Juergen Klinsmann’s post-game news conference was only three questions old when he was asked the one that was on everybody’s mind: Is he the right man to lead the U.S. national team to another World Cup?
“Um, I think so,” Klinsmann responded quietly.
There will be some who disagree with that assessment after Klinsmann’s team was embarrassed, 4-0, by Costa Rica on Tuesday in the most one-sided loss for the Americans in World Cup qualifying since 1980 — and the most one-sided shutout loss in 59 years.
Combined with last week’s loss to Mexico, the U.S. has opened the final round of World Cup qualifying with consecutive losses for the first time, falling to the bottom of the six-team table and leaving its streak of seven straight World Cup appearances in danger.
“A very, very bitter moment for us,” Klinsmann said. “We didn’t imagine going into the hexagonal with two defeats right at the beginning. This is a moment to reflect [on] what happened the last 10 days.”
Or they could reflect on what happened during a 10-minute span midway through the second half, when Costa Rica turned a 1-0 lead into a rout on one goal by Cristian Bolanos and two by Joel Campbell.
“We just weren’t good enough,” U.S. captain Michael Bradley said.
That was apparent almost from the start. Costa Rica, led by savvy playmaker Bolanos, repeatedly sliced through the porous American defense at the other end.
The Ticos eventually were rewarded in the 44th minute when a John Brooks turnover and lax defending from Omar Gonzalez allowed Johan Venegas to head home Bolanos’ cross.
The second half was more of the same, with Bolanos heading home a left-footed cross from Bryan Ruiz in the 68th minute before Campbell put the game away six minutes later, collecting a loose ball after another fatal misplay by Brooks and scoring easily.
Moments later he was well behind the U.S. defense again, faking U.S. keeper Brad Guzan off his line before scoring, bringing the sellout crowd of more than 35,000 to its feet with such a roar you couldn’t hear the Americans’ pride drop.
Costa Rica is hardly an easy opponent: It was a World Cup quarter-finalist two years ago and is ranked 18th in the world. But it looked far more dominant Tuesday, getting off nine shots on goal to one for the U.S. while handing the U.S. its ninth straight loss in San Jose.
Five days ago, U.S. Soccer Federation President Sunil Gulati said he expected Klinsmann to finish out the 10-game hexagonal round of qualifying. Two losses later, he wasn’t as sure.
“We don’t make any decisions right after games,” he said after Tuesday’s game. “We’ll think about what happened today and talk with Juergen and look at the situation.
“Obviously, it’s not a good start to the hex, and today, in particular, was not a good performance.”
Bruce Arena, whose contract with the Galaxy ended this season, has already been mentioned as a possible replacement should Klinsmann go. Arena said Tuesday he hasn’t been approached, and Gulati declined to comment on any interest in him.
Gulati has four months to make a decision; qualifying doesn’t resume until March. And as he noted, the six-team CONCACAF tournament, which will qualify three teams directly for Russia 2018, is extremely forgiving. In the last cycle, Mexico won one of its first eight games but still made it to the World Cup by finishing fourth, then winning an intercontinental playoff.
The break in qualifying also gives Klinsmann and his players four months to figure out a new path forward, something they got started on before leaving the stadium.
“We [have] to understand there’s going to need to be some urgency,” Bradley said. “We’re going to have to, collectively, look real hard at ourselves and understand that it’s not been a good start. Use the adversity in a positive way.”
Follow Kevin Baxter on Twitter @kbaxter11