Jurgen Klinsmann was wrong, of course, but maybe it’s because he’s right.
A little while back, Team USA’s manager told the New York Times magazine that the United States “cannot win this World Cup.” Which is silly. Anybody can win this World Cup, from Algeria to Uruguay and all the letters in between.
Now you might be far safer putting your money on Argentina and Brazil than Iran, or on Germany and Spain instead of Costa Rica. But the only countries who “cannot win this World Cup” are the teams who are not in this World Cup. Like the Chicago Cubs, for instance.
When the topic of the U.S.’s chances came up more recently, Klinsmann chose his words more judiciously, but the theme was very much the same. Talking about the U.S “winning a World Cup is just not realistic,” he told the assembled World Cup media, which is, basically, the world’s media. Unrealistic seems a more realistic take than impossible, but nowhere near the optimistic take fans are used to hearing in the land of opportunity. We’re Americans, as John Winger said, with a capital A.
And so the hot topic among U.S. fans and media in the run-up to this World Cup run is the pessimism of Klinsmann, the defeatism of Klinsmann, the how-dare-he temerity of it all.
Which means fewer and fewer people are talking about how he left Landon Donovan off the World Cup. And it also means almost nobody is talking about the U.S. players who are actually at the World Cup, stalwarts like Tim Howard, Clint Dempsey and Michael Bradley, X-factors like Jozy Altidore, fresh-faced rookies like Julian Green.
More specifically, it means almost nobody is talking about the daunting task facing these players, who are about to be tested by the most difficult group in the tournament. It means they’re not being hounded about the pressure they should be feeling in advance of games against Ghana, Portugal and Germany.
It’s almost as if Klinsmann has taken the spotlight entirely off of his players and put it entirely on himself. As if there’s almost no media pressure on his players and almost all of it on himself.
Which might just free up the U.S. players to relax and perform.
Which might be exactly the kind of atmosphere you’d want your manager to create.
Say what you want about Klinsmann. Disagree with his roster selection or his approach, but he’s no dummy. In his last national coaching gig, he took an unheralded German squad to the brink of a World Cup title. He might be the most soccer-savvy coach the U.S. has every employed. He’s certainly the most recognizable.
And yes, Klinsmann’s public statements about the United State’s chances are wrong. But his private motivation for making them may be spot on.
We’re the underdog, just like John Winger said. But we’re an underdog with some bite. Maybe it’s likely we won’t win the World Cup.
But maybe by saying we won’t, Klinsmann is giving us a better chance to do so.