Jurgen Klinsmann’s tenure as head coach of the U.S. Men’s National Team produced mixed results. It began on a high with the 2013 Gold Cup, but ended on a low with back-to-back defeats to Mexico and Costa Rica in the Hexagonal phase of World Cup qualifying.
The latter seemed to be the breaking point for U.S. Soccer and its president Sunil Gulati. Klinsmann was relieved of his duties just six days after the embarrassing 4-0 loss to Costa Rica, which was the USMNT’s biggest defeat in qualifying since 1980.
Gulati reiterated that it wasn’t just the defeats to Costa Rica and Mexico that led to Monday’s decision, but it played a factor.
“I think what I said was the two games on top of everything else,” said Gulati on a conference call on Tuesday. “I’ll reemphasize that we don’t make decisions based on individual games. It’s an overall record and you get new data points. These last two games were obviously important data points because of the importance of the games, where they were played, and the results.”
This is the first time the USMNT has begun the Hex with two defeats since this round was implemented for 1998 World Cup qualifying. The U.S. also saw its 30-game home unbeaten streak snapped by Mexico earlier this month. Not only was it El Tri’s first victory in the United States since 1972, it was also their first win in Columbus.
Those facts alone are indicting. However, there was a sense of optimism following a semifinal run in the Copa America Centenario. The 4-0 defeat to Argentina was a crushing blow, but Gulati made it clear that previous results in 2015 also contributed to Klinsmann’s firing.
“Starting at the Gold Cup, there have been some up and down results,” Gulati said. “The Gold Cup was a big disappointment for everyone, for Jurgen, for the players, for our fans. We had a chance for reprieve against Mexico, but didn’t get that done in Los Angeles. Then [we] had an upswing in Copa America, where after a bad start, we won three consecutive games and got to the semifinals, and then of course finished with a disappointing game against Argentina.
“It’s all of those things that are a part of the evaluation. It’s not just those, it’s the most recent results, it’s talking with people in and around the team, which we do on a pretty regular basis. So it’s all of those things combined that led to this decision.”
2015 was a big letdown for the USMNT. A historic loss to Jamaica in the semifinals of the Gold Cup set up a one-game playoff for CONCACAF’s Confederations Cup berth against Mexico at the Rose Bowl.
However, before a redeeming Copa America, 2016 began on a negative after the U.S.’ failed to qualify for a second consecutive Olympic Games in the Klinsmann era.
An underwhelming 2015 and the Olympic team’s dispiriting elimination by Colombia, combined with the poor start to the Hex, led to Gulati’s final decision on Monday afternoon.
“Where we would have liked to have seen the team is, in an ideal world, 2-0,” said Gulati. “But 0-2 puts us in a very difficult position… We would have liked to see the team playing at the Confederations Cup next summer, either by winning this last Gold Cup or by winning that playoff game. So I think those are two big things. We would have liked to have seen the Olympic team in Brazil. If I could pick three things, those would be three.
“We would like to have had a better start to the Hex, we’d have liked to see the team in Rio and we’d like to be playing in the Confederations Cup next summer.”
Now, more than five and a half years after Gulati announced the hiring of Klinsmann, the German was given his walking papers. U.S. Soccer’s president said it was not an easy choice “on a personal or professional level” but it was one that had to be done to put the USMNT “in the best possible position over next 18 months.”