The United States do not have the best players in the world. There is no Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo. There isn’t even a Harry Kane or Javier "Chicharito" Hernandez. Nobody would argue that they have world class talent and they do sometimes have to turn to players like Kyle Beckerman and Gyasi Zardes, who are adequate on their best days.
Despite that, Jurgen Klinsmann did not fail as U.S. manager because of his players. They are not the reason he was fired.
The U.S. player pool is no worse than it has ever been. In fact, it could be argued that this is the best player pool the team has ever had. And despite that, Klinsmann turned in historically bad results against teams that he had vastly superior talent to. That is why Klinsmann lost his job.
The Americans don’t look short on talent when they play for their clubs. There, the U.S. players look just fine. But when they played for Klinsmann, they looked like a shell of their club selves.
John Brooks can be a legitimately dominant centerback and a reliable Bundesliga starter for Hertha Berlin. Geoff Cameron is proven in the Premier League too, giving the team a pair of dependable defenders. Fabian Johnson is a starter on a Champions League team, Jozy Altidore and Bobby Wood are in the form of their lives and Christian Pulisic, while only 18, is playing at a higher level for his club than arguably any American in the last decade.
That doesn’t touch upon Michael Bradley, Clint Dempsey and Jermaine Jones who, while aging, are still perfectly good players and in line with players the U.S. depended upon previously. Or that Omar Gonzalez is a proven solid Liga MX defender, Sacha Kljestan is an MLS caliber player, Alejandro Bedoya is proven home and abroad and DeAndre Yedlin spent last season as a capable Premier League fullback. That’s without getting into players like Benny Feilhaber and Jorge Villafana, who continue to shine for their clubs without getting a look under Klinsmann.
All the way up and down, that’s a perfectly fine group of players. At least at the club level. The United States does not have a player pool out of line from those they’ve had for the last 20 years. It’s at least as good. It may be better.
Despite that, the U.S. spent the last two years playing worse than ever. Their Gold Cup showing last year was their worst since 2000. After that came a loss to Guatemala, their first to Los Chapines since 1988. Then their first home World Cup qualifying loss to Mexico since 1972 and their worst shutout loss in World Cup qualifying s in over 30 years, falling 4-0 to Costa Rica.
Their actual performances in those matches made the results look downright peachy, too. They failed to keep possession, create chances or defend competently exposed by lesser CONCACAF teams the Americans previously beat with ease at the Gold Cup. They were exposed by Mexico, in qualifying and at last year’s CONCACAF Cup, where they forced extra time, but lost 3-2 after 120 minutes of ineffective play that saw them hanging on in desperation for much of the contest. Against Costa Rica, they were run around time and time again.
These were historically bad losses and even worse performances. That’s not by a world class standard. That’s by the Americans’ standard.
With players as good as American teams of the past, they can’t take the blame for the sudden drop in form. For those losses. For those embarrassments. At least their talent level can’t be blamed.
Michael Bradley and Jermaine Jones expressed that they didn’t think the team was prepared to play with three at the back against Mexico. They didn’t know their roles. Other players also hinted at communication issues with Klinsmann over the years. They were the symptoms of a team that didn’t believe in its coach’s tactics.
At least those players got called up. That can’t be said for several others, like Feilhaber and Villafana. Even Eric Lichaj and Bill Hamid. Klinsmann grew the player pool, but still had scores of bizarre omissions. And when he did call players in, they were often asked to play out of position. Whether it was Alejandro Bedoya as a defensive midfielder, Matt Besler at left back, Bradley as an attacking midfielder, Jones as a defender, or any one of the dozen other times Klinsmann opted to play a player out of position, it hurt the team.
Simply put, the U.S. failed to play to their talent level. That isn’t on the players. Not when they don’t believe in the tactics, struggle to communicate with the manager and are often played out of position.
So yes, you can say that Klinsmann didn’t have a great player pool. He didn’t. The Americans don’t have the talent to compete with the very best teams in the world. But Klinsmann didn’t get fired because the U.S. never turned into a team as good as Argentina or Germany. He got fired because they lost to teams like Jamaica, Guatemala, Mexico and Costa Rica — all teams that the U.S. routinely beat before, or at least were competitive against, with equal or lesser talent.
Blame the talent for the U.S. not being one of the best teams in the world, but don’t blame the players for Klinsmann losing his job. He had more than enough talent to keep it.