Just in case we didn’t hear him the first time, Jurgen Klinsmann repeated it on World Cup eve. He doesn’t think the U.S. squad, the team he coaches, can win the golden trophy this year. I don’t believe the Americans will do much in Brazil, nor do you, nor does anyone else with even a modicum of soccer knowledge — but when the national coach blurts it out twice, before the first ball is kicked, I have to wonder why I should bother watching.
“I think for us now, talking about winning a World Cup is just not realistic,” he said in Sao Paulo, mere days before the Americans take on their recent nemesis, Ghana, in first-round group play. “First we’ve got to make it through the group. So let’s stay with our feet on the ground and say let’s get that group first done, and then the sky is the limit. But a half a year before and even today before the World Cup starts — to say that we should win the World Cup is just not realistic.
“If it is American or not, you can correct me however you want.’’
The approach is embarrassingly un-American, if that’s what he’s getting at. Hired three years ago to fix a wayward U.S. program, the German national hero is speaking the truth about our ho-hum soccer condition at absolutely the wrong time, as if to take pressure off himself. This is a country that believes in sports miracles, none bigger than a 1980 Olympic hockey team with which he might want to familiarize himself.
No one is saying Team USA “should’’ win the World Cup, as Klinsmann noted. What we’d like to see is a breakthrough of sorts — a victory over Ghana, progress against Portugal and Germany in a daunting Group G. Klinsmann’s unnecessary pessimism casts gloom upon a U.S. cause that’s difficult enough to rally around every four years. It’s hard to sell the sport to the American masses, as ESPN and Fox and NBC continue to do with great vigor, when our World Cup team keeps losing to Ghana. The least Klinsmann can do is let U.S. fans embrace their hopes and dreams, hollow as they are, before they’re officially punctured starting Monday in Natal.
Sorry, he says. Only fans of real contenders, such as Brazil and Germany, are allowed to be positive, according to the Klinsmann meter. “The whole country (Brazil) will now be in the stadiums to watch their Selecao. They expect the title,” he said. “If you coach Germany, they expect a title. There is not discussion how far you can go, your goals.”
Fortunately, Landon Donovan is defending America’s honor against a coach who doesn’t understand the national mindset. Foolishly left off the 23-man U.S. roster by Klinsmann, Donovan — merely the most recognizable and accomplished of American soccer players — thinks Klinsmann’s stance is all wrong. Not that Donovan is right in predicting the Americans will win the World Cup — he said so at a rally for the American Outlaws fan group — but it sure beats the Klinsmann blues.
“This will come as a surprise to nobody, but I disagree with Jurgen,” said Donovan, who likely will criticize Klinsmann early and often as an ESPN analyst if the U.S. doesn’t fare well. “I believe it and I think all of America believes we can do it. I agree with the American Outlaws — `We believe that we will win.’
“In my opinion, Germany’s one of the best teams in the world, and if we can beat Germany, why can’t we (advance from the group)?”
Also bucking Klinsmann is one of his players, defender Geoff Cameron. “Let the doubters doubt. That’s why Americans are Americans,” he said, per ESPN.com. “We like to be the underdogs and challenge big things. The sky is the limit for us. Things happen. Miracles happen. This team might not be as talented as Spain, as Brazil, but they can make it farther than people thought. All 23 guys believe the same thing. We can turn heads.”
Oddly, Klinsmann named five German-American players to the team, all raised in Germany as the sons of U.S. servicemen. “Every year we are getting stronger,” he said.
“We are going to take the game to Ghana and they will take it to us and it will be an exciting game and then we go from there.’’
Can’t wait, coach.