As a presidential candidate in 2008, Barack Obama ran on a slogan of “Yes We Can.” U.S. head coach Jurgen Klinsmann seems to be clinging to the slogan “No We Can’t.”
The blunt comments from the former World Cup winner with Germany rankled some critics. The lack of optimism seemed to be contrary to how many Americans think.
"You have to be realistic. Every year we are getting stronger," said Klinsmann at a Wednesday press conference. "We don't look at ourselves as underdogs. We are not. We are going to take the game to Ghana and they will take it to us and it will be an exciting game and then we go from there.
"For us now talking about winning a World Cup, it is just not realistic. If it is American or not, you can correct me."
Klinsmann’s comments can be interpreted in a few ways. He could be tempering expectations for an American public that presumes the U.S. will run all over the competition. Klinsmann may also be applying pressure on his squad to push them to exceed expectations. Then there’s a theory that seems to be the most plausible: Klinsmann was just being honest.
Las Vegas oddsmakers agree with Klinsmann. The U.S. are 100/1 favorites to win the World Cup, and have 5/2 odds of advancing out of the group, according to Bovada.
The U.S. enter the World Cup in the “Group of Death,” with Germany, Portugal, and Ghana on their schedule. Every country advanced out of the group stage in the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. Only two will survive in Brazil.
Germany are particularly deep and talented, and are expected to win the group behind the play of the likes of Bayern Munich stars Thomas Muller, Philipp Lahm, and arguably the world’s best goalkeeper Manuel Neuer. The Germans play a very technical style, and rarely turn the ball over.
Portugal have perhaps the best player in the world: Cristiano Ronaldo. The Real Madrid star has plenty of talent around him, too. Portugal is eager to dispel the notion that they underachieve in the World Cup.
Ghana, meanwhile, have been a recent nemesis of the U.S., having defeated the U.S. in the last two World Cups. While their squad appears to be weaker than in 2010, Ghana have several experienced players, and some dynamic newcomers.
Should the U.S. advance out of Group G, they will likely face similar or even greater powerhouses at some point, such as host-nation Brazil, defending-champion Spain, or Argentina, just to name a few. It’s certainly a tall order to not only advance, let alone beat Brazil on their home soil.
Whether Klinsmann was wise to be so candid is subject to much debate. But when it comes to talent vs. talent, the U.S. simply doesn’t have a player as good as Ronaldo, Lionel Messi, or Andres Iniesta.
But Team USA are not exactly a pushover. The Yanks have looked sharp in recent weeks after comfortably finishing in first place in Concacaf qualifying. The U.S. also came within a goal of reaching the quarterfinals in 2010, losing in extra time in the Round of 16.
The Yanks also have a history of slaying Goliath. In 2009, the U.S. defeated Spain in the Confederations Cup, 2-0. One year later, Spain were the champions of the world.
There are also a collection of quality U.S. players surrounding goalkeeper Tim Howard, playmaker Michael Bradley, and forward Clint Dempsey. While Jozy Altidore underachieved with Sunderland, he has had plenty of memorable moments in international competition. Versatile defender Geoff Cameron had a strong season for Stoke City, and winger Alejandro Bedoya could be due to shine after a solid effort with Nantes.
At defensive midfielder, Klinsmann has two quality options in former Schalke star Jermaine Jones, and workhorse Kyle Beckerman of Real Salt Lake.
The defense may be the most questionable area of Klinsmann’s squad. Center back Matt Besler is inexperienced and has never played in a top-flight league. DaMarcus Beasley has been moved to left back over his previous role as a winger. The bench has untested newcomers DeAndre Yedlin and John Brooks.
There is also no “super sub” to bolster the team late in the match. (Yes, Landon Donovan would likely have fit that role well, but that’s a conversation for another time.) A player who has the opportunity to emerge as a star is Julian Green. At only 19, Green might be the future of U.S. Soccer. The talented forward, who currently plays for Bayern Munich, could be a valuable contributor in this tournament despite only two caps.
Outlook: The U.S. will open with Ghana on June 16, and probably need a victory to have any chance to advance. Ghana is regarded by some as the weakest country in the group, but they came extremely close to advancing to the semifinals in 2010. A victory over Ghana, and a defensive effort to hold off Portugal and Germany may be the only way for the U.S. to advance.
One bright side for the U.S. is the Round-of-16 opponent will not be an elite team. Belgium is the only strong team in Group H, and should the U.S. get out of Group G, it is not improbable that U.S. will make the quarters with a win in the second round.
After that? Well, let’s put it this way… Klinsmann may have had a stronger point than some people think.