Despite a lopsided 4-0 loss to Argentina in Houston on Tuesday night, the U.S. men’s soccer team should consider its Copa America performance a success. After dropping its first match against Colombia, the U.S. responded with three straight wins, won its group and eliminated Ecuador in the quarterfinals before taking on perhaps the best team in the world without several regulars.
Head coach Jurgen Klinsmann was considered to be on the hot seat a few short weeks ago. That notion, however, has changed.
“Yes, it has,” CBS Sports soccer analyst Thomas Rongen said on CBS Sports Radio’s After Hours with Amy Lawrence. “I think there was a pretty defining moment for Jurgen Klinsmann, who predicted or said they would get to the semifinals, and a lot of people (doubted that) with Columbia in the group and with Paraguay in the group and a potential encounter with Ecuador. That was going to be tough. But you know what? They grew into this tournament, they got a great result against Paraguay after their first loss against Colombia, who’s a very good team and might end up in the finals against Argentina. (Klinsmann) somehow found the right chemistry and the right staring 11, and he was able to play those through the group phases until (DeAndre) Yedlin got the red card and he had to make one change.
“Consistency is so important,” Rongen continued, “and I think (Klinsmann) can look back at this tournament and say, ‘You know what? I found out more about my players, I found out more about our system and how we need to play, and I know now who my best 11 are. We still have a road to go in qualifying for Russia.’ So I think this will be a nice springboard for him and for the team. (It’s) a little bit of a defining moment from that standpoint, not necessarily from a results standpoint.”
Klinsmann, however, is still searching for his first win against a team ranked in the top 10 in the world.
Can he make that next hurdle in the next big tournament, which is the World Cup in Russia?” Rogen asked. “We always get out of group play now. That’s fine, but can we get into the Round of 8? Can we get to the final four? That’s the next step U.S. soccer needs to make, in my opinion.”
That said, Rongen, a former MLS coach, believes Klinsmann has earned the right to coach the U.S. team in Russia.
“I truly believe now that that’s the right choice,” he said. “If they would have made the change, they should have done it after the Gold Cup, where they were miserable, or after the loss against Guatemala and before this tournament here. Sunil Gulati, the president of U.S. Soccer decided not to. I think it’s too late. The World Cup qualifying matches are coming up right now. It would just create more headaches, I think, than bringing in a new coach. (You could) go (with) a familiar name like a Bruce Arena (or Bob) Bradley that knows this group and U.S. soccer very well. But no, he deserved to stay on and let’s give him a shot through 2018.”