If Jurgen Klinsmann goes down, he’ll do so swinging.
The U.S. men’s soccer head coach staunchly defended his tenure and his players Sunday in an interview with the New York Times’ Sam Borden. Klinsmann repsonded to the mounting criticism he faces in the aftermath of Team USA’s disastrous start to the final round of qualifying for the 2018 FIFA World Cup, saying his detractors don’t know what they’re talking about.
“I’m not afraid (of losing the USA job),” Klinsmann said. “What you need to do is stick to the facts. Soccer is emotional, and a lot of people make conclusions without knowing anything about the inside of the team or the sport. I still believe we will get the points we need to qualify, and I am even confident we could win the group.
“The fact is, we lost two games … .”
Klinsmann doesn’t agree with critics, who accuse USA players of quitting last week in the second half of the 4-0 loss to Costa Rica.
“There was nobody giving up at that time,” Klinsmann said. “That was a normal emotional situation when things go wrong. When they get the second goal there, it was like a knock in your neck. I played those games many, many times. The whole stadium goes bananas. It’s totally human to put your head down for a second. And then they counter us for two more. Those games will always happen. We just couldn’t stop it, but the players did not stop trying.”
While Klinsmann acknowledges he shares blame for Team USA’s recent struggles, he says moving from one generation of players to the next is a difficult task.
“We are coaching a team through a transitional phase,” he said. “We still have to break in younger players. We still have to look for leadership for the team. There are still a lot of technical and chemistry challenges ahead that are normal in this time period. And you put the final pieces together as you go towards Russia, which I am absolutely sure we will do.”
Citing soccer executives familiar with the situation, Borden reported that U.S. Soccer Federation president Sunil Gulati could decide to replace Klinsmann as early as this week. Borden also adds that Klinsmann and Gulati communicated last week via text message and they’ll talk “in the coming days.”
Klinsmann said he has previously advised Gulati that knee-jerk decisions could stall Team USA’s forward progress.
“I always made it clear to Sunil, if you really want to move up to the top 15 in the world, you need to have consistency in what you’re doing,” Klinsmann said. “If you react emotionally, you will become a roller coaster.”
We should learn this week how secure Klinsmann’s seat-belt on that ride truly is.
Thumbnail photo via Winslow Townson/USA TODAY Sports Images