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.”