The US men's national team ended a banner year with a whimper this week, as Ireland decided they would only win 4-1 against a team we thought had been crafted into a respectable competitor.
Left unasked, or at least unheard by me, is why we felt the need to round out this banner year with any games at all. Playing friendlies at the end of a World Cup year is, in the words of the late, great Mr. Mike, like looking at nude pictures after having an orgasm.
Ah, but international soccer never sleeps - although it should - what with the Gold Cup next year. And it's entirely appropriate for Klinsmann to call up an experimental roster, especially one that avoids teams still active in the MLS playoffs.
It's even fine to get your floor waxed in said friendlies, provided the correct lessons are learned. I doubt, however, that these were the correct lessons:
''They have to learn emotionally how to digest a World Cup, and a lot of our players really had big problems digesting those extreme emotions,'' the U.S. coach said after Tuesday night's 4-1 exhibition loss to Ireland. ''They dropped 20, 30 even 40 percent in performances in their club environment. Many of the Europeans lost their starting spot. Many other players in MLS or wherever went down 30, 40 percent in their performances and this is because they didn't know how to deal with all these emotions and all that recognition and all the compliments in the world that came after the World Cup.''
''In a certain way it's human,'' Klinsmann acknowledged. ''I mean, it's understandable.''
But the former World Cup champion player made clear this shows ''we are not there yet. We have quite a way to go.''
Since advancing to the round of 16 at the World Cup and losing 2-1 to Belgium in extra time, the Americans won 1-0 at the Czech Republic, allowed late goals in draws against Honduras and Ecuador, and lost to Colombia and the Irish. Klinsmann used most of his World Cup veterans while also giving six players debuts. He wasn't pleased with the old guard.
''You see a Cristiano Ronaldo, a (Lionel) Messi, they make three weeks' vacation, they go back in their club teams and they rock the boat. They play like they didn't go on vacation,'' he said. ''Our players, they went on vacation, they had a good time, they come back and they lost their spots in their clubs.''
''I'm telling you that again. We've got to get nastier,'' he said. ''It's not a negative word. We have to become more physical. We have to hold our ground more, dominant, and send signals out all over the field.''
Yes, I know, he's talking about Fabian Johnson and Matt Besler. Maybe when the players read snippets like this from the coach, they understand what's REALLY being said.
I find coaching through the media to be pretty repellent, as well as pointless. The coach has all the power anyway - Klinsmann proved that with Landon Donovan. Piling on through the media, especially in the absence of the kind of media scrutiny Klinsmann and the players would get in other countries, strikes me as a very quick way to turn a happy crew into mutinous dogs.
But Klinsmann is the motivator, not me. I couldn't have inspired the USMNT to beat Ghana.
....if, that is, Klinsmann's psychological tactics are what put the United States through to the second round. It certainly wasn't his soccer tactics - Klinsmann proved that with Landon Donovan. Maybe Klinsmann didn't inspire the USMNT to beat Ghana, either. Maybe Klinsmann actually held the team back.
Or maybe Klinsmann kept the US from looking as poor against the eventual world champs as Brazil did.
Fortunately, I'm a USMNT fan, not a player (or an MLS general manager), so Klinsmann's words and actions affect me lightly. If the US wins, then Klinsmann's antics are tolerable. If not, not.
And, as has been pointed out, we will have a very good measuring stick next year to judge how much, or little, we have improved. The Gold Cup will mark four years of Klinsmann's reign - more than enough time to evaluate progress. Mexico will have gone through something like fifty coaches in the same span. And while we may debate relative strengths and weaknesses of World Cup groups through the ages, the Gold Cup usually features the same cast of idiots.
Bob Bradley lost the final in 2011, and was fired. There's your benchmark. If Klinsmann can't even motivate his players to win the Gold Cup, then what is Sunil paying for?
I realize that financial considerations might force us to keep Juergen Klinsmann, even if we crash out as badly next year as the US will in the Women's World Cup (remind me to formally make that prediction). For a non-profit, the USSF makes a pretty penny, and some downright beautiful nickels and dimes. But as Senator Dirksen famously said, a million here and a million there and suddenly you're talking about real money. Buying out Klinsmann might be problematic. Maybe Tottenham would consider a former FIFA Coach of the Year nominee?
Or he and Arena can switch jobs. Donovan won't be an issue next year, after all.
Actually, Chivas USA did have one far-reaching effect - the relaxation of very stringent rules regarding international players. I remember this because it was one of the very very VERY few bits of analysis I ever got correct.
See, Jorge Vergara and Antonio Cue, for, like, some reason, weren't in love with fielding a team made up of seventeen Americans and three internationals. The league responded by increasing the number of international slots to four, and instituting the "youth international" designation.
Does MLS love classifying players, or what? Anyway, it was widely assumed that this was going to benefit Chivas USA, who, after all, had quite a line on a pool of international players. What wasn't generally realized at the time, however, was that this deepened the talent pool for every team, not simply Chivas USA. And Chivas, for what I assume are obvious reasons, did not have much of a scouting network in places like Central and South America.
The league probably would have expanded the international pool by this point in any case, what with an expansion rate that the league would prefer not to be described as "NASL-esque," and what with MLS expanding into Canada. I mean, is there anything more ridiculous than Canada's continued insistence that they are in some way a sovereign country?
But MLS got more international a lot more quickly thanks to Chivas USA, and it was in ways much more far-reaching than simply adding a bunch of minor leaguers in the Liga MX system.
Of course, barring a surprisingly permanent failure on Portland's part, Chivas USA is and will stay the only MLS team to neither win a national trophy or compete in a final, so it's not as if this was a team that shouldn't be slinking quietly into obscurity. (I'm counting the jokey little Amway Cup they have in Canada, until such time as we stop being racist and let foreign teams compete in the Open Cup.)
I think New England and Los Angeles are going to make these playoff series kinda dull. Hope you enjoyed this Hot Take!
I'm still mad Bill didn't take my "Catch-2022" headline suggestion.