October 11, 2015
By Michael Lewis
Saturday, bloody, Saturday: one of the darkest days in USMNT history
Jurgen Klinsmann's men are in the midst of a four-game winless streak to CONCACAF teams at home, which has been accomplished only one time prior in U.S. Soccer history.
Linda Cuttone/Sports Vue Images
Oct. 10, 2015. Mark my words. It will go down as one of the darkest days in U.S. men's national team history.
In just a matter of hours, two U.S. men's teams went down to defeat in major competitions with much on the line, a rare event in the U.S. Soccer universe.
First, the U.S. Under-23 team woefully underachieved in a 2-0 semifinal defeat to Honduras in the CONCACAF Olympic qualifying tournament in Sandy, Utah, missing out on an automatic berth to the Rio Olympics next year.
Several hours later, the national side dropped an excruciating 3-2 extratime decision to Mexico in the CONCACAF Cup in Pasadena, Calif., missing out on the 2017 FIFA Confederations Cup in Russia.
It's certainly not the end of the world, or the World Cup for that matter.
The Americans still can book a spot in Rio by winning twice. They must defeat Canada, semifinal losers to Mexico, in Tuesday's third-place match, and then beat Colombia, the South American runner-up, in a special one-shot playoff in a game that will be schedule between March 21-29, 2016.
It's certainly not a tall order, but difficult enough as the USMNT will try to secure its first Olympic berth since 2008. Most countries would be satisfied with that, but the USA is not most countries. It has participated in more men's Olympic soccer tournament (14) than any other CONCACAF foe, and that includes Mexico (11).
The U.S., incidentally, has not missed qualifying for consecutive Olympics since failing to reach Rome 1960, Tokyo 1964 and Mexico 1968. In soccer years, that's eons ago.
While one of almost three dozen sports in the competition, the Olympic soccer tournament does have its value. It gives the younger generation (and up to three Over-23 players) a chance to play in a highly competitive international environment and experience. While some officials and coaches have pooh-poohed the benefits of the Summer Games, I just don't think the four-time champion U.S. women, Argentina's Lionel Messi and Mexico's Oribe Peralta will give back their gold medals any time soon.
Peralta, incidentally, scored against the USA in the CONCACAF Cup Saturday night.
Speaking of which, while the ConFed Cup door has been closed shut, life will go on for the U.S. national team, especially with its World Cup qualifying run beginning next month.
Like it or not, folks, Jurgen Klinsmann will be at the helm of the U.S. At this juncture, U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati isn't about to fire Klinsi, at least not right now (that's me saying it, not Gulati; but, circumstances can change).
And like it or not folks, the success of national team coaches are measured on how teams fare in getting to the World Cup and in the actual tournament, not necessarily what transpires in the first year after a World Cup.
Saying that, the USA hasn't exactly enjoyed a banner year, at least over the past 3 1/2 months.
The Americans are an astonishing 0-2-2 in its last four matches against CONCACAF foes on home soil.
That four-game winless streak began on July 22 during the 2015 CONCACAF Gold Cup. When the USA was surprised by Jamaica in semifinals in Atlanta, 2-1, Klinsmann complained about an unusual officiating call that gave the Reggae Boyz a free kick, which led to a goal.
In the third-place match in Chester, Pa. three days later, a rather lackluster USA side was outplayed by Panama, stumbling to a 3-2 shootout loss after a rather dreary 1-1 tie in regulation and extratime in Chester, Pa. A performance like that should never, ever happen on home soil.
Since then, the USA hardly has looked like world beaters, getting past Peru, 2-1, on Sept. 4 and looking lost in a forgettable 4-1 rout by Brazil four days later.
And then came Saturday night's disappointing result.
(As it turns out, the last time the USA endured a three-game winless streak at home to CONCACAF sides just after Klinsmann took over during the summer of 2011. The USA lost to Mexico in the Gold Cup, 4-2, at the Rose Bowl, which turned out to be then coach Bob Bradley's swan song. The Americans played the Mexicans to a 1-1 draw in Klinsmann's debut on Aug. 10 in Philadelphia and suffered a 1-0 defeat to Costa Rica in Carson, Calif. on Sept. 2).
The only other time a four-game winless streak occurred in U.S. soccer history was over an eight-year period well before probably most of my readers were born. Why seven years, well, back in those days, the U.S. national team got together for qualifiers and a handful of friendlies a year, if lucky. And there weren't as many competitions as there are today.
You can look it up:
* A 7-2 drubbing by Mexico in Long Beach, Calif. on April 28, 1957
* A 3-2 loss to Canada in St. Louis on July 6, 1957
* A 3-3 draw with Mexico in Los Angeles on Nov. 13, 1960
* And a 2-2 tie with Mexico in Los Angeles on March 7, 1965
In many countries, such as Mexico (which has employed 17 national coaches since 2000) a four-game home winless streak by a supposedly superior side would be considered a mortal sin when it comes to football.
But the USA isn't like many countries in that sport.
Its leaders have been patient, although once in a blue moon a coach will get the axe (women's national coach Tom Sermanni) when things aren't going right or from player pressure.
Other factors come into being as well, including the financial end.
If Klinsmann gets the ax, he would be in line for a very, very big pay day from U.S. Soccer. According to the last time U.S. Soccer financial records were available, Klinsmann earned $2,498,815 from the federation.
Klinsmann since signed a new contract that runs through July 31, 2018, a deal that also made him technical director. We can only assume an increase in pay and incentives were involved.
Besides, replacing a U.S. national coach so close to an important competition is a longshot, outside of death or an illness.
Then there's the next competition.
World Cup qualifying is right around the corner as the USA kicks off the CONCACAF semifinal round next month (St. Vincent and the Grenadines in St. Louis Nov. 13 and at Trinidad & Tobago four days later).
Now, it should be noted that the Americans are virtually invincible at home against Caribbean teams in qualifying, having lost but once, to Haiti in San Diego on May 11, 1969 (the second time in all competition came in the Gold Cup to Jamaica in July).
If, for some reason the USA managed to lose to St. Vincent, which has never reached the CONCACAF hexagonal, let along the World Cup, there would be more calls for Klinsmann's head and they would be justified.
Gulati might not have much choice then.
In theory, Klinsmann could be removed as coach and kept on as technical director. If that transpired, he probably would have a lot of say on who his successor would be.
As I pointed out in my Fox News Latino piece on Friday, one potential scenario would be replacing Klinsmann over the winter with him remaining as technical director.
If that occurred Klinsmann obviously would have a say on who his successor will be and I don't think he would necessarily want to bring in someone from outside his inner circle. It would not be surprising if the likes of Andi Herzog, the Under-23 national coach, or former MetroStars and U.S. international legend Tab Ramos, a national team assistant and coach of the U.S. U-20 side, would be likely candidates. I always felt that Ramos has been groomed for the top job, sooner or later.
With the crushing defeat to Mexico Klinsmann and his team will be under a microscope more than ever through the rest of qualifying.
If the USA can't book 23 seats on a flight to Moscow or St. Petersburg for June 2018, Klinsmann will be out the door much sooner than later.
Of course, for many U.S. soccer supporters, that would not be soon enough.