The United States’ 2-1 loss to Jamaica in the semifinals of the Gold Cup was, in short, a shock. It’s the first time the U.S. has failed to reach the Gold Cup final since 2003; it’s the first time the Americans have lost at home to a Caribbean nation since 1969. Understandably, many people are treating this particular shock as a strike against coach Jurgen Klinsmann. After all, his predecessor as coach, Bob Bradley, was fired after a disappointing Gold Cup loss — and that was in the final, not the semifinal.
Klinsmann’s detractors point to the lack of progress that the national team has shown during his four-year tenure. His teams have achieved a few historic results in friendlies, including away wins against Italy, Mexico and Germany. But those steps forward have been matched with steps that were at least sideways — and the Gold Cup loss to a weaker Jamaica side is a step backward.
This wheel-spinning was the theoretical trade-off that came with hiring Klinsmann, who is ostensibly out to change the culture of soccer in the U.S. No longer is the USA supposed to depend on fitness, toughness and sheer stubbornness for wins. The future is set to be attractive, attacking soccer and an ascension to world-powerhouse status. We’ve been assured that any setbacks were merely growing pains — that everything we saw on the field was part of a larger plan that continued to move forward, despite the losses. When wins are proof of success and losses merely part of his process, it becomes impossible to judge Klinsmann on results alone.
As for the transformation, there’s no doubt that he has been successful at recruiting dual-nationality players, especially Mexican-American and German-American players, and he has looked for talent in nontraditional places. The wide net, though, has produced uneven results. Fullback Fabian Johnson, who played for Germany’s youth teams, might fit Klinsmann’s vision better than any other player, and he has been consistently excellent. On the flip side, though, Klinsmann chose to play a pair of 22-year-old dual-nationality center backs in the Gold Cup — John Brooks and Ventura Alvarado — and the two combined for mistakes and gaffes throughout the tournament.
Ultimately, it seems certain that U.S. Soccer will stay the course with Klinsmann. It has invested far too much in him as a transformative figure to give up after one loss to Jamaica. The loss does mean, though, that the U.S. will have an October playoff against Mexico or Jamaica to decide which team will qualify for the Confederations Cup in 2017. It also means that any forward progress, which we’ve had trouble identifying already, is on hold for at least three more months.