SALT LAKE CITY — When the United States plays Ghana in the World Cup on Monday, the entire planet will be watching. OK, not all the planet. We Americans might be skipping it.
That’s not necessarily due to disinterest; it’s because we know the outcome. It’s like watching “Thelma & Louise” for the 10th time.
They drive off the edge of the Grand Canyon every time.
The U.S. men’s national team is apparently going to the same place. It isn’t physical enough, fast enough, technical enough or strong enough to beat Ghana, Germany or Portugal. But don’t take my word for it. Get it straight from the coach of the American team, Jurgen Klinsmann.
His message: America is not a factor.
And he’s not talking about politics.
If you don’t know Klinsmann, here are the crib notes: He’s one of history’s great soccer players, appearing in four major European leagues and scoring 226 goals. He led West Germany to the World Cup title in 1990 and managed Germany to third place in the 2006 World Cup. In 2004 he was named one of the FIFA’s 125 greatest footballers.
Meanwhile, he was hired in 2011 to give the USMNT an attitude. He’s a charismatic choice, popular with media and players (Landon Donovan excluded). Behind him, America is supposed to forge a soccer identity and make itself heard on a global level. In 2013 he won the CONCACAF Gold Cup for the U.S.
On June 4, though, he made the concession heard ‘round the world, telling The New York Times, “We cannot win this World Cup because we are not at that level yet. For us, we have to play the game of our lives seven times to win the tournament.”
Wednesday in Brazil, he told gathered media, “For us now talking about winning a World Cup, it is not realistic. If it is American or not, you can correct me.”
This admission isn’t going over well in the Land of the Free, Home of the End Zone Dance. Americans already have a problem with tie games; now they’re being told they’re history — by their coach.
Imagine Herb Brooks telling the 1980 U.S. hockey team it couldn’t pull off the “Miracle on Ice.”
Jeff Cassar, Real Salt Lake’s coach, worked with Klinsmann as goalkeeper coach for the U.S. team during its World Cup qualification match against Mexico.
“I know he’s a winner, he wants to win everything, whether it’s on or off the field,” Cassar said. “So I think there’s a hidden message within his message.”
“He’s probably taking pressure off his team by saying that. But he’s not thinking that personally. He’s probably thinking, ‘Listen, we’re gonna win this game,’” Cassar said. “But maybe he’s taking the pressure off his players so it’s not on (those) guys — You gotta win! You gotta beat Ghana! You gotta do this! You gotta do that!”
Or maybe he’s making himself look good. If the U.S. loses, he can say it didn’t have the talent to win. If it prevails, he’s a genius.
There is something to be said for Klinsmann’s frankness. Coachspeak is founded on noncommittal nothings, so it’s refreshing to see someone speak plainly. Still, what CEO tells the public, “We really have no chance to succeed; we’re history”? What principal tells the PTA, “Academically, we’re below average; your students will fail”?
If there’s one thing Americans hate worse than tying, it’s losing. Maybe Klinsmann really is playing head games to deflect criticism of his team. Maybe he actually thinks his team reeks.
To American sensibility, it’s weird either way.
Paul Carr of ESPN tweeted that the Netherlands’ chances of scoring five goals against Spain were 0.4 percent, or “same as USMNT winning the World Cup.” Yet a 5-1 Netherlands win did happen.
Still, the odds are against the U.S. — as if it needed a reminder. Maybe Klinsmann should send a note to Brazil: Please turn out the lights when it’s over.
We Americans are going to bed.
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