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Sunil Gulati believes USMNT has made progress against world’s elite

Jurgen Klinsmann Sunil Gulati USMNT 84

NEW YORK — When Jurgen Klinsmann was appointed head coach of the U.S. Men’s National Team five years ago, one of his stated goals was to help the Americans go “toe-to-toe” with the world’s elite on a more consistent basis.

This week’s ugly loss aside, U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati has seen progress in that regard.

The U.S. was on the wrong end of a 4-0 shellacking against Leo Messi and Argentina in the semifinals of the Copa America Centenario on Tuesday, and the lopsided defeat left many fans and pundits critical of Klinsmann and his tactics. The U.S. head coach had failed to help his side look competitive in a meaningful match on home soil, and the direction of the program was yet again put into question.

Gulati admitted in the immediate aftermath that the defeat at NRG Stadium in Houston, Texas, was not easy to take, especially since the Americans were so thoroughly outplayed and finished with zero shots.

As bad as the result and performance were, a coach’s tenure is usually not based on just one result. Still, that humbling loss, and the defeat to Colombia in the tournament opener, have left one lingering question: Has Gulati seen Klinsmann and the U.S. take strides towards becoming more capable of giving top nations a real battle in recent years?

“The answer is, overall yes. On Tuesday night, no,” said Gulati to a group of reporters on Friday following a formal press conference in Manhattan. “It’s a hard question to answer after you have a result like that. Playing against the best team in the world, we gave up an early goal. Things were always going to be difficult. That made it virtually impossible, so we didn’t do well.

“But if you look back over the years, the answer is yes. (Wins in 2015 against) Germany and Holland away, admittedly friendly matches. Beat Spain at the (2009) Confederation’s Cup. There’s not many teams that match up very well with Argentina and Spain when they’re playing well and Germany. That’s a lofty goal and we’re not to a point where we can do it consistently.”

The U.S. will have another shot to prove that it can compete with some of the best in the world on Saturday, as Colombia faces the Americans again in the Copa America Centenario’s third-place game at University of Phoenix Stadium in Phoenix, Arizona. The Americans opened the tournament with a 2-0 defeat to the Colombians that was also largely criticized because the U.S. was deemed by many to have put forth a flat and stale performance.

To some observers, the lackluster play in the losses against Colombia and Argentina show that the U.S. is not closing the gap and has not had a successful tournament campaign.

Gulati will wait until after Saturday’s match to assess how successful Klinsmann and the Americans have been this summer.

“We still have an important game,” said Gulati. “It happens to be against a top-ranked team, one that we’ve played in this tournament, so let’s wait and see after that game.”


  1. And then there are these numbers Sunil

    To that point: Under Klinsmann the US are now 0-5-1 in official competitions (non-friendlies) against teams ranked in the top 10 of the Elo Ratings. Under the previous three coaches combined, the US were 5-15-2, including wins over the likes of Argentina, Brazil, Germany, Spain and Portugal.

    Given the sample sizes, this could be just a run of bad luck. But I don’t think it is, and the underlying numbers explain why:

    Steve Sampson’s teams played 450 minutes vs. teams in the Elo top 10, held the lead for 21.1% of the time
    Bruce Arena’s teams played 810 minutes vs. teams in the Elo top 10, held the led for 22.2% of the time
    Bob Bradley’s teams played 720 minutes vs. teams in the Elo top 10, held the lead for 25.5% of the time
    Jurgen Klinsmann’s teams have played 570 mins vs. teams in the Elo top 10, and have held the lead for 1.6% of the time
    That translates to holding the lead for nine minutes of action, which came from minutes 81-90 in the World Cup group stage against Portugal. Since that game — which ended in a 2-2 draw — the US have scored one goal (Julian Green’s volley) in 480 minutes of action against Elo top 10 squads.

    So it’s not just that they’re getting beat, it’s that they’re not as competitive as they used to be.

  2. Gulati should lost focus current results: not winning the Gold Cup, losing to mexico for a spot, USNT lost to Guatemala, USNT’s games becoming dull to see.

  3. The only thing more embarrassing than the play of the US team is the level of discussion for this article. Attributing the awful play against Argentina to JK is so ridiculous that I shouldn’t dignify it with a comment(but against my better judgment, I will). First, to deliberately ignore the absence of three critical players is myopic, naive, and dare I say it? — ignorant. Second, there are currently NO US players on or off the roster with the EXPERIENCE and skills cthat could have successfully stepped in. ( Throwing Nagbe and Pulisic into the deep end of the pool would not have been successful either and BTW, they did play and were hardly game changers. Besides, JK does not like to put that kind of pressure on his newbies). Third, there were 8 other field players besides Wondo and Zusi and they hardly shined! The team leader, the fan favorite, the media darling, MB was AWOL. I counted him committing one(1) foul in the entire game!!! How come the performance of this team icon merits no blame?? Oh, that’s right, JK should have done a better job of motivation! He has NEVER talked about the team learning to play a little nastier (for which he was roundly criticized for his lack of sportsmanship by many–probably in the current audience). Oh yeah, and he wasn’t on the sidelines screaming for more aggressiveness. Finally, fourth, the criticism that there has been no improvement in US team play under JK is indefensible. It only makes some sense if the only measure is wins and losses. The style of US play HAS changed and the up and down performance is linked to the learning curves of the US players. Playing possession ball when everything a player has been taught from U6 on up is blaster ball has to been nerve racking. When you have learned from youth on to hoof it at the first sign of pressure, learning to find an open man and then deliver an accurate pass is extremely difficult. Many of the people complain that the reversion to blaster ball is JK’s doing. Isn’t it more likely that the real reason lies with players totally incapable of trapping, passing, and thinking quick enough to play a possession game. When frustrated they revert to form and blast away. When comments have been made saying that our midfield played good possession ball, the first complaint heard is that it was easy because the other team didn’t press. Well maybe, just maybe the coach wants his team to play possession but against many teams, they just don’t have the skills! It is no coincidence that the three wins were accomplished with players all having better than average touches: Bedoya, Jones, Brooks, Zardes, Dempsey, and Bradley(Please don’t embarrass yourself by complaining that so-and-so gave x number of balls away in game y. The worst example of giving away balls in critical instances is MB, the God of US SOCCER). They may not be The Best, but they are certainly OUR Best and it was shown in this stretch of games. One final comment about JK and his objectives. It always seems that bloggers and the commenters think that their goals are the same as JK’s. Nothing could be further from the truth. In one way or another, JK has to consider the objectives of a multitude of bosses: Gulati, the US soccer media, MLS and its owners, US Soccer bureaucracy, knowledgeable fans, and potential fans. Now if you think that there are no inherent conflicts among this group of bosses, then I suggest you get a job! Play a rookie team and lose or play a veteran team and more likely win! Is everyone happy? Hardly! If the team wins but wins ugly, is everyone happy? Hardly. Is JK perfect? Not by a long shot! But does he have a more difficult job than almost all other MNT coaches? Absolutely and I support him wholeheartedly.

  4. The USMNT is stagnent. We have 4-5x the player pool we had only 20 years ago. We have a pretty good Ist Divison League in the MLS that is pumping out good players every year.

    But we lost to Guatemala this year. we did not make the finals of the Gold Cup, We lost the play-off for the Confed Cup and most likely we will finish fourth in this Years Copa.

    We have gone backwards.

    Gulati is a relative newcomer to the game, and is a dilettante .He gets lost in the cult of personality that is Jurgen Klinsmann.

    He is flat-out WRONG when he comments that the US has progressed.

    This year, I celebrate 50 years in soccer. It’s a spot I took up not in a foreign land, but in the suburbs of LA. I joined the Latino rec soccer leagues as a 11 year old, because my best friend, a Latino, had a father that played the game. Along the way, I met youth players who went on to become great players and some became great coaches, and one , whom I befriended, went on to become one of the Best coaches of all time in Germany. I was there when Paul Caligiuri DID NOT make the shot in 1986, when a single goal against Costa Rica would have got the US to the Mexico. I saw first hand the development of US soccer from the wilderness in the 70’s to the renaissance in the 80’s to the WC in the 90’s

    Our trajectory has plateaued. We once beat Spain in a meaning tournament .Came os so close to beating Gemany to advance to the Semi-finals in Japan in 2002.

    But several things happened. The USSF as it has done over the years, brought in a suit, an academic, who probably loves soccer as much as anybody, but does not understand why we do not win,why we do not play well at times, and hires a high profile coach who plays him like a violin, promising nothing and delivering less.

    Klinsmann is directly responsible for the wheels falling off the USMNT over the last 5 years. We have not, by any metric, advanced. We have certainly not advanced as fast as the last 20 years. It is said that when you get to a certain level, you may have a hard time breaking into the next.

    The US was once ranked as high as eight in the FIFA World rankings, and enjoyed a top 15 for many years. We ar ranked in 32nd, about the same as when Klinsmann took over in 2011.

    If Gulati thinks we have made improvement, then WE need to change the USSF President, and not merely the coaches.

  5. US is the equivalent of a four seed in the NCAA tournament. You’ll get upset sometimes in early games, you will usually make the Sweet Sixteen (knockout stage) and are reasonably expected to do so, you may make a deeper run depending on opponent and circumstance, but you don’t have the depth of NBA-ready talent to consistently make a deep run. Four seeds make the Final Four about 10% of the time and have only won one time. A five seed has never won the whole thing, which arguably fits better given the few teams that have ever won a WC, but I think US is not as likely to lose to a 12-seed type team as often as a 5 seed loses (about 40%). The way to improve to a 3 or higher seed is to have better players.

  6. You have to laugh at some of this stuff.Otherwise you would probably go out and drown yourself. Klinsmann was supposed to “transform” US soccer, move us to the next level, create the breakthrough we have been waiting for…
    Anyone with a quarter of a brain knew none of that was going to happen. Coaches, even directors of development, don’t have that much impact, and certainly not in two WC cycles and certainly not in a country with a tiny soccer infrastructure. But Gulati seemed to believe it along with a remarkable number of fans, (perhaps that’s why they call them “fans”)
    And now our transformation agent is being lauded for becoming Terry Textbook and doing what hundreds of coaches would have done — play a consistent lineup and put players in positions they are suited to. Hell, there are people who have only played Football Manager who could have told you that. And all this wisdom for a salary many times larger than his predecessor! Wow what a deal!

  7. Many have pointed out that our players are better and we have a deeper bench now. Both true. But improving playing pool goes more to the credit of the rise of MLS and American soccer-awareness than JK’s brilliance.

    I think Sunil has it right in general. Don’t get swept up in the individual games but steer the ship for the long haul. That said, he needs to be a better check to Klinsy’s inability to take blame. I’d be much more on his side if the guy would just take some responsibility.

    Please do not play Wondo anymore. He has hit a wall at the international level and cost us dearly. Can you really see how he was at WC 2014 rather than Landon? Unbelievable.

    • See, I don’t think our players have gotten all that much better in the past 20 years. We have very average players. I wish we had someone with the technical skills of Ramos. I wish we had forwards with the aerial prowess of McBride and the speed and grit of Stewart. I wish we had better GKs who were more like Keller and Friedel. Where’s the next Mathis? O’Brien?

  8. The Argentina game was a perfect storm. Argentina is #1 in the world and is motivated with the world’s best player and a tremendous supporting cast. The US players were clearly intimidated and probably the one player who wouldn’t have been intimidated on that stage was JJ on suspension. Add to that, the substitution of Wondo for Woods (the only thing they have in common is that both their names start with “Wo”) which is admittedly JK’s mistake. It seems pretty obvious (hindsight is wonderful) that we were not going to win that game but compound that with the players missing when our “like for like” substitutions are so far inferior on 2 of 11 positions and the rest of the team was effectively star struck, and you get a game like that.

    Like everyone else, I was disappointed in the way they played, but my fear was that, in the eyes of many, it would undo the positives. Like many, I had hoped for more in the JK era, but I still believe progress has been made, some as a result of the coach and some in spite of him.

    1. Reaching the semifinal of a major competition. You have only to watch the CONMEBOL teams play in this tournament to know how important it is to them. Our play against very good teams like Ecuador and Paraguay, when not short handed, and even against Colombia should be cause for celebration.

    2. We have a back line and appropriate subs for the back line (Birnbaum and Besler) who have spent 5 weeks gelling and hopefully will continue to play together going forward (one of my main criticisms of JK was the continued tinkering).

    3. Bobby Woods was a revelation. He has come a long way since his first MNT games when he had that deer in headlights look. Hopefully he relegates JA to the bench, but we’ll see.

    4. Zardes is a useful player in some settings despite the limited first touch.

    5 Dempsey and Jones are still forces.

    6. There are young players in the pipeline.

    I recall the BB days and the ’94 cup. I remember Lalas, Balboa, Gooch, Demerit, Bocanegra. IMO, I think this can be our best back line. I think this team is better than any US team except perhaps the 2002 World Cup team. Just my opinion.

    • Paraguay and Ecuador are not “very good” teams. They are at, or below, our level and we shold beat them at home. I don’t know what about our ply against Colombia would cause celebration. I saw a lot of this, mainly because the US dominated possession. But that is Colombia’s game – they are not a possession oriented side. Once they took the early lead, they were more than happy to sit back and let us have the ball. With all that possession we created nothing.

  9. There are pros & cons to the Klinsmann. Some of the Pros have been….
    – We’ve seen some historic wins (@ Azteca, @ Germany, @ Italy, @ Netherlands)
    – We had highest win % in a given year
    – We made it to the knockout rounds of consecutive WCs
    – We’ve won a knock-out game against a confederation outside CONCACAF
    Some of the Cons have been just as significant as the achievements….
    – 2015 GC failure.
    – Loss to Guatemala in WCQ.
    – Player selections & substitutions.

    Overall we’ve still got some of the same issues we’ve been experiencing for the past 30 yrs. Our player depth is still a problem. We can usually field a good XI, but our quality tends to drop significantly when we have to go to the bench. We still rely on a single individual for our scoring threat (McBride, Donovan, and now Dempsey). We still cannot seem to possess/control the game against top teams.
    Until the issues associated to our player pool are resolved it won’t really matter who our coach is. If we don’t have the players to possess and/or attack the opposition than there isn’t much the coach can do.

    • LOST I appreciate your willingness to see both sides of the coin. I agree 100% concerning our player pool. The truth is that the majority of fans on this site have made a decision about JK. For or against, based on earlier results mostly. But now it doesnt matter what happens, they find evidence to support their position. In my mind, JK is not great nor horrible. I do think we need to give credit for a few changes. Now we try to play out of the back (the cause of Birnbaum’s giveaway- not accoustomed to this at DC). He was very patient with Brooks and gave him chances to fail and then rebound (growing pains)- now he could be on his way to being exceptional. We did just beat a Costa Rica handlely, (the same team who many were saying had passed the US), Ecuador, and Paraguay – outplaying them most of the time 11 on 11. On the other side of the coin: he continues to play Lineups that makes us crazy, The team doesnt always seem to have the bite of earlier teams, we have had bad results against teams we previously beat consistently.

      But if we are going to want credit when we play better and improve, beating teams we previously could not, then we can not discount the fact that other teams improve as well. To compare this team to 1994 WC is ludicrous in my opinion. We play the game so much better now.

      Finally, Be realistic on two points. 1- are the players now performing at a high level consistently- I would say no – players have to take majority of this blame- coach some. 2- Who is available that would take the job, and are you sure they are better. I dont think Kreis or Porter is ready. Who would want the job?

      Just one man’s opinion

    • Whoa!! The US beat Germany, Italy and the Netherlands in the last World Cup?! Dang, I missed that. Wait, was it at the Confederation Cup? I must’ve been in a coma since I missed it. Because no one in their right mind would use a reference to friendly games where teams go through 6+ subs and play with diminished conviction as proof of a program’s quality. Please send along footage of said competitive games.

    • I keep things realistic. UEFA and COMEBOL are the best. Everyone else is a “mid major”. As long as we understand that, we can look at the USA and understand that the most important thing is to be in major tournaments and get out of the group stage. What happens after that is going to depend on match ups and a little bit of luck. USA will never be elite no matter who is coaching. There might be a time where the USA can slip into a final four of a World Cup and create some excitement. Examples of this are Turkey in 2002, Korea in 2002 and Croatia in 1998. It can happen but reality always rears its ugly head.

  10. Klinsmann is Gulati’s great hiring coup. Gulati has tied his wagon to Klinsmann’s fading comet tail. Of course he is going to give Klinsmann every benefit of the doubt. Any reasonable federation would have sent Klinsmann packing after:

    –the last WC cycle as is the norm, or….
    –the abysmal 2015 Gold Cup, or…
    –the abysmal Confed Cup playoff loss to Mexico,…..or,
    –the abysmal away loss to Guatemala…., or,
    hell I give up.

    Klinsmann’s allegedly great innovation of late is consistency. He has been credited for actually starting the same core lineup throughout this Copa. He is now been lauded for doing what any decent manager on any level would routinely do, and it’s only taken him 5+ years to figure that out.

    And as Ives has mentioned, this “innovation” is reported to have come about only after veteran leaders of the locker room approached Klinsmann and told him to stop tweaking his lineups in every match.

    He’s also been credited during this cup run for beating teams we should at home (CR/ Paraguay) and pulling off a decent performance against Ecuador.

    But far too often during his tenure over the last 5 + years, he has sent out players without proper tactics, in bat-sh*t-crazy formations, playing individuals out of position that didn’t remotely fit their skill-set, and with poor motivation. Most recent examples were Colombia and Argentina, the US played scared.

    No one is saying that victories against Colombia or Argentina were foregone conclusions. As US fans, we would have been content to see the squad put up a fight, even if the probability was a loss.

    I don’t see any significant progress under Gulati, nor Klinsmann.

    It’s well past time to fire Gulati’s Folly.

    • We have beaten 4 of our last 6 CONMEBOL opponents. This never used to happen for us. We notched our first competitive win vs CONMEBOL in 20 years. Klinsmann has broken so many records with just this tournament alone that you have no ground to stand on.

      • How often to we play competitive games against Conmebol sides? The teams we beat in this competition are not exactly top level teams. And as for the 4 out of 6 stat that includes 3 friendly wins. Who cares about those?

      • What records? We played 3 average teams and beat them and 2 good/elite teams and didn’t look like we had any business being on the same field as them. This Copa isn’t the reason why he needs to go but he should have been fired a year ago at least. Looks like we are stuck with him through Russia…if we make it that is. No doubt if we do he’ll play the likes of Wondo.

    • I’ve always been a fan of Gulati. He has done some good things for the NT. But yes I think the Klinsmann debacle and his stubbornness to stick with him means he needs to be cut loose. It is funny both Klins and Gulati have the same personality. They won’t admit mistakes and their pride won’t let them change their minds

  11. Klinsmann has not beaten an elite team, when it mattered. Friendlies are just that. I will give him credit for the win against Mexico in Mexico, but at the time they were not that elite team at the time.

    • Klinsmann has given us two of our first competitive wins against CONMEBOL opponents in 20 years and 4 of our last 6 matches against CONMEBOL in general have been wins. Sorry but you can’t just discount that because it doesn’t suit you.

      • He also gave us the worst Gold Cup performance in decades. And this the most inept-looking competitive loss since the 90s.

  12. Did Gulati really give Klinsmann credit for the US beating Spain in the ’09 Confed Cup..? When Bob was still coach? Or is that just poor writing?

    • I don’t think so. I think he means the US in general is doing better. I would argue we have overall better players than back in 09 but the team has moved backwards at worst, stagnate at best.

      • I’ve always been a fan of Gulati. He has done some good things for the NT. But yes I think the Klinsmann debacle and his stubbornness to stick with him means he needs to be cut loose. It is funny both Klins and Gulati have the same personality. They won’t admit mistakes and their pride won’t let them change their minds

  13. I just can’t get over how some people, including this author, completely discount the opposition in their evaluations. We lost to the teams ranked 1 and 3 in the world and that’s due to flat and lackluster performances? And we didn’t play badly against Colombia. We definitely could have done better against Argentina, but they were always going to beat us as long as they played well. As for Colombia their goals came off a pick play on a corner kick and a debatable hand ball. They really didn’t generate all that many chances from the run of play. And let’s not forget that we beat Costa Rica 4-0, the worst defeat I think we have ever given them. What I don’t like is that this is a good example of someone having a conclusion and then picking facts or even twisting facts to fit that conclusion. This happens enough in politics, let’s keep it out of sports where we have tons of statistics so we can rely on facts for our opinions. Playing for 3rd place is a good overall result and the best that could have realistically been hoped for.

    • The game against Argentina is not about the final score. A 4-0 loss happens often, and sometimes to the best. The problem is how poorly they played. Thry looked worse than the USA looked against Checoslovakia in the 1990 World Cup. That is bad, very bad!

      • Agreed.

        Zero shots. Zero. You will NEVER win a soccer game on zero shots unless the other game literally takes a shot for you.

        Horrific give aways repeatedly everywhere on the field. We were psychologically and skill outclassed by a mile.

        I have no problem with a loss. I predicted a comfortable 3-1 win for Arg … losing 4-0 in a game which could have easily been 6-0 isn’t about the score, it is about the class of players and the ability to at least show something other than US “highlights” best accompanied by jazzy sax.

      • We were missing the most productive players we had in the event sans Brooks and Dempsey. Besides, even that bad loss doesn’t undo the 3 wins that preceded it in any universe.

  14. We do not look any bettet than we did in 1994, when we played a World Cup in home soil, and beat the then mighty Colombia, tied Switzerland, and lost 1-0 to Romania and Brazil! I don’t think we can do the same now, and it has been 24 since. It’s been 24 of stagnation, and the existence of MLS — with club academies — has done little to improve the National Team, it appears! It is sad! ?

    • We beat Colombia because of an own goal and tied Switzerland because of a wondrous free kick by Eric Wynalda. Against Brazil we were a man up for most of the second half and still got greatly outplayed. Did you actually see those games and follow the US then? We are better now because we have much more depth.

      • If you would have watched the 94 Colombia match you would remember that we got screwed out of a goal because of a handball no call.

      • Actually, we got screwed out of a Lalas goal against Colombia due to an incorrect offside call. We actually played quite well against Colombia. Remember Balboa’s near wonder goal with a bicycle kick on a Ramos corner? Jo’s team wishes it could play like that.

  15. I like JK and believe he’s done a decent job actually. However I still think it’s time for someone with a fresh view. What made Klinsmann some what successful his first go was being ruthless and knowing when to pull the plug on guys like Bocanegra. Now he’s perhaps too tied to certain guys at some point it’s going to blow up in our face. (If it didn’t already Tuesday)
    I think he’s asked the tough questions and pushed US in a certain direction but I just don’t see what more he can or is doing.

  16. Meaningful games….not friendies. In competitive matches even against CONCACAF minnows we struggle. Germany and Netherlands don’t give 2 shites about friendlies. After we get our 6 subs….great.

    After the Gold cup last year we all realized the emperor has no clothes.

    • We dominated Jamaica and ;lost. We played Mexico close and lost. I think we lost the 3rd place game in a shootout. We beat Mexico IN azteca and now we have beaten 4 of our last 6 CONMEBOL opponents which is unprecedented.. We will tear through CONCACAF now.

      • The win in Azteca was a friendly. That is not how you measure progress. Ok sure we beat Paraguay, Ecuador and Costa Rica in this competition. That’s nice but they are average sides we should be beating at home. No one expects us to beat the likes of Argentina in a competitive game but the manner of the defeat was pretty disappointing.

  17. Translation: I foolishly agreed to pay Klinsmann so much money, and his buyout is so large that unless he absolutely bombs, he will continue to be the coach.


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