Fool's Gold

I wish I hadn't torched my credibility earlier this week sticking up for the Mexico penalty against Costa Rica, because then I could have torched it today sticking up for the penalty against Panama. 

Okay, no, not really.  Esquivel fouled Torres.  That foul did not occur in isolation; it shaped the whole play.  Penedo should have taken a free kick - one that would undoubtedly have been a performance art piece devoted to time-wasting - and tickets for the final at Lincoln Financial Field would have been available at very, very reasonable prices.

So, it doesn't matter if the video shows Torres flailing with his arms and launching himself towards the ball.  Which it does.  Geiger is still at fault for missing the foul that put Torres in so desperate a position.  He did well to get any kind of foot to the ball to begin with.  And, while I can't read his mind through the monitor, it's easy to see why Torres might have thought Geiger wasn't going to call anything at all so late.  I mean, how do you call a technically correct handball after letting an obvious takedown? 

Technically correct, from Geiger's point of view.  I mean, obviously he thought handball was the right call, but let's assume that part of it was indisputable.  Let's say Torres connects a fraction of a second earlier, when he sticks his arm up and swats the ball - it still shouldn't have been a penalty, because the whistle should have blown long before. 

So Panama was robbed...although the red card was understandable, and the second penalty was so obvious no one is even bringing it up.  They were the better team, even outnumbered.  It was a monstrously frustrating and unjust loss.  So it's unfair to say that um, maybe they should have kept their cool a tiny bit after the game.  They should such disrespect for the referee that it brings into question the legitimacy of the tournament, and no fan should support

....oh, well, that was different, because mumble mumble cough change the subject.

So Mark Geiger won't be vindicated the way Esse Baharmast was back in 1998, but calling him a tool of a criminal conspiracy is unfair.  Panama will be fined into penury for their antics last night - and so should Mexico, unless they suspend Paul Aguilar for a year or so.  The Independent called Aguilar's dive the worst of all time, and I can't think of one more egregious.  Compared to Aguilar, Carlos Ruiz was Nobby Stiles. 

As far as the US men's team is concerned - this isn't the time to accuse people of disloyalty or blindness to facts.  All US fans want what's best for the team.  And if there's one thing, given the chance, that I would tell every single soccer fan in America, it would be "I told you so."

But this isn't about who was right (me, I was right).  It's about what we do next.  And, sadly, the answer is nothing.  There are two kinds of American soccer fan - those who realize that Klinsmann is a fraud, and those who will realize it one day. Sunil Gulati, sadly, is deep in Column B.  Sunil made an extremely expensive mistake with Juergen Klinsmann, and the popular and respected Columbia economics professor is currently taking us on a real-time model of the Sunk Cost Fallacy.   

But who among us has not paid five times as much for something that worked slightly less well than the alternative?  That's practically the iPhone business model, after all. 

In any case, I think Klinsmann should be fired, but I don't think Klinsmann will be fired.  Even if Gulati's infatuation with the man isn't still burning at 2006 temperatures, I don't think he is willing to make the admission that one of the central pillars of his presidency was fatally flawed.  (The other pillar was trying to land a World Cup bid - and we all know how that's been going.  FIFA was literally willing to screw up 90% of the world's leagues and put the World Cup in Bartertown rather than let the US host.  Yeah, those bribes must have been something, but maybe we had the World Cup bid equivalent of spinach in our teeth.)

 I will acknowledge that there are many compelling reasons to keep Klinsmann on.  It's perfectly understandable to project Klinsmann's past performances in the Hexagonal and the World Cup into the future.  Sure, that's something Bob Bradley was doing at 20% of the price, but winning the Hex and getting out the World Cup group are Good Things. 

It's also pretty obvious that firing Klinsmann would be a financial train wreck for the Federation, since he has shown himself in the past perfectly willing to sit at home in Southern California and do nothing indefinitely.  If we're going to keep paying him, we might as well get some work out of him. 

But what kind of work can we expect out of him at this point?  Klinsmann's roster additions of note have largely been dual nationals.  Which would be fine, if those dual nationals were performing well.  I think it's time to face the fact that, for the time being, we have squeezed the German-American turnip for all the juice we're likely to get.  Klinsmann also has a fondness for playing his new players out of position - which is cute if you're trying to expand their skillset for the future, but not so cute when you lose to Jamaica and put the Confederations Cup slot at risk.

There's a moderate point of view that suggests we should wait until we have actually, officially blown the Confederations Cup before calling for Klinsmann's ouster.  I suppose that depends on how important you think the Confederations Cup is.  Yes, Bob Bradley was tossed for failing to qualify for it - but no one in the federation seems to have any intention of treating Klinsmann as badly as they treated Bradley.

And there's no guarantee at all that, if and when the US loses the Confederations Cup playoff, Gulati will finally reverse course.  But most observers seem to think Klinsmann is safe until our interest in World Cup 2018 is settled.  I'm just worried that will be a year or two earlier than 2018.

Who would I replace Klinsmann with? Ideally someone who wants the job, and doesn't seem to have a scar that glows in pain every time someone from MLS starts for the national team.  I think the stated goals of engaging Latino Americans made a lot of sense, even though those goals that have been scrupulously ignored since they were announced.  There don't seem to be any good Mexican coaches, sadly - although Piojo Herrera might be available soon, and cheaply. 

And Sunil's generosity and patience - if not outright gullibility  - can be turned into selling points.  We're paying more than ten times the going rate for a CONCACAF national team coach, so why not hire Mourinho or Guardiola?  If we're going to spend like drunken sailors, let's get the good rum.

(EDITED to fix a too/two typo. Can YOU spot the others?)