Since the day in July 2011 that United States Soccer Federation President Sunil Gulati announced Jurgen Klinsmann as the new U.S. MNT coach, it has all been about the World Cup.
Gulati had jettisoned Bob Bradley to bring in Klinsmann, and it was always the former German greats brief to bring the U.S. national team somewhere new, somewhere further. A difficult Word Cup draw does nothing to change that.
The Americans have long since made qualifying for the world’s quadrennial celebration of the beautiful game a matter of routine. A succession of coaches had guided the U.S. to six consecutive World Cups, before Gulati finally completed his four year quest and landed Klinsmann.
Bob Gansler ended a 50 year World Cup drought for the U.S. in 1990, qualifying with his team of recent college grads and lower league professionals. In 1994 the U.S. and Bora Milutinovic received an automatic bid as host, but the well traveled coach advanced the U.S. out of the group stages, where the Yanks went out heroically 1-0, to eventual Champions Brazil. And, although Steve Sampson may have set the program back with a three losses and out effort in France in 1998, he qualified. Bruce Arena had a great World Cup in 2002, and then a bad one in 2006, and Bob Bradley won his group in 2010.
Klinsmann was hired in 2011 with an almost unfathomably bigger name and reputation than any of them. More was promised, more is expected. Topping the qualifying group, winning the Gold Cup, while all good, has all been done before, by those other, less glamorous U.S. coaches.
Beating Mexico in Mexico, winning in Italy, setting records for wins in a year, Klinsmann can claim those accomplishments. But the success of Klinsmann’s tenure with the U.S. MNT still comes down to what his team does at this World Cup. No one knows or cares where the U.S. finished in 2002 qualification, third by the way. But they sure remember that the U.S. made it to the quarterfinals in South Korea/Japan.
Now the ping pong balls have been dispersed and the U.S. will have to deal with it. Germany, Portugal, and the old nemesis Ghana. Klinsmann, as expected, shrugged it off, the opposition, the travel, the only thing Klinsmann admitted concern for was playing in the Amazon, an odd place to build a stadium, when you think of it.
January camp, a couple of friendlies, then pick the team. Pick a team to contend with Portugal and Ronaldo. Portugal have become overly dependent on Ronaldo, but who wouldn’t. So, slow Ronaldo becomes the plan, but can DaMarcus Beasley and Brad Evans honestly be expected to handle him. Converted midfielders both, but then again which natural fullbacks in the U.S. pool would be up to that task.
The U.S. MNT went toe to toe with Klinsmann’s native Germany last June, beating a youthful German side 4-3. Will that victory instill confidence in the Americans when they face Die Mannschaft in their final group game on June 26?
The U.S. open with Ghana, the country that has knocked the U.S. out of the past two World Cups. Ghana can’t send the U.S. packing this time, but if the Germany game is going to mean anything to the U.S., a victory over Ghana may be imperative.
The U.S. will split the January camp this year between California and Sao Paolo, the U.S. base camp in Brazil. Camp begins at the StubHub Center in Carson, California on January 6 and moves on to Brazil on the 12th.
I had a chance to ask the U.S. coach a question via e-mail on the day of the World Cup draw.
With most European based players unavailable for the January camp, my question for Klinsmann was, what he was looking to accomplish with this camp?
“It’s definitely an opportunity to test out the infrastructure in Sao Paolo, and get a feel for Brazil. It’s an introduction for the players. From a players perspective, we will be taking it very seriously and train similar to ways we will leading into the World Cup. We want to get them ready so they know what to expect coming into camp in May.”
The January camp closes with a game against fellow World Cup Qualifiers, the Korea Republic on February 1. U.S. Soccer is attempting to arrange another match or two before the Cup.
And, that is it. Group of Death or not, the goal remains the same as it was when Jurgen Klinsmann was hired to replace Bob Bradley. Getting to the World Cup was never the goal, bring the U.S. somewhere new, somewhere further, that’s the goal.