Klinsmann: United States will not win 2014 World Cup tournament
JUN 04, 2014 6:29p ET
All the hubbub revolves around a six-month-old quote.
In the new issue of the New York Times Magazine, a thoughtful profile of United States men's national team head coach Jurgen Klinsmann quotes him as saying, "We cannot win this World Cup." And this has the budding army of American soccer cognoscenti up in arms.
Never mind that the German head coach is dead right in his assessment of his own team -- and that unlike any American, he has actually won a World Cup -- this cannot stand, says a teeming Internet crowd high on its righteous indignation.
It's un-American to roll over, to give up. In a country that has always prided itself on charging headlong into daunting odds, it's heresy to announce that a tournament you are entering is unwinnable.
But Klinsmann isn't American, which is no small part of the reason he was hired to remake this program in the first place. As a European who played and managed an elite national team, a perennial World Cup contender, he knows what a title candidate looks like. And the team at his disposal isn't one. That isn't to say he doesn't hope that his team will punch above its weight in Brazil and overcomes a diabolical group stage draw that will pit them against Ghana, Portugal and, of course, Germany.
The brutal truth of the World Cup is that fewer than a handful of teams can realistically aspire to winning it. This year, that's the home team, Brazil; their neighbors Argentina; the defending champions, Spain; and Germany, which has thrived on the foundation Klinsmann built. Another way of saying it is that 28 out of the 32 teams that are going to the World Cup will need something of a dream run to even have a shot at turning that order on its head.
If the Americans survive the group stage for a second consecutive World Cup, something they have never done by the way, that would constitute a major achievement, and something of an upset. Should they somehow reach the quarterfinals, it would match their modern high-watermark.
So why is it so awful for Klinsmann to point out that expecting his team to win at least three more games at a World Cup than it ever has isn't realistic? In 2010, the USA won just one game. In 2002, in that run to the quarters, they won two. The only other time they did that was in 1930, at the first-ever World Cup, which then was hardly what it is now. In three out of the last six World Cups the Americans won no games at all. It usually takes at least five wins to lift the World Cup.
Sure, going into something and expecting not to win it -- and conceding this so publicly -- doesn't sit very well with the American mindset. But should a coach be excoriated for speaking the truth and taking undue pressure off his team? With some context and nuance, we could appreciate real accomplishments at this World Cup, even if none of them involve an American hoisting that gold trophy above his head at the end.
The United States has prepared for the daunting task by beating No. 85 Azerbaijan 2-0 in San Francisco and then topping No. 39 Turkey 2-1 in New Jersey. Now, the 18th-ranked Americans face No. 44 Nigeria. And the USA defense surely will be the focus once again.
''There's always room for improvement,'' Klinsmann said. ''When you give chances away, then you address that and you talk about it. But it's not a defensive topic; it's a whole team topic because the defense starts with the forwards up front. It starts with compactness of the whole unit. You watch it again, like we coaches do obviously, and analyze it.
''That's why we need these games against very good opponents because they show you those examples and you learn from it as quickly as you can. The whole thing is a work in progress, and I think we're doing fine.''
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.