There's a crisis of confidence in U.S. national team head coach Jurgen Klinsmann, as revealed this week in a thorough and timely report by Sporting News' Brian Straus.
But while the message from his interviews with members of the U.S. Soccer community is alarming, especially ahead of crucial World Cup qualifiers against Costa Rica in Denver on Friday and at Mexico on Tuesday, the path that brought the team to this point was predictable.
The troubling aspects of Klinsmann's tenure cited by Sporting News -- tactics, non-traditional initiatives and chemistry -- haven't just revealed themselves overnight. Instead, they lead back to a flawed hiring process that set the wheels in motion for what threatens to result in the U.S. team's first missed World Cup in more than two decades.
Well before Klinsmann was unveiled by the U.S. in August 2011, there were questions about his tactical expertise. His success with Germany in 2006 was credited to former assistant coach Joachim L?w. Without L?w, Klinsmann was fired after less than a year at Bayern Munich in 2008-09, where his second-in-command was Martin Vasquez.
Vasquez, later fired himself after one year in charge of Chivas USA, is again Klinsmann's assistant with the U.S.
The failure at Munich was due in part to Klinsmann's insistence on holistic methods that came at the expense of traditional training. Last year he brought in a motivational speaker for the U.S. team. The U.S. then lost for the first time ever in Jamaica.
Klinsmann's 24th different lineup in 24 matches in charge is also likely against Costa Rica. Necessary or not, serial tinkering is a byproduct of unrestrained power, the kind that comes from being hailed as a savior.
It was U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati who pursued Klinsmann off and on for the better part of five years and agreed to pay him a $2.5 million salary. Gulati's chase cast a shadow over former coach Bob Bradley and eventually undercut him altogether, as Bradley was fired 11 months after signing a contract extension.
The next two games are as much about Klinsmann as they are Gulati, who might as well be on the sideline next to his hand-picked coach and should be ready to follow him out the door if the U.S. stumbles further in its bid to reach Brazil next summer.
- Craig Stouffer