Jurgen Klinsmann's five-plus years in charge of the US national team were marked by some dizzying highs, and woeful lows, on the field.
Thrilling wins like the 2013 Gold Cup, the defeat of Ghana at the World Cup, friendly triumphs at Italy and Germany and a fourth-place finish at Copa America Centenario were interspersed with historic setbacks like the 2015 Gold Cup failure and losses to Jamaica and Guatemala.
Klinsmann kept it interesting in front of the cameras and microphones, too. His outspoken personality and strong will led to some memorable blowups in a variety of situations, and with a range of other figures. Here's our take on the top 10 most controversial chapters of his tenure.
10) You got no style
This one was pretty tame compared to what would follow. But Klinsmann did turn a few heads at his very first press conference after taking the USMNT job in 2011.
“One of my challenges will be to find a way to define how the US represents its country and its style of play,” he said. “I’ve played in different countries, and they all have their own identities and style. I believe that soccer has to reflect the culture of the country. I’ve studied the US the last 13 years, and it’s going to be quite a challenge.”
9) MB90, the reluctant 10
Klinsmann had a problem in the run-up to the 2014 World Cup. He wanted to play with two strikers and four defenders, and fit both Jermaine Jones and Kyle Beckerman into the midfield. His solution? He shoehorned Michael Bradley into an advanced playmaking role.
Many have noted that the No. 10 spot doesn't really maximize Bradley's skillset. But the normally deep-lying center mid labored relentlessly just the same. That said, no one should've been too surprised that Bradley showed less than his typical best in Brazil, or that the US attack struggled to impose itself consistently.
8) Americans don’t know soccer
When things went wrong for Klinsmann's team, he often felt compelled to point out what he believed was a shortage of knowledge among US observers. At times he had a point, but wasn't always a good look.
“People understand what they are seeing and people don’t understand what they are seeing,” he told the Washington Post after the USMNT's historic underachievement in the 2015 Gold Cup. “We have a long way to go to educate people on the game of soccer still in this country.”
In this regard, he was defiant to the end.
“Soccer is emotional, and a lot of people make conclusions without knowing anything about the inside of the team or the sport,” he told the New York Times on Sunday, in his last media remarks before his dismissal. “The fact is, we lost two games. There is a lot of talk from people who don’t understand soccer or the team.”
7) Feilhaber fallout
Benny Feilhaber was one of Klinsmann's most contentious and longest-running selection snubs, consistently left out of the USMNT picture even in periods when he was MLS' dominant playmaker. The Sporting KC man finally snapped in January, saying “I don't think Jurgen calls in the best players that are available to him” – among other things – in what he himself termed a “rant.”
Klinsmann quickly responded.
“He was not able to make a mark,” he said, alluding to Feilhaber's call-ups earlier in his tenure. “He never made an impression that made us say, ‘This is an international level.’ It’s as simple as that.”
6) Shunting Nagbe
Darlington Nagbe's completion of full US citizenship last year was a milestone keenly awaited by many US fans, and Klinsmann too. The Portland Timbers star wore a broad grin as he made his USMNT debut in a November 2015 World Cup qualifier vs. St. Vincent & the Grenadines and it was widely seen as a question of when, not if, he would become a regular starter.
But that ascension didn't come to pass in the ensuing year, and Nagbe reportedly declined a US callup for October's friendlies as rumors and reports swirled about a falling out with Klinsmann. It was a mystery, and a startling turn of events for one of the most skillful midfielders in the player pool.
5) Not an MLS guy
Klinsmann wasn't thrilled to see several influential players like Clint Dempsey and Bradley return to MLS from major clubs abroad. His frank remarks on the matter set off a kerfuffle with Commissioner Don Garber in 2014.
“With Clint's move back and Michael's move back,” said Klinsmann, “it's going to be very difficult to keep the same level that they experienced at the places where they were. It's just reality. It's just being honest.”
Garber fired back in response: “When we have a national team coach who in essence is telling players when they sign with our league that it is not going to be good for their career – and not going to be perceived well by the national team coach who is selecting the US national team – that is incredibly damaging to our league.”
Fitness and conditioning was a recurring bugaboo for Klinsmann, who felt that the US club season was too short and its players too lax in terms of their offseason work habits. And said so.
“It's difficult for me now to get them out of vacation,” he stated in early 2015, lamenting what he said was a number of unfit players in his January camp. “The culture is not there. They've got all the material. They should have done that [work] twice a day, but reality is still different. Reality is, education-wise, we are not there yet.”
Feilhaber, Matt Besler, Landon Donovan, Jozy Altidore, even Fabian Johnson – whose very commitment to the cause was questioned by a “stern word” from Klinsmann after he exited last year's CONCACAF Cup clash vs. Mexico in the 111th minute with a thigh issue – all came under public fire in this department.
3) Knocking stars down a peg
Klinsmann never liked for anyone to get too comfortable or take their spot for granted. Perhaps that's why he publicly criticized several of the USMNT's most prominent players over the years.
Upon dropping Altidore, who at the time was in strong form with Dutch side Alkmaar, for two crucial qualifiers in 2012: “I communicated with Jozy that I was not happy about his latest performances with us, maybe even over the last 14 months. I think Jozy can do much, much better.”
Or taking down Clint Dempsey – at that time the USMNT's most successful European export – a notch in the Wall Street Journal in 2013: “He hasn't made s**t. You play for Fulham? Yeah, so? Show me you can play for a Champions League team, and then you start on a Champions League team. There is always another level.”
2) Sporting News stirs the pot
The USMNT opened the final round of 2014 World Cup qualifying with an unsightly 2-1 loss at Honduras in steamy San Pedro Sula. A few weeks later, as they got set to host Costa Rica in a crucial Hexagonal match in Colorado, the Sporting News' Brian Straus penned a painstakingly-researched article that revealed players' widespread confusion and dismay at Klinsmann's management methods.
To put it mildly: All hell broke loose. Klinsmann and most of his squad circled the wagons, and the siege mentality that ensued helped them edge Los Ticos in a snowstorm at Dick's Sporting Goods Park that led to the game being dubbed the “SnowClasico.” While we outsiders don't really know whether the original issues truly got fixed, it set the Yanks on a 7-1-1 run that powered them to first place in the Hex.
1) Later, Landon
Heads turned across the country – and around the world – when Klinsmann suddenly moved up his announcement of the final US roster for the 2014 World Cup, revealing that Donovan, arguably the most successful player in the program's history, wasn't on it.
Klinsmann's relationship with Donovan is long and complex. Ultimately, though, the coach simply didn't trust the USMNT and LA Galaxy legend for the biggest tournament of his US tenure. To add insult to injury, Klinsmann's teenage son mocked Donovan in a tweet soon after, hinting at hidden depths to the story.
For a big chunk of US fandom, Klinsmann's decision will live in infamy. Others saw it as the dawn of an exciting new era of expectation and ambition.