You know what, I'm not even going to argue with Jurgen Klinsmann. He has an opinion that Kobe Bryant and other stars are overpaid in the American culture and that's fine. He gave his opinion in an interview last December with the New York Times and in that same interview he said that the United States could not win the World Cup.
I will not argue that Jurgen Klinsmann was hired to build not just a outstanding national team for the US but also the foundation of a development program that will build future teams going forward. But what Jurgen Klinsmann needs is a small dose of American sports reality.
It's not about your opinions of American sports, coach. It's about results at the World Cup.
The reason Klinsmann has the platform to talk about such thinks as Kobe Bryant is because the World Cup, at the time, as a week away. Yes, it also had something to do with sports stars being over paid and catered to and that was of course linked to his cutting of Landon Donovan, but at the heart of the matter Klinsmann is able to talk about these things because of the World Cup.
Klinsmann is trying to change soccer culture, but he has to understand that in the context of American sports culture, that happens by winning. It's a long road trying to change the collective minds of American sports fans, and it won't happen over night. Klinsmann to many is just some guy who is coach of the US soccer team that plays in that World Championship tournament every four years. But saying that your team won't be winning the World Cup is a general no-no in the USA, because it's a turn off to the general public.
Perhaps it's a clever ploy to put less pressure on his team. As I pointed out a few weeks ago, that's perfectly fine, but it puts added pressure on Klinsmann. If Klinsmann doesn't think his team can win, a logical and understandable statement, that's fine. But you can't come out right after the World Cup draw and say it. And certainly there shouldn't be an interview from December coming out now with you saying that the USA can't win the World Cup.
What kind of message does that send to the players and the fans? The head coach saying that his team isn't good enough to win? Regardless of the fact that Klinsmann is probably right, the Americans are not even favored to get out of the group stage, as long as you have another game to play in the knockout stages you aren't eliminated yet.
Bruce Arena said the same thing back in 2006 and we know how that tournament turned out. Klinsmann's enviable position with a contract running to 2018 has given him far too much leeway in my opinion and it has to stop. If Klinsmann wants to change how players develop in the US that's fine, but he's not going to change an entire sports culture in this country.
Jurgen Klinsmann thinks Kobe Bryant and other American athletes make too much money based on what they've done, and not what they can do. Certainly a fair assessment, although probably doesn't take into account the marketability of those star athletes. David Beckham made a ridiculous amount of money with the Los Angeles Galaxy mostly on what he had done in his career.
Oddly enough, the best summary of the Klinsmann-on-Kobe story comes from my dad, and I'm paraphrasing here: "Who cares what the soccer coach has to say about that. He got a 4-year extension for what? Beating Mexico? We always beat Mexico. He hasn't done anything either."
I would absolutely classify my dad as the average sports fan who doesn't follow soccer despite the fact that I basically force him to pay attention to it now. That's what Klinsmann is up against. It's not the hardcore soccer fans who understand the game and will always be there, it's about attracting new ones. The ones who will be watching the World Cup and have a chance to latch onto the game.
But in order for that to happen, the USA has to at the very least perform well in their three group games. Notice I didn't say win there, but that's the rational part of me. If the USA goes out and plays three good games against Ghana, Portugal and Germany but doesn't make it out of the group, I will be disappointed but ultimately I understand the difficulty of winning at the World Cup level.
But that doesn't change the reality of the goals Klinsmann and US Soccer should have. There shouldn't be any looking ahead to 2018 or worrying about future CONCACAF tournaments. Right now it's all about getting as far as possible in Brazil, and that might only be the Round of 16, but for now that would be far enough.
Because in America, we're judged on winning. I know, it sounds like such a simple thing, winning. In the United States you are rarely judged by winning regular season games. It comes down to making the playoffs, winning those playoff games and then winning championships. And your previous years successes mean higher expectations for the following year.
In soccer terms, that means Jurgen Klinsmann has to win at the World Cup level. Because the USA has already won regular season games (qualifying) and been to the playoffs (World Cup) every tournament since 1990. It's time that the US expected bigger things at the World Cup. Like getting out of the group stage, even when drawn into the Group of Death.
And Klinsmann is probably right when he says that the USMNT won't win the World Cup at Brazil. They would have to navigate out of the Group of Death and at some point beat a few international powerhouses like Spain and/or Brazil to win the titile.
But Klinsmann has already invoked change by becoming arguably one of the few international soccer coaches to get a contract extension before a World Cup. His predecessor, Bob Bradley went undefeated in qualifying with Egypt only to miss out on the World Cup in a playoff with Ghana. Bradley was fired as Egypt's coach
I have come out and said that if Klinsmann's squad doesn't compete at the World Cup that he should be fired. As unlikely as that is to happen, I still stand by that. Because you're judged almost entirely at what you accomplish at the highest level of your sport. Especially in America. If the USMNT goes to Brazil and loses three games, and one or two very badly, why would Klinsmann get a second shot in Russia? Hasn't he taken the senior team backwards and in theory, the whole of US Soccer?
For Jurgen Klinsmann and the US, they have to perform at the World Cup. I'm not asking him to win it, not right now, although that would be a pleasant surprise that the whole country would love. I'm asking him to assemble a squad of the best American soccer players and play three good games and then see what happens from there. But very soon, likely by Russia 2018, I will not be asking for three well-played games. I'll be expecting them and a berth in the knockout stages practically every four years.
I don't think it would be a tremendous shock for the US to advance out of Group G, but it will be a tremendous shock if the US failed to get a single point from Group G or lost their first two games and are eliminated by the Germany game. Even looking back at 2006 and the draw against Italy might be a positive game, but the experience as a whole was negative for US Soccer.
Because that would be Klinsmann's worst case scenario. Failing to do what his predecessor Bob Bradley did four years ago, regardless of circumstances of groups. Klinsmann was hired to get the USMNT program to the next level. Not just the development and youth teams, but the senior team as well. No matter how many success he has in developing new talent from the youth ranks, or how many CONCACAF trophies he wins, Klinsmann was hired to get the USA over the hump and into the World Cup quarterfinals and beyond.
I'm asking him to change American's perception that getting to the World Cup is no longer good enough.That things like qualifying for the World Cup, winning Gold Cups and qualifying for the Confederations Cup are things that are expected every cycle. I'm asking Klinsmann to change someone like my dad who thinks that international soccer is something that happens every four years in America. I'm asking Klinsmann to eventually do something that hasn't happened in 84 years.
The USMNT has been to the World Cup every year since 1990, which means Brazil will be their 7th straight appearance. In their previous six appearances the US has made it out of the group three times and into the quarterfinals once in 2002. The USA's best performance in a World Cup: Semifinal appearance in 1930, still to this day the best finish by a non-South American/European team.
That, Jurgen Klinsmann, is what you are here to change. I don't care how you develop (or recruit) players for your team, how you train them, or what formation you choose to use. But you're the coach of the United States Men's National team and your job is to win. Period.
I'd prefer that Klinsmann does this quietly, but as recent weeks show that is highly unlikely. I do not care for his opinions on Kobe Bryant or MLS. I do not care if he has a personal grudge with Landon Donovan and didn't bring him to the World Cup. At the end of the day, I can deal Klinsmann because what I care about are the results of the USMNT at the World Cup.
And I'm realistic, I can't expect the US to win the World Cup, not right now. Klinsmann isn't wrong when he says the team, and I think he means the US Soccer program as a whole, isn't good enough to win at the World Cup right now. But I also think it's a terrible idea to say that you can't win since your job is to motivate and coach your players to win. If you don't think they can win it all, why should they play hard like they've done for the last four years to get to this point. I'm not asking them to win it, I'm asking you to put them in the best position to try and win it all.
What I don't think is unrealistic is competing in Group G for three games and finishing a very respectable and close third to either Portugal or Germany at a minimum. Obviously I would be ecstatic if the USA made it out of Group G, and then we'll see where the knockout draw takes us. That's what you're here to change Jurgen Klinsmann.
You're here to get the US to the point where we expect to get to the knockout stage every World Cup. You're here to get us to the point where getting to the knockout stage is no longer good enough, and that anything short of a quarterfinal appearance is now failure. You're here to get the USMNT to a place it hasn't been since 1930, the semifinals and beyond.
Because that's the goal of every club and national team in the world. Set a goal, accomplish it, set a bigger goal, accomplish that.
Because if that doesn't happen, the media and the fans will justifiably upset with Klinsmann and I will be too. We'll question where Landon Donovan was, whether or not the likes of Julian Green, DeAndre Yedlin and John Brooks were ready for the international stage let along the World Cup and we'll wonder why you, Jurgen Klinsmann will still be allowed to coach in Russia 2018.
And certainly by 2018, the expectations of Klinsmann and the USMNT will be higher.