Jun 12, 2014

It doesn't matter if Klinsmann is right; his attitude is un-American. And it sucks

As you may have heard, Juergen Klinsmann has been in the news for reasons other than cutting Landon Donovan from the U.S. Men's National Team World Cup roster. (A decision we supported, by the way). We are referring here to comments made by der Nationalcoach to the New York Times, that the U.S. can't win the World Cup this year. "We cannot win this World Cup because we are not at that level yet," the Times quoted Klinsmann as saying.

Let's ignore for a moment that Klinsmann's comments were likely taken out of context. After all, the very next quote is how the U.S. would have to "play the game of our lives seven times to win the tournament," an admission that we can, in fact, win the World Cup this year. Let's also cast aside any theories that it might have just been some sort of reverse psychology motivational ploy. In other words: let's just take the comment at face value.

In the realm of pure reason (yes that was a Kant reference. Deal with it) Klinsmann is, sadly, absolutely correct. The World Cup has only been won by eight countries, each with far more ingrained soccer institutions than the U.S. Two of these teams (England and France) were only able to win as hosts, and depending on who you ask may have only won because they were hosts. Another, Uruguay, last won the tournament in 1950, well before the modern era of television and internet and even before there were panini stickers. That leaves five World Cup winning nations in the past half-century: Brazil, Argentina, (West) Germany, Italy and Spain. Needless to say, the U.S. is a class or two removed from this level. Other than our goalie, Tim Howard, no American player would even come close to seeing playing time with these teams. It's unlikely that anybody with a U.S. passport (excluding maybe Klinsmann himself. He does have a U.S. passport, right?) would have ever made a World Cup-winning roster as an outfield player. So our players aren't good enough, probably because youth coaching and development remains substandard in this country. Whatever the reason, if you don't have world class players you aren't going to have a world class team. If you don't have a world class team, you aren't going to win a tournament like the World Cup. Or very much of anything else, for that matter. So realistically, as Klinsmann said in the Times piece, "it is not possible."

And that's exactly why we have to believe that it is.

Because if we accept that it is not possible, it will never become possible. Not this year, not in 2018, not ever. This attitude, "realistically, it is not possible," is not just nihilistic and self-defeating. It is a detriment to any team and any person who has ever been an underdog or faced "impossible" odds, in any situation. It is anathema to hope. It is enemy to progress. It is poison to the American soul. It runs counter to the ideals this country was founded on and which have instilled it with progress the last 200-plus years. Yes, I'm getting patriotic on all your asses right now. Somebody has to.

Remember that us was "realistically" not possible to expect the U.S. hockey team to beat the Soviet Union and win the gold medal at the 1980 Olympics. The U.S. realistically had no chance against England at the 1950 World Cup either. Jesse Owens realistically wasn't expected to compete against Aryan superathletes. For that matter, a bunch of colonists realistically had no prospects of forming their own government, least of all one based on the outlandish belief that all men were created equal and could elect their own leaders! World (and sports) history would look quite a bit different if Juergen Klinsmann had been at the reins, wouldn't it? And not for the better.

One of the very first missives on this blog almost seven years ago was an attempt to dispute, in definitive terms, the notion that soccer is un-American. We listed the litany of usual complaints and then went to great lengths to debunk them all. Strangely enough, there has not been any talk of soccer's un-American-ness (yet) this World Cup cycle. (Come to think of it there wasn't much in 2010 either). We'd like to think we're at least partially responsible for that. We probably aren't, but that's neither here not there. The point is that while soccer has clearly taken over the American mainstream this past decade, so too have some of the more annoying traits of soccer punditry from the other side of the Atlantic. Yeah, we've been accused of doing that too in this space. Guilty as charged, we do sometimes find ourselves siding with eurosnobs, especially when it comes to critiquing being realistic about Major League Soccer.

Realistic. That word again. But let's make a clear distinction: being realistic about the present-day qualities (or lack thereof) of MLS is an assessment, based on fact. Extrapolating from this to make a prediction, even for the short term, is conjecture that can be demoralizing or depressing. No, the U.S. in 2014 does not have the players that Brazil or Argentina or Spain do. That does not mean we, as American sports fans, should accept Klinsmann's statement that we should forget about competing for the World Cup! The fact that so many have, while others have gone as far as to praise him for it, may indicate that the pendulum has swung a bit far into the "European punditry" camp and needs to be reeled back.

Because seriously? If the perfectly realistic thing happened every time, would any of us even watch sports? Hells no. The fact that any team, with the right amount of gumption and drive and good fortune, can beat any other (or will damn near kill itself trying) on any given day is one of the primary spectacles of our time. It's what makes sports so great to watch. Yeah in the end the Germans usually win. But oftentimes they don't. And that's what we're all watching for.


  1. He's the John McCain of soccer. Hopefully he follows in John McCain's footsteps after this is done.

  2. No Klinsmann does not have a US passport as he is not a US citizen.