking barrel-chested guys, heading there myself, but I'm not a professional soccer player aiming for a World Cup, now am I? As much as CONCACAF has improved, it remains a fucking minnow region on the global scene. That is 100% NOT fucking improving on any scale that isn't devised, defined and calibrated by Jurgen Klinsmann and U.S. Soccer.

By any plausible appearance – yes, I'm hedging mightily here - U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati made a mistake hiring Klinsmann. And, like the fuckwits who run the global economy (say, what's Gulati do for a living again?), rather than admitting he made a mistake, Gulati doubled down before a 2014 showing at the World Cup tournament that saw the U.S. do no better than it has in the modern era – e.g. the time since 1990, then the U.S. pretty much started automatically qualifying for the World Cup. So, per Gulati, all of you should totally take out subprime loans today. And do it on the beach, or maybe on a flood plain because nothing will ever change, housing prices will always go up, and what's climate change?

What about Klinsmann's prior success as a coach, both with the German National Team and with Bayern Munich? As we all know, Bayern had the sense to chuck Jurgen after a fairly short period of time, mostly because he was more obsessed with the Fitness Gospel than with sorting out tactics and personnel. As for Germany, yes, the man undeniably mined the German nation for the new young talent that it desperately craved. Here's a funny thing: if you mine for talent in a gold mine (e.g. soccer-mad Germany) guess what you get? You get fucking gold. Yes, if you dig in a gold mine you get gold. This isn't complicated. In other words, what happened here is pretty straightforward: Klinsmann identified talent among a rich crop of German players, guys who get minutes on some of the best teams in the world, and he set them loose on the world stage. Surprise of surprises, he did well with that. Not well enough to win a World Cup – that came later, and there's a story there, for sure – but he laid a foundation that someone else built into a renewed, invigorated Mannschaft.

That same script doesn't hold up when you try to find gold in a silver mine, or, worse, a copper mine. I honestly don't know the talent level of the U.S. player pool. None of us do, because there is no test but the Klinsmann's years to tell U.S. fans where their national team is now. I only know it's nowhere near what one sees in Germany, or Spain, or Brazil, or Argentina, or even much of Africa, the rest of South America, Mexico, and select parts of Asia and Central America. What I do know is that blaming the player pool is a dodge. It's pushing one's own failures onto something that can't be controlled, which is a hell of a lot like saying your dog ate your homework. Failure is failure is failure. And, more to point, this failure came after some version of progress and success, so....

Klinsmann was hired on the explicit assurance that he would improve the U.S. National Team. Period. The U.S. has clearly not improved, and by any applicable measure, and, at this point, I don't give a fuck why it happened. After last summer's CONCACAF Gold Cup, the moronically contrived CONCACAF Cup, all I know is that the U.S. Men cannot do any worse than they have under Jurgen Klinsmann. The only counter-argument to all the above – literally – is for patience, that we all wait for Jurgen to unearth the next gem. The answer to that line of argument: name the first gem. Why the hell are Kyle Beckerman and Clint Dempsey still vital to this team after all the players Jurgen Klinsmann has brought in? Anyone blaming the player pool is adopting the opposite argument of what has made the rest of CONCACAF improve, so far as it has: by making the fucking most of what you've fucking got. That is Klinsmann's clear, and sole failure: he never even attempted to find out what IS best from the pool he has. And, objectively, time is running out.

Bottom line: the one thing we know is that we cannot fix the player pool in the short term. The one thing we can do: fire the fucking coach. Again, this was someone hired, and retained, on the premise of taking us to the next level. At this point, anyone who does not believe that the U.S. has actually regressed is like Sunil Gulati: they just don't want to admit that they were wrong.

Probably. Look, I know it's hard, but look at the evidence. It’s damning. And, yes, this is short for me.

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