By Patrick MacDonald
Did you see it? As Jermaine Jones left the field in the 72nd minute last night during what was then a 4-0 demolition at the hands of Brazil, Jones refused to shake Jurgen Klinsmann's hand. The man who took years to finally win over U.S. fans, refused to grant the man who's steadfastly been in his corner in the most trying times of his national team career, a basic courtesy. That's telling. Isn't it? There's no question that Brazil is a better team than the United States, but played off the field better? Jones' reaction coupled with a squad performance so listless, it's as if the players have had enough of Klinsmann. It looks like they've quit on the man.
It's hard to blame them, since 2013, arguably Klinsmann's most consistent year at the helm of the national team, the gaffer has made a series of mind boggling decisions starting with blowing up what was working right before the World Cup. In switching to the diamond, he not only upset the order, forcing players to learn a new system on the fly, but he played his best player, Michael Bradley in a more advanced position, negating his strengths and making him a non-factor in Brazil. While that team made it out of a Group of Death, it rarely looked convincing.
Since then it's been more of the same, players played out of position and constant lineup shuffles. Players who succeeded, like Matt Besler, have been thrown out of the pool. While players who routinely fail, like Tim Chandler, John Brooks, and Ventura Alvarado keep getting thrust into the starting lineup. MLS regulars who have earned call ups like Sebastian Lletget, Benny Feilhaber, and Matt Miazga, don't even get phone calls from Klinsmann, while reserve players who haven't sniffed 1st team minutes like Julian Green get to go to the World Cup, just because they ply their trade in Europe. It's not hard to see why Klinsmann seems to have lost this team.
Sunil Gulati needs to hold Klinsmann accountable, like he held Bob Bradley accountable in 2011. Gulati need only to look back at the 2010 World Cup to see what can happen when a coach is kept past his time.
The warning signs blared loudly for France, leading up to the South African World Cup. Raymond Domenech, despite taking his squad to the final in 2006, had lost his squad. There were grumblings in the press about his treatment of players, France crashed out of Euro 2008, much like the U.S. in this year's Gold Cup, and they barely squeaked into FIFA's crown jewel, needing a Thierry Henry handball to do it. By the time the French touched down in South Africa, the team was in open revolt, earning a measly point and finishing dead last in their group. It was a disaster.
It would be shocking if the U.S. National Team revolted like the French as they have never been a team of primadonnas. After all the last mini revolt was done anonymously through Brian Straus. But no one's publicly going to bat for Klinsmann, making Jones' statement of a non-handhake all the more damning.
And at least France made the World Cup. It looks more dire for Klinsmann. In the Gold Cup he struggled against the very minnows he has to go through to even get to the Hex. How's he going to do against 4 or 5 mid majors in CONCACAF's final round? 2018 looks anything but assured.
Look, Klinsmann in the past has proved when his back is against the wall, he can pull something out of his ass and lead this team on a stellar run of form. The U.S. looked to be in shambles in March 2013 when the Straus article came out. Much like now, Klinsmann was constantly tinkering and lining players up out of position. Then he found a lineup that worked and the U.S. played the most consistent soccer in its history, dominating the Hex and Gold Cup, including a 12 game winning streak from June to August. He deserves to be the coach against Mexico come October 10th and he can win that game. But if he doesn't win, and he plays yet another lineup that defies logic and is played off the field, it's time to make a change. Sunil Gulati set the standard of expectation when he canned a successful, albeit stale coach, in Bob Bradley. Because despite what Klinsmann may think, U.S. fans understand clearly, it just isn't working.