Accountability. That's the word being murmured resentfully in U.S. Soccer circles as it becomes increasingly clear that Jurgen Klinsmann is not only the wrong man for the USMNT coaching job, but has little chance of being fired.
As the 2015 Gold Cup unfolded, Klinsmann apologists were few and far between. The team lacked creativity in the midfield, proved incapable of creating chances with any regularity and sported a curious and mistake-prone center back pairing of Ventura Alvarado and John Brooks. After the team's loss to Panama in the third-place game, cries for Klinsmann's firing were deafening.
Even Landon Donovan weighed in, telling ESPNFC, "the reality is that now, anywhere else in the world, if this coach had those results, and they lose this game against Mexico, they'd be fired."
Of course, the federation had already gone on record that Klinsmann's job was safe, regardless of the result against Mexico, making the taste in the mouths of U.S. Soccer fans going to bed on Saturday night, all the more bitter. When Klinsmann was introduced as the national team coach, fans were promised a youth revolution, yet October 10th saw the US U23 team lose to Honduras in Olympic qualifying, putting the US in serious danger of missing the Olympics for the second time under Klinsmann.
When Klinsmann was announced as the USMNT head coach, he also promised an exciting pro-active new style, yet the United States lined up against Mexico with three holding midfielders and showed a continued inability to hold possession.
October 10th was a dark day for US Soccer and never have the calls for Klinsmann's firing been louder, however, it seems no amount of twitter posts, reddit threads, or well thought out think pieces by serious soccer journalists, will sway the federation's undying faith in Jurgen Klinsmann.
In the United States, we have a long and proud tradition of dissatisfaction with our national team coaches, and I propose that it's time we take a lesson from the previous generation. You see, when I was in high school, I came into my own as a soccer nerd by becoming a frequent poster on the USMNT BigSoccer boards in an era largely defined by the "Fire Bradley" movement and during my time on those boards, something pretty incredible happened.
Back in 2009, the United States competed in the Confederations Cup under head coach, Bob Bradley. Although many US Soccer fans like to look back on the Bradley era with rose-colored glasses, way back in 2009, Bob Bradley was not so well revered among fans. In fact, at the time, the "Fire Bradley" sentiment was so strong that even mentioning it on BigSoccer outside of the designated "Fire Bradley" thread, was grounds for a ban, the potential for thread derailment being so high.
While Twitter existed in 2009, it hadn't yet taken hold of soccer culture. There was no "soccer twitter" to lazily throw out a #FireBradley hashtag. Back then, you really only had two options. You could vent your frustration to fellow soccer nerds on a soccer nerd forum, or you could email Sunil Gulati.
Yes, you read that right. Diehards during the Bradley era used to email Sunil Gulati, and the cool thing is, Sunil would sometimes email back.
While threads calling for mass emailing of Sunil Gulati were often met with little response, there are two major instances where anger was so great that the community rallied around an email campaign: After the first two games of the 2009 Confederations Cup, and after the 2011 Gold Cup loss to Mexico. Here is an excerpt from a New York Times Q and A with Sunil from 2009.
Were you surprised by the reaction, the uproar, after the early results at the Confederations Cup?
It's part of that fact that we have a greater fan base who are able to communicate their views so quickly. The fans are greater in number and in emotion. And very much the speed of technology is the most distinguishing factor.
When it comes to accountability, fans of US Soccer during the Bradley era were willing to hold Gulati's feet to the fire in a very direct way, which, for all the anger and frustration we have seen against Jurgen Klinsmann, is not something we are currently seeing from US Soccer fans.
But why not? Maybe it's cynicism holding people back, and, when you have a federation that follows up Klinsmann's embarrassing Gold Cup performance with an announcement that his job will be safe regardless of the Mexico result, cynicism is certainly understandable. I mean, what's the point in applying pressure to an organization and coach that so readily dismisses the concerns of a large segment of the fan base and head off any notion of accountability well before the calls ring out?
The cynicism is healthy, but it's hardly grounds for a lack of action. Klinsmann's offenses are far too great and numerous for nothing to be done. You don't get to drop Donovan, annex Feilhaber, bungle Olympic qualifying twice and fail to place at a Gold Cup, and not have the notion of accountability raised. Even if Sunil Gulati is unwilling to act and is determined to go down on this ship, there is no reason why his ride down should be made comfortable by fans unwilling to hold his feet to the fire. Forget hashtags. It's time to bring the email campaigns back.
Sunil Gulati is a professor at Columbia University and, in the past, people have chosen to use his publicly available university email account contact him . If you choose to email your dissatisfaction, please keep things civil. While you may disagree with his current course for the federation, there is no denying that Sunil Gulati is a great man who has done a tremendous amount for US Soccer and deserves your respect.
Ultimately, this is not a call for a campaign of bullying. This is a call to turn back the clock to an era when fans strived to be more than bystanders— an era when fans felt a sense of ownership in the team and willingness to get their opinions to the people that matter. While fans can often be irrational and reactionary, the entire point of a national team is that it represents the people of a nation, and these voices have a place. The federation may choose to ignore them, but, as a fan, you are entitled to be heard.