A decision that's been a long time in the making was finally brought down on Monday afternoon, when U.S. Soccer decided that it was in their best interest to part ways with head coach and technical director Jurgen Klinsmann. The decision to fire Klinsmann came as the United States Men's National Team currently sit dead-last in the CONCACAF Hexagonal World Cup Qualifying standings – six points behind the Costa Rica team that thoroughly dominated them in a humiliating 4-0 defeat.
Clearly, the decision to move on from Klinsmann was the right one to make. If we simply take the National Team's most recent results in competitive matches into consideration, this move was coming a mile away. From their poor finish at the 2015 Gold Cup to the tactical inconsistencies that came to a head during their home loss against Mexico, it was clear that Klinsmann's time as manager of the USMNT was coming to a close and that time is now.
Additionally, since Klinsmann was also tasked with being the technical director of the entire U.S. Soccer program, you could conceivably place the blame at his feet for the U-23 squad's failure to qualify for the 2016 Olympic Games, which kept them out of that tournament for a second consecutive Olympic cycle. The ambition and relative success that we saw during the first World Cup cycle of Klinsmann's tenure was long gone, and it was evident that the program had reached a point of stagnation.
With Jurgen Klinsmann on his way out, what's old is new again as Bruce Arena has reportedly been given another chance to coach the national team. The man who led the USMNT to its best-ever finish at a World Cup is now tasked with making sure that the team can simply make it to the 2018 event in Russia. It's been ten years since Arena's been in charge of the national team, but he's definitely been busy since then – most notably, he took the reigns of the Los Angeles Galaxy and turned them into arguably the model club of Major League Soccer as he won three MLS Cups and two Supporters' Shields during his time in LA. Although the past two seasons may have ended in disappointment for the Galaxy (with "disappointment" meaning an early playoff exit instead of a deep run into the playoffs), Arena has definitely still got what it takes as a manager, and you know exactly what you're going to get from him when it comes to the tactics.
At the same time, Arena returning to the role of USMNT manager could be evidence that the USSF is getting extremely pragmatic about qualifying for the 2018 World Cup. While Klinsmann may have failed in his ultimate ambition of changing the USMNT's reputation as a "kick the ball deep and run really hard" team, the re-hiring of Bruce Arena for this cycle means that the federation is ready to embrace that rep again. That style of soccer won't propel you to the elite levels of the game in this day and age, but it should be enough to get you out of the Hex and on a plane to Russia. It's clear that right now, the USSF isn't focused on youth development or trying to change the culture and their style of play. They're getting down to brass tacks now – it is all about getting to Russia, and they believe that Arena is the man to do it.
Again, we shouldn't expect any groundbreaking or revolutionary tactics from Bruce Arena at this point. He has a style that's brought him success on multiple occasions, and you can bet that he's going to bring it with him to his second tenure as USMNT manager. What he will bring to the table is a sense of respect in the dressing room among the players. Say what you want about how Arena's tenure ended in uninspiring fashion immediately following the 2006 World Cup – a team has never quit on Bruce Arena like we saw the players quit on Jurgen Klinsmann during their loss to Costa Rica. That alone is one big positive about Arena returning to the role, and that could be the key in making sure that the USMNT avoids the ultimate embarrassment of missing out on the next World Cup.
The national team definitely has the talent to eventually finish top three or even fourth (which would mean having to deal with a playoff to make it to the World cup) in this cycle's Hex. To be quite honest, there's still a decent chance that they still could've made it there with Jurgen Klinsmann still in charge – once again, the talent level is such that they still could have stumbled their way to Russia. With that being said, making it to the 2018 World Cup could just be a bridge to the next step that the USSF wants their national team to take. Bruce Arena probably won't be around after the last ball has been kicked in Russia, and that will probably be the moment when U.S. Soccer sets out to find a manager who is focused on once again improving the national team's long-term prospects past simply making the tournament.
But for now, it's clear that U.S. Soccer still wanted the winds of change to start blowing immediately, and they brought about change by dismissing Klinsmann. Now they can start at least laying the foundation for what they want to do going forward, and it all starts with making 100 percent sure that they get to Russia, and Bruce Arena – even in 2016 – is a man who can definitely help the USMNT safely navigate the choppy waters of the Hex.