USMNT Fans Must Be Realistic About United States’ World Cup Chances

We are less than one week away from the kickoff of the 2014 World Cup but the hype machine has been churning for the U.S. national team:

“We are due for a win over Ghana, we should have won the match four years ago.”

“Portugal is Ronaldo and a bunch of overrated players; if he has a bad game we can win.”

“Germany is good, but we beat Spain and we’ve beat Germany in our friendly. Anything is possible!”

For a country with very little World Cup success, U.S. fans have a ton of confidence going to Brazil.  We are the weakest team in the Group of Death, but because we have a semi-tough qualifying federation and have had glimpses of international success, we are confident that the team is not getting the respect it deserves and Jurgen Klinsmann’s men are going to “shock the world.” Many U.S. fans have an attitude of almost hubris, that the world can’t be right because we are an emerging soccer power and can “hang” with the best, especially if the breaks go our way.

The reality is that this is a false view of our place in the soccer world, and in many ways makes us more like the English media than we want to admit.

The reality is that if the United States is an emerging soccer power, it is at the infant stage. We finished last in the group stage in 2006, and we barely advanced from a weak group in 2010. In this year’s qualifying, the United States benefited from a weak Mexico.  The best player on the USMNT right now has been left at home, while the other major stars left Europe to play for MLS.  Maybe even more concerning for the future of the program is the fact that only one player from the U-23 squad that tried to qualify for the 2012 Olympics made this team, suggesting Klinsmann does not trust the previous youth set-up.

If we gave this team’s profile but omitted the name, we would assume it was maybe another CONCACAF nation that would be fodder for the better teams in group. We naturally assume this team is better because it says “United States” above the preview.  There is an advantage to the U.S. Soccer Federation for portraying this team as better than it is. A good USMNT with so many MLS players on it naturally means the league itself is top notch, a goal they have been trying to promote and convince the media for the past few years. Additionally, a national team that is an international contender does not mean the World Cup 2010 goal was a failure and that the country is on course to assuming its place among the world’s elite.  Failure in 2014 would be regarded the same way – an unfortunate fluke.

The truth is that entering the realm of World Cup contenders is hard. Very hard. The Netherlands revolutionized soccer with its style and some of their World Cup squads are considered the best teams ever, but they have never won this trophy. England invented the sport, but won only one World Cup that happened to be on their home soil. Spain is now considered to be possibly the greatest team ever (especially if they win this year) but it took decades for them to reach the point of underachievers before they could shake that label. But at least these teams compete every four years: Scotland has contributed some of the sport’s greatest players and managers but their squad will be watching the tournament at home. Unlike almost every other sport we play, we are not the best nor are we close. We are just beginning to be even thought of as relevant in the international soccer world, and in the modern era this means we have years to go before being consistent contenders.

This, however, can be a good thing. America is at its best when we are the underdogs. We don’t love teams like the current Miami Heat, New York Yankees of the late 1990s, or even the Olympic men’s basketball “Dream Teams”.  We idolize the 1980 men’s Olympic hockey team, the 1969 “Miracle Mets” and the 1950 men’s national soccer team that beat England at its own game. We have always been a nation of underdogs, from our founding, and we should embrace that status now in international soccer — not give it lip service to drum up support for the team, but truly realize it. Our youth system needs major work, our national team, without major luck, is years from a World Cup trophy, and our domestic leagues are slowly gaining traction. By assuming we are close to elite in soccer, we do ourselves a disservice and prevent ourselves from taking a hard look at what we need to fix and what we need to do to get to the upper echelon of this game.

U.S. fans should take a hard look at this team and realize what it is – Australia with a better domestic league and a more stable soccer system. That does not mean U.S. fans (the author included) should enjoy the games any less or cheer any less loudly. It does mean that we should not blame “bad luck,” one poor decision, or a call that does not go our way if we do not advance. We should be proud, but smartly so.

24 thoughts on “USMNT Fans Must Be Realistic About United States’ World Cup Chances”

  1. There are so many strawmen and inaccuracies in this article that I leave it as an exercise for the editor to assign to the writer as homework to identify them all. I have better things to do with my time. I don’t think the author does.

      1. Well Ghana is far from a great team and the USA beat a better one in Nigeria.

        Portugal is ordinary if Ronaldo is hurt and it looks that if he plays he plays hurt. That means the USA can advance with a win and a draw.

        Germany is better than the USA no doubt. The best German team in recent Cup history no. By game 3 both sides probably can advance with a draw.

        The US has been injury free and can sustain itself between after it’s training camp. Will the US win the Cup. No. Can we advance put of group yes. Will that be enough to please the haters? No.

        1. EPLNFL: Thank You!!

          So many negative ninnies. Don’t care what country you support going into WC, if you’re a fan – you have hope, including Honduras fans.

          But then again there are many half glass empty folks.

          Robert Hay:

          I for one haven’t heard anyone (in media or in general) say what you listed in the 3 first points are about Ghana, Portugal and Germany.

          Ghana is a good team, can the US beat them – for sure.

          Portugal, can the US get a tie, yes – why? This Portugal team is not as good as the 2002 team and with a few exceptions, the US team today is better than the 2002 team (excepts being backline in General).

          Germany, well – I’ve been watching the WC since 1970 and I’ve seen when a team has already qualified to next round with one game to go in group stage, they typically use their bench so starters don’t get hurt.

          If the US beats Ghana and ties Portugal and Germany has beaten Portugal and Ghana, Germany will have 6 pts and US will have 5. If both go for the tie, both advance.

          No one is saying US will get to Semi’s or Final, but geeze have a little faith that Klinsmann knows what he’s doing.

  2. Don’t you realize that this is what makes our team American in the first place? Our (occasionally blind) ignorance is how we pull off wins – it’s the fabric of our culture to believe the “impossible” is possible.

    Article is littered with errors too – reread and edit.

  3. USA “a nation of underdogs”? Huh? Since when has the USA lacked confidence and never believed they’re the best in the world at anything? Klinsmann even got criticized for admitting they can’t win the World Cup. USA supporters have often lacked realism, not confidence.

  4. Don’t tell me as a fan what I should think about my own team. I can have as little or as much confidence in them as I want. I really hate articles like these telling me, the fan, that I should be realistic about my squad.

  5. I appreciate the attempt at candidness. But you lost me with the statement that Landon Donovan is the best player on the USMNT.

    1. That is where i hit the eject button.Lanny lost me when he turned his back on the EPL and got burnt out and had to do a little backpacking.

      1. Agreed. “Beating up on pathetic MLS defenses is so mentally exhausting. I need a break from football.”

  6. Agree 100% with the author. The US will most likely finish last in a hard group. No shame in that. The US is also on the rise and in maybe 20 be in position to win a cup. Hes entitled to his opinion just like you all are entitled to yours.

    1. We are not on the rise. Our youth development system is completely screwed up and that fact is only paid lip service by our corrupt FA which is completely controlled by MLS, which is exactly the opposite of the way it should be. Soccer in this country needs to be completely overhauled (which is not happening anytime soon), and then we need at least half a generation, before we can be legitimate contenders.

      1. I dont think there can be any debate that the US is indeed on the rise. I was born in 1990 the same yr as the first modern US cup, since then the quality of the average US player has increased. Even if the team results havent gotten better consistently this doesnt mean that the team isnt on the rise. Matchups and luck effect results.

        Yes there does need to be reform but US Soccer has helped national soccer move in the right direction.

        1. I think quality-wise, 1994 team was the best. although a lot of the players were “naturalized” citizens, but in my opinion: they were the best USA team in the World Cup participaton. I think Tony Meola was on par with, or probably wasn’t much worse than Tim Howard, Kassey Keller and Brad Friedel.
          Thomas Dooley I think is still the most successful US player in Europe. John Harkes and Roy Wegerle were first choice in their respective club in England. Frank Klopas played in Greece. And some players were playing in Europe too.

  7. Until a merger with CONMEBOL happens in which the US will be required to play the South Americans in the WCQs, become a regular participant in the Copa America starting in 2019 (in Brazil mind you), not that joke called the Gold Cup which is more or less a sanctioned match against Mexico, I will not regard the US team as competitors on the same level as the likes of South America and Europe.

    At least Mexico makes every effort to do what I’ve just described.

    1. Technically, I’d let their performance in the World Cup do their talking. That is pretty much all that matters in US football. Their previous win streak means nothing. It comes down to hopefully 4 or more games in Brazil.

  8. Team USA have had an excellent build up. That was a good win yesterday and sets it up nicely for the opening game against Ghana. Everyone knows that is where the campaign will be won or lost. Win it and they are in business with respect to getting out of the group.

    I’ve had it in for Klinsmann but I will be cheering for team USA when they play. I wish them the best of luck. Unless they play England later on of course.

  9. “We are the weakest team in the Group of Death…”

    Oh come on. Ghana is a good team that can beat us, obviously, but they are not a stronger side than the U.S.

    Credibility shot. Didn’t read the rest…

  10. The US shouldn’t do worse than 1-1-1. It can be possible to do 2-0-1. This team has me cautiously optimistic. They are a team right now.

    I less fear this group and much more fear the seemingly inevitable knockout round match-up against Belgium. A victory over Belgium would be a relatively massive upset.

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