An uninspiring performance in an expected loss to Colombia to begin Copa America Centenario fueled a familiar rise in angst over the state of the U.S. team and calls for Jurgen Klinsmann to be sacked. Hours before the U.S.’s second group-stage match against Costa Rica, federation president Sunil Gulati legitimized these calls by telling reporters, “We have to win games … no one has ironclad job security. Jurgen’s already said, for coaches and players, it’s about results.”
So with a “Fire Klinsmann” banner hanging from the stands at Soldier Field in Chicago, the U.S. went out and scored three goals in the first half and added one more in the second to beat a fellow CONCACAF side (albeit one with a better world ranking) 4–0 and momentarily top their group.
Regardless of the manager, this is what the U.S. team has been doing for years — just when everyone thinks they’re going backwards, they make observable progress and just when everyone thinks they’re making progress, they throw it back into reverse.
This, of course, is how international football tends to go, even for the very best in the world (Spain went from winning three major tournaments in a row to getting eliminated in the group stage of the 2014 World Cup!). But for the U.S. — a nation desperately trying to will its team to unrealistically rapid development — this seems to be a difficult concept to grasp.
Instead, this decisive win is regarded as evidence of the team’s untapped quality, whereas the performance against Colombia is written off as all Klinsmann’s fault.
When Klinsmann said there was little between the U.S. and Colombia, who themselves were having an off night, other than the 2–0 scoreline, he was essentially called delusional. When he named the same starting XI for the second match as he did the first — a rarity for him — he was roundly criticized for not making the changes his critics spent days claiming were imperative. Then they go out and win 4–0.
In reality, Klinsmann isn’t that bad and the team just isn’t that good. This leads to a mixed bag of results that make sense for a team of the U.S.’s level, but simply don’t lend themselves to the match by match growth the nation craves. So in the absence of anything in between, things are either great or terrible and this win means they’re great and a deep run in the tournament is inevitable. Unless Klinsmann ruins everything and makes his unreliable players lose a match they should win, then he must be fired so the absurd hope for sudden, unrelenting greatness can live on.
Anyway, next up is Paraguay and another spin of the barrel.