Jurgen Klinsmann, the German soccer legend who five years ago was hired as U.S. national coach to much fanfare, was fired Monday following a rare home loss to Mexico and an embarrassing 4-0 loss at Costa Rica that hurt the team’s chances of qualifying for the 2018 World Cup.
The loss to Mexico was the first in a World Cup qualifier on home soil since 1972. Four days later, the team looked unprepared and uninspired against the Ticos of Costa Rica.
A replacement might be named as early as Tuesday morning. Former U.S. coach Bruce Arena, now with the L.A. Galaxy, is considered the leading candidate.
Arena coached the national team to 71 wins from 1998 to 2006. He led the 2002 team to the World Cup quarterfinals, the best U.S. result in more than 70 years, but was fired after the team failed to advance from the group stage of the 2006 Cup. He has won five MLS Cups with D.C. United and the Galaxy.
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“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,” U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati said in a statement.
“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.”
Gulati had been a longtime fan and staunch supporter of Klinsmann’s, wooed him for years and was ebullient when he hired him on July 29, 2011. Klinsmann promised to take American soccer to the next level and introduce a more creative, attack-minded philosophy. He had mixed results.
In 2013, Klinsmann led the American team on a historic 12-game win streak.
In the 2014 World Cup, the U.S. team advanced from the “Group of Death” before losing in extra time to Belgium in the Round of 16.
But he alienated some U.S. Soccer fans and insiders by leaving beloved star Landon Donovan off the 2014 World Cup squad, for overlooking some U.S.-born players in favor of German-born players who had dual U.S. passports, and for being critical of Major League Soccer, which produced half his World Cup roster.
Poor results over the past 18 months led U.S. Soccer to make a change.
The Americans lost to Jamaica in the semifinals of the 2015 Gold Cup, lost a semifinal World Cup qualifying match to regional minnow Guatemala and finished fourth in the 2016 Copa America Centenario, held on U.S. soil for the first time.
Klinsmann’s overall record was 55-27-16.
“We want to thank Jurgen for his hard work and commitment during these last five years,” Gulati said. “He took pride in having the responsibility of steering the program, and there were considerable achievements along the way. 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.”
Klinsmann’s contract — which included a $3.2 million salary and title of U.S. technical director — was to run through 2018.
The United States has qualified for seven World Cups in a row since 1990, and the back-to-back losses to Mexico and Costa Rica this month put the team in last place in the six-nation group with eight games remaining. The next U.S. match is in March at home against Honduras and then on the road against Panama.