If the United States men's national team had qualified for the 2018 World Cup in Russia, Jurgen Klinsmann thinks he would've taken the Yanks on a run.
Klinsmann, of course, was the man patrolling the sidelines for the USMNT from 2011-2016, overseeing a Gold Cup victory in 2013 and the 2014 World Cup side that made it to the round of 16 before bowing out to Belgium.
But the German was certainly no stranger to controversy during his time coaching the team. Whether it was the decision to leave US icon Landon Donovan off that 2014 World Cup roster, his unpredictable lineup decisions that frequently saw players move out of their preferred positions, or some seemingly inexplicable results on the field, Klinsmann's USMNT tenure generated seemingly an endless stream of discussion and criticism surrounding his methods.
That criticism reached a fever pitch in November 2016 after the US opened the final World Cup qualification round with a 2-1 defeat to Mexico that preceded a 4-0 thrashing at the hands of Costa Rica on home soil.
Everyone knows what happened next: Klinsmann was let go, Bruce Arena came back, and the Yanks eventually suffered the most catastrophic defeat in their history when they lost to Trinidad and Tobago 2-1 to get eliminated from World Cup qualifying in devastating fashion. The program then went into limbo for the better part of a year before Gregg Berhalter was finally hired to replace interim boss Dave Sarachan on a permanent basis in 2018.
Needless to say, Klinsmann has had a bit of time to mull some things over.
Speaking in an interview with ESPN, Klinsmann started by highlighting the positives he took from his time with the USMNT, including that 2014 World Cup run in Brazil and a final-four finish in the 2016 Copa America, before lamenting the current state of the program.
"I was in charge for five and a half years, and I enjoyed it really a lot," Klinsmann said. "I'm very grateful that I had this opportunity and had these experiences with the team, with the federation, with the fans. It was a fantastic time. We got through the group of death in Brazil, which nobody ever expected. We went to a final four in Copa America in 2016. I helped I don't know how many players to get their move over to Europe to prove themselves. Some made it, some came back to MLS, which is no shame. So, they gave it a shot.
"What's happened the last two or three years is very sad. It's really sad because the team belonged in Russia. It belonged in the World Cup. Qualification was pretty much done. Then it happens, the big disaster in Trinidad and Tobago, which nobody ever could imagine. So this threw back the whole national team program for many years. It throws it back. Because now there's a lack of belief, a lack of enthusiasm, there's a lack of leadership at the end of the day. So it's a very, very difficult job Gregg Berhalter has on his hands to rebuild this entire program."
To hear Klinsmann tell it, despite the outside noise, he had the program on the upswing, with his dismissal throwing a wrench in a plan that he believes would have resulted in the team qualifying for Russia. And not just qualifying. Had they got there, Klinsmann said, he could have taken the USMNT deep into the tournament.
"We were actually in a good place. It was progressing," he said. "I said, I take that team in Russia into the final eight or even the final four. Because it was a building block, it was all laid out, there was a plan for it. But the plan got interrupted, it got even more interrupted when we didn't qualify for Russia. And it's sad, it's really sad, because it's exactly the opposite of what happened with the women's program, which I'm a big fan of too.
"So, hopefully they get it back on track and I'm keeping my fingers crossed for Gregg that he gets all the support he needs to get it back on the right track."
Would the USMNT have made the quarterfinals of the World Cup if Klinsmann had remained the coach? We'll never know for sure, but feel free to drop your thoughts on the matter in the comments section below.