Tomorrow afternoon in Salvador, the U.S. Men’s National Team will take on The Red Devils of Belgium with a berth in the quarterfinals on the line. Many pundits and fans, yours truly included, did not believe that the U.S. would make it this far. Right or wrong, a lot of the credit for the U.S.’ success has to be put on the shoulders of Jürgen Klinsmann.
Klinsmann, a World Cup winner with West Germany in 1990, has put a lot of faith in his 23 man roster. That’s what happens when you cut Landon Donovan a legend, with or without diminishing skills, from the 30 man provisional roster. Klinsmann, putting aside his professional opinion of Donovan, was telling his squad that he had complete faith in them. You don’t not let Landon Donovan get on the plane for Brazil unless you have complete and utter faith in the remaining 23 players. Although Jozy Altidore injured his hamstring in the first 30 minutes against Ghana, Klinsmann has put his faith in Captain America, Clint Dempsey, that they could still score goals without Altidore and without Donovan.
In December 2013, Klinsmann made comments to The New York Times Magazine about how unrealistic he thought his team’s chances of winning the World Cup were. Klinsmann said “For us now talking about winning a World Cup, it is just not realistic. If it is American or not, you can correct me.” Those comments, although made six months ago, were only published eight days before the U.S. took on Ghana in Natal. There was ire in the States over his comments.
One prominent commentator, who shared his disdain of Jurgen Klinsmann, was Pardon the Interruption co-host Michael Wilbon. Wilbon, when Klinsmann was puzzled with the theory of teams in America paying players based of past performance instead of future performance, said “Get the hell out. Get out of America. If everything here — you want to coach this team fine. You haven’t won anything. You’re so gutless you went out and said ‘oh, our team can’t win, we can’t win.’ You’re supposed to be such a great coach, why are they paying you? They’re apparently paying you for something you did not only yesterday, but somewhere else about 4,000 miles away. I repeat: Get the hell out.”
This is one page out of the playbook that Klinsmann used beautifully. The “us against the world” card is an American tradition unlike any other. If this was the spark that gave Clint Dempsey motivation to score against Ghana while wearing the Red, White, and Blue, then so be it.
Whether subbing in John Anthony Brooks for a hobbled Matt Besler at halftime was a stroke of genius or blind luck, so be it. Whether it was having faith in Jermaine Jones, who he turned into his prominent holding midfielder and hit a firecracker of a shot to put the U.S. on level pegging with Portugal, so be it.
Everything that Klinsmann has done from The Snow Game in Denver against Costa Rica till the final Group Stage match against Germany has been beautiful. Sunil Gulati, the President of the United States Soccer Federation, was right to hire Klinsmann back in July 2011. It took a while to get the proper results but Klinsmann has The Yanks on the brink of a place that they have only reached one other time, the Quarterfinals of the FIFA World Cup.