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Jurgen Klinsmann fired by U.S. Soccer

The U.S. Soccer Federation announced Monday afternoon that it has fired head coach and technical director Jurgen Klinsmann.

The U.S. Soccer Federation announced Monday that it has fired head coach and technical director Jurgen Klinsmann.

U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati gave this statement on the decision:

Today we made the difficult decision of parting ways with Jurgen Klinsmann, our head coach of the U.S. Men's National Team and Technical Director.

We want to thank Jurgen for his hard work and commitment during these last five years. He took pride in having the responsibility of steering the program, and there were considerable achievements along the way.

Many are aware of the historic victories, including leading us out of the Group of Death to the Round of 16 in the 2014 FIFA World Cup, but there were also lesser publicized efforts behind the scenes. He challenged everyone in the U.S. Soccer community to think about things in new ways, and thanks to his efforts we have grown as an organization and expect there will be benefits from his work for years to come.

While we remain confident that we have quality players to help us advance to Russia 2018, the form and growth of the team up to this point left us convinced that we need to go in a different direction. With the next qualifying match in late March, we have several months to refocus the group and determine the best way forward to ensure a successful journey to qualify for our eighth consecutive World Cup.

There has never been a greater time for soccer in this country, and with the support and efforts of the millions of fans, sponsors, media and friends, we look forward to continued progress in the game we all love.

Klinsmann was hired in late July of 2011, debuting at Lincoln Financial Field with a 1-1 tie against regional arch-rival Mexico. In five years at the helm, the German compiled a 55-27-16 record. Among the victories were 12 straight in 2013, a program record streak.

He oversaw a ride to the Round of 16 at the World Cup that included a win over Ghana and a draw against Cristiano Ronaldo's Portugal, but finished with a flameout against Belgium. This year brought another high with a run to the semifinals of the Copa América Centenario.

Elsewhere on the international stage, Klinsmann oversaw historic wins at Mexico, Italy, Germany and the Netherlands in international friendlies.

There were also considerable, and at times unprecedented, lows. Among them were a loss to Jamaica in the semifinals of last summer's CONCACAF Gold Cup and a loss at Guatemala in a World Cup qualifier later in the year.

Gulati himself turned the heat up on Klinsmann with some sharp rhetoric after the tournament-opening loss to Colombia. The U.S. responded with three straight wins - over Costa Rica, Paraguay and Ecuador - before losing to Argentina in the semifinals and Colombia in the third-place game.

Though the tournament ended badly, the overall success seemed enough to keep Klinsmann in the job through the 2018 World Cup. But an 0-2 start to the final round of 2018 qualifying, with losses at home to Mexico and at Costa Rica, turned the heat up again.

It did not help that rumors flew after the second game that players were increasingly fed up with their boss. The loss at Costa Rica came by the same 4-0 margin by which the U.S. beat the Ticos at the Copa América. While the circumstances were different in many ways, a great number of the players were the same.

The player-coach dynamic was a regular theme of Klinsmann's tenure - in particular, which players the coach picked for his rosters. Among the signature moments of Klinsmann's time with U.S. Soccer were two decisions he made: not taking all-time team scoring leader Landon Donovan to the World Cup, and choosing veteran Chris Wondolowski over youngster Jordan Morris for the Copa América Centenario.

The former move bit Klinsmann when Wondolowski - a good striker by Major League Soccer's standards, but not the World Cup's - missed an easy chance to tie the World Cup game against Belgium. The latter didn't cause as much harm, but still raised questions at a time when Klinsmann insisted he wanted to bring a new generation of talent into the national team.

Was dropping Donovan revenge for the player's role in Klinsmann's dismissal as from German superclub Bayern Munich coach in 2009, when Donovan spent a brief spell there? Was demoting Morris revenge for the Seattle native's decision to begin his pro career with his hometown Sounders in MLS, instead of testing harder European waters with Germany's Werder Bremen?

Soccer does conspiracy theories as well as any other sport, andd sometimes better. We may never know the truth, but at times Klinsmann did more to fuel those fires than extinguish them.

Klinsmann's tenure did have positives, though, especially his efforts to dramatically overhauling the American soccer player development system.

His lofty goals were well-known in American soccer circles well before he got the job. Given a bullhorn as part of ESPN's studio crew at the 2010 World Cup, Klinsmann sharply criticized American soccer's often-byzantine ways. Those remarks still resnoated when U.S. Soccer hired him a year later.

There was plenty of good in what Klinsmann did off the field. His genuine hard work at raising standards for players and coaches was widely supported even by those who criticized his stumbles as head coach.

He was ultimately judged, though, in a most American way: by his results on the field. And a case could be made that Klinsmann wanted exactly that.

Multiple times during his tenure, he spoke publicly about how there needed to be more pressure on his team, like there is on the grand stages of European soccer. Yet when the pressure came down on Klinsmann himself, he tried at times to run from it.

One instance came in at Talen Energy Stadium after the U.S. lost to Panama in the third-place game of the 2015 Gold Cup. When asked whether that moment was the most pressure he had faced in his tenure to date, he responded, "You be the judge of that."

His request was obliged by a nationwide chorus.

Klinsmann also had a penchant for being condescending toward the rapidly-growing American soccer fan base, with its mix of hardcore devotees and casuals new to the sport.

The latest example of that came Sunday night, when he told the New York Times' Sam Borden that "there is a lot of talk from people who don't understand soccer or the team."

Earlier Sunday, Klinsmann told a Reuters reporter who helped him write a manifesto-esque book: "When things go slightly wrong, there are some people who come out and are ready to chop your head off... In the long run, that's going to make the development of the team difficult."

Bruce Arena, who coached the national team at the 2002 and 2006 World Cups, is expected to be Klinsmann's replacement. Sports Illustrated's Grant Wahl reported that Arena's return to the program could be announced as soon as Tuesday.

Gulati will speak further on Tuesday. He hired Klinsmann after spending years pursuing the former German national team and Tottenham Hotspur star striker. Gulati also gave Klinsmann a contract extension after the 2014 World Cup, and the added title of technical director - global soccer's equivalent of general manager.

U.S. Soccer had not changed head coaches in the middle of a qualifying cycle since Bob Gansler replaced Lothar Osiander in 1989 and steered the Americans to the 1990 World Cup - the nation's first in 40 years.

(Gansler by the way, was the first full-time head coach in program history.)

Expect Gulati to get a grilling about what factors went into the decision to dismiss Klinsmann now, and whether Gulati's own reputation is at stake because of it.

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