On Monday, November 21, US Soccer announced Jurgen Klinsmann was no longer head coach (and technical director) of the US Men's National Team. In the statement, it was promised that more information would be provided by Tuesday:
Gulati will conduct a media teleconference call Tuesday afternoon to discuss the change. Details will be announced in the near future.
The biggest question surrounding USMNT is simple: who next? Almost every US Soccer reporter with a source worth talking to has an answer, and it is the same answer:
Hearing Bruce Arena is indeed Klinsmann's replacement. https://t.co/oZD46Ex3nX— Doug McIntyre (@DougMacESPN) November 21, 2016
When we put that report out last wk on the Klinsmann/USSF meeting, was also told Bruce Arena "waiting in the wings." Expect his appt. #USMNT— Dave Martinez (@DaveMartinezNY) November 21, 2016
Klinsmann fired. Source: Bruce Arena set to take over. Could be announced as soon as tomorrow.— Grant Wahl (@GrantWahl) November 21, 2016
If that proves to be the case, and the announcement is made before Thanksgiving, US Soccer can at least be congratulated for having a plan at the ready for the occasion of Klinsmann's departure. Contrast that with, say, the Canadian Soccer Association taking almost a year to select a full-time head coach for its men's national team after Stephen Hart left the job in 2012 - things could certainly be worse.
Reportedly, US Soccer has been considering its coaching options for about a year now. And reportedly, Arena cannily worked an exit-clause into his latest contract with LA Galaxy, allowing him to leave the club if USMNT comes calling. If that is the case, then kudos to US Soccer for thinking ahead and penciling in a viable alternative in case things went awry for USMNT under Klinsi.
One should note that Kevin Baxter has reported for the LA Times that there is no such exit-clause in Arena's Galaxy contract, nor were there any "formal conversations" between the coach and US Soccer (at least, not prior to the present need to fill a vacancy). If that is the case and Arena is installed as head coach less than 24 hours after Klinsmann's departure: still kudos to US Soccer - for acting quickly and decisively.
Inevitably, a quick hiring decision will be characterized as hasty. But once the decision was made to jettison Klinsi, it was necessary to have a new hire in place in short order. Not necessarily the day after the last guy cleared out his desk, but certainly in good time to allow for the new man to make sensible use of the four-month interlude in USMNT's World Cup qualifying campaign.
Arena isn't a risky bet: he is the only USMNT head coach to have taken the team to two World Cups, and has managed and won more national team games than any other coach in the team's history. He is still an active and successful coach in MLS; indeed, he was won more MLS Cups, Supporters' Shields, and Coach of the Year awards since his last stint as USMNT head coach than he did when he was racking up trophies for D.C. United and establishing the reputation that won him the national team job for the first time.
Arena will be seen as something of a throwback appointment, and that shouldn't be a charge anyone invests much time in denying: it is more than 10 years since he was last in control of USMNT, he hasn't managed a national team since, and the whole point of hiring Jurgen Klinsmann in the first place was to modernize a program that had been in the care of Arena and (former assistant and close friend) Bob Bradley for more than a decade.
Appointing Arena to steady the ship and pilot USMNT to Russia 2018 is tantamount to US Soccer admitting that it just went on a five-year journey down entirely the wrong path. A path US Soccer chose to go down, with gusto.
In which case, further kudos to US Soccer might be due, because it surely had to swallow more than a little pride to ask Bruce Arena to come and bail out the men's national team.
There's no telling at this moment whether Arena will find success with USMNT in a second stint as head coach, but that would be the case regardless of the identity of the new manager. What matters right now is that the decision to change horses at a critical moment of the World Cup qualifying cycle is not further complicated by hesitation, giving the team and its new coach a decent shot at making the best of the games ahead.
Results will ultimately determine whether this was a good decision or a bad one. Changing coaches in the midst of a World Cup qualifying campaign is never a sign of a successful team, but there is a surefire way to make a bad situation worse: don't fix it quickly.
As soon as US Soccer fired Jurgen Klinsmann, it knew it was creating a new problem: USMNT has no head coach and there is a World Cup qualifying campaign to set right. The appointment of a new coach is the only priority for US Soccer right now. If that appointment is made before Thanksgiving, then - whether it is Bruce Arena or not, and whether the new coach does does well or not - the decision to drop Klinsmann was at least executed correctly.