It's official, Bruce Arena is back as the manager of the USA men's National Soccer team. To USA soccer fans, Bruce Arena is a familiar face. The current LA Galaxy manager also led the red white and blue to a World Cup quarterfinal appearance in 2002. However, everyone is still talking about the character that he proceeded. This hiring came days after the firing of Jürgen Klinsmann due to the poor play of the Men's National team for the last couple of performances. These performances were in the World Cup qualifiers and because of this, the USA have a slim chance of a World Cup birth. Make no mistake, this was a long time coming for Klinsmann, and being a Canadian, I can see two things. Klinsmann was not successful as manager at all, and two, the USA program is in shambles right now, but is that Klinsmann's fault?
Sure Klinsmann got in his way, however, there are many reasons that he can blame for the poor performances and there are reasons that cannot possibly make him the one to blame. Here are some reasons
Klinsmann was not a players coach:
Klinsmann upset a lot of American players during his tenure as manager of USA Men's soccer. The event that comes to mind is Klinsmann decision to cut Landon Donovan from the World Cup team. To be fair, Donovan is not a tremendously popular player with other American stars, and that move actually worked for the better for the team during the World Cup. Nevertheless, this move was controversial due to Donovan's experience and pedigree as a player. Also, Klinsmann brought in a lot of German dual-citizen internationals and favoured them over homegrown talent. Whether it was justified or not, this could have created tension between an American-born player and the manager. This point comes with a caveat, as Alejandro Bedoya was quick to come to those players defense when Abby Wambach makes some awkward remarks about the German internationals. However, from an outside perspective nationalism is very important to Americans and if there is not a huge difference in talent between the German international players and the homegrown players then that will create tension. These are just a couple examples of his controversial handling of players. Klinsmann was very unpopular with little margin for error, and unfortunately, there were so many errors.
USA Players are on the decline
If someone were to ask me "Michael, when was American soccer it's most popular?" I would say right now. If someone were to ask "Michael when was American soccer at its best talent wise?" I would say 2002. Funny enough, the 2002 world cup team was a Bruce Arena managed team.
I am not going out on a limb to say 2002 was a good year for American soccer. While there were many good quality American players like Tim Howard and Clint Dempsey who come from that famous '02 team, they are on the decline. Thus, the American team is going through a transition anyway. I think people were expecting too much out of Klinsmann because his team was not that good.
Victim of Early Success
This point is really imperative. At the start of Klinsmann tenure, USA soccer was in bad shape. Losing 4 of their first 6 matches during his tenure, Klinsmann was on the hot-seat early. Here is where it gets interesting. A Klinsmann led team, with no Landon Donovan, goes to the World Cup and get passed the group of death, leaving contenders like Portugal in the Dust.
Everyone was saying that USA soccer is on the rise. What they should have said is "this team is not this good and Klinsmann is pulling rabbits out of his hat". The fact is the team was not good at all, primarily up top as USA struggled to score. This with a poor Gold Cup outing and awful World Cup Qualifying performances, made it seem as if Klinsmann is to blame.
Perhaps Klinsmann was to blame, perhaps Klinsmann wore out his welcome. Still, their 2014 Would Cup performance was a mirage and that led to unattainable expectations due to early success.
Look the Klinsmann era is famous for his bringing in of German-American dual citizenship players, a strategy known to be unpopular with many experts. Although, for those experts, the inconvenient truth is that those players were clearly making the team better from a talent perspective. Which leads to the other question, did experts simply not like the multiculturalism of the squad?
I am not calling any USA officials a racist or suggesting they're against multiculturalism, but it is a point that needs to be addressed. Still, xenophobia is a relatively small point from a performance perspective as Klinsmann make some mistakes along the way.