The pressure on United States manager Jurgen Klinsmann was already becoming slightly uneasy heading into Friday’s World Cup qualifier at home to Costa Rica, but events in recent days have ratcheted up the heat on the German.
First long-time captain Carlos Bocanegra was excluded from the squad having been controversially left out of the starting lineup that lost the side’s opening qualifier in Honduras last month. But murmurings over that decision have been completely overshadowed by a story from Sporting News which carries heavily critical quotes from a host of anonymous U.S. internationals.
One of those individuals criticized Klinsmann’s decision to drop Bocanegra for the 2-1 defeat in Honduras and the coach’s preparations for the match.
“[Klinsmann] didn’t really say how we were going to play. It was a quick turnaround,” said the source, while another player added that “Several things about the lineup didn’t work.”
It certainly not uncommon for certain players in any squad to hold doubts about the manager, it is normal in any working environment, but what makes this situation noteworthy is that so many players decided to go public. What also stands out is the intensity of some of the criticisms.
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“He’s just scatterbrained,” one player is reported to have told Sporting News. “He coaches based on feeling,” added another.
There was huge hope and expectation surrounding the high-profile appointment of Klinsmann with optimism that he would be the man to make the U.S. a truly elite soccer nation.
But despite high-profile backs-against-the-wall friendly victories away to Italy and Mexico, it would be a struggle to make an argument that Klinsmann has improved either the Yanks' results or their manner of performances.
This is hardly the first time doubts have been expressed about Klinsmann in his short coaching career. The former striker’s reputation on the bench is based almost solely on getting a Germany side that failed to get out of their group at Euro 2004 to the semifinals of the World Cup on home soil two years later.
But much of the credit has subsequently gone to Klinsmann’s then-assistant and now Germany’s coach, Joachim Low. In his next, and only other job, Klinsmann was fired before even completing a season in charge of Bayern Munich, with the German giants in third place in the Bundesliga. Bayern and Germany defender Philipp Lahm subsequently heavily criticized Klinsmann’s handling of the team with comments very similar to those of several of the current U.S. players—that the tactical side of preparation was neglected.
While Klinsmann played down the words from his current players, experienced midfielder Michael Bradley said that it was “shameful” of some of his teammates to have taken their grievances outside of “the inner circle.”
However you see it, it is certainly not an ideal situation days before a crunch qualifier with Costa Rica. The format of the Hexagonal, where three teams qualify automatically and another goes into a playoff provides room for error but anything less than a win in Denver would leave the U.S. in a hole with a daunting trip to the Azteca on the horizon in four days’ time.
The fact that Klinsmann will be without Tim Howard, Landon Donovan, Steve Cherundolo, Jonathan Spector, Timmy Chandler, Fabian Johnson, Edgar Castillo, Danny Williams and Jose Torres certainly does not aid his cause.
Despite being on home soil, a victory is anything but a formality against a country that the U.S. has not beaten since 2005—drawing two and losing three of the matches since. Costa Rica should also be eager for revenge after an injury-time equalizer by the U.S. when the sides last met in the final World Cup qualifier back in 2009 pushed them into a playoff with Uruguay, which they went onto lose.
The Ticos come into the match on the back of a potentially crucial draw in Panama in which they came back from 2-0 down. And with a front line featuring the gifted Bryan Ruiz, along with Real Betis, via Arsenal, forward Joel Campbell and the in-form Real Salt Lake striker Alvaro Saborio, Costa Rica could cause plenty of problems for what is likely to be a makeshift U.S. backline.
At home, the U.S. will be forced to come out of their counterpunching shell, with which they often look more comfortable. They could have success going forward with Clint Dempsey having returned to fitness just in time, but Klinsmann may well be forced to accept just a solitary point from his side’s first two matches and find himself under even greater pressure.
Prediction: USA 2-2 Costa Rica
When and where to watch: The CONCACAF World Cup qualifier will kick-off from Dick’s Sporting Goods Park at 10 p.m. ET. Coverage will be provided by ESPN.