Will Jurgen Klinsmann's USA Fate Depend on Oct. 9th Confederation's Cup Playoff Match vs. Mexico?
What a difference two months can make! In early June, the USMNT railed off straight victories over the Netherlands and World Cup champs Germany, two of the world’s great soccer nations. They ventured forward into the 2015 Gold Cup as heavy favorites, and though there were some shaky displays, they perused through the group stage with relative ease. A commanding 6-0 drubbing of Cuba set the stage poignantly for a gallant charge to glory. But then the USA capitulated against Jamaica and bowed out at the semifinals. And then a disheartened display led to a PK loss against Panama in the 3rd place match. It’s all gotten a bit gloomy…
If there’s one case for hope it’s this: due to the USA’s 2013 Gold Cup win, they’ll face off against Mexico (the 2015 Gold Cup winner) on October 9th for the right to play in the 2017 Confederations Cup tournament. What is the Confederations Cup you may ask? Well, it’s a largely meaningless World Cup dress rehearsal played at the site of the impending World Cup one year prior to the event, this time in Russia. Despite its place as a “friendly” tournament, it offers players and teams the chance to visit the site of the next World Cup and play against some top caliber teams, which will this year include Germany, Chile, and Russia, as well as the EURO 2016 winner. It is an invaluable opportunity for teams hoping to succeed at the World Cup and gives them a chance to get a feel for the nation and its stadiums, without all the pressure that comes the following summer. In essence, it’s the chance to take a look at a class final test the day before you actually take it, and it’s what the USA should have qualified for directly with a Gold Cup title. The fact that this experience is now up in the air and dependent upon a playoff result against our most fierce CONCACAF rival is alarming. And the thought of potentially losing it is atrocious! With such pressure starting to mount on manager Jurgen Klinsmann, could this match end up being his last game in charge for America?
While it may seem odd to put the German’s job on the line over the Confederations Cup qualification, I do feel that the United States Soccer Federation must be concerned over how Klinsmann has fared at the helm. Let’s look at the big picture of his results since joining the team in 2011.
He started off terribly, losing 4 of his first 6 games, but the federation practiced patience. They were rewarded with a famous 1-0 friendly victory over Italy in early 2012 (Friendlies seem to be where Klinsmann’s managerial prowess has paid off…). In 2013, the USA won the Gold Cup, putting him back in the good graces. The 2014 World Cup was a modest success as the team progressed beyond a tough group of Portugal, Germany, and Ghana, though a painful loss to Belgium in the first knockout round crashed the team back to reality. There was also the curious error to leave Landon Donovan off the roster, which may never be forgiven... A early summer’s teaser this year unfortunately led to this compounding Gold Cup finale, and now looking at the USA’s progression, it’s not all that stellar. In fact, Klinsmann’s really done little more than some of his predecessors.
In my mind, this upcoming playoff match against Mexico could be it for Jurgen. The USA is by far the most talented team in CONCACAF, yet they’ve lost to Jamaica and Panama to cap off an altogether underwhelming performance at the Gold Cup. Losing to our greatest rivals Mexico would be yet a further regression.
And this is the vital question as we look ahead to October and the pivotal match against Mexico. Has Jurgen Klinsmann actually brought the magic we were promised when he was installed as USA manager? Are we getting any closer to contending for a World Cup? If we stumble and fall to Mexico on home soil, I’d have serious doubts. Make no mistake about it, this match will be hard-fought on both sides. Mexico may have just dismissed their manager Miguel Herrera for an incident involving a reporter, but the players will have their eyes on the 2017 Confederations Cup just as much as our own. Let’s hope that Klinsmann can truly dig deep and grind out a result for America. His job very well may depend on it.