SNYDER: Turns out, Jurgen Klinsmann pushed the right buttons for U.S.

United States' head coach Jurgen Klinsmann talks during a press conference following a training session in Sao Paulo, Brazil, Tuesday, June 17, 2014.  The United States will play against Portugal in group G of the 2014 soccer World Cup on June 22. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)United States’ head coach Jurgen Klinsmann talks during a press conference following a training session in Sao Paulo, Brazil, Tuesday, June 17, 2014. The United States will play against Portugal in group G of the 2014 soccer World Cup on June 22. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)
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ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Jurgen Klinsmann was correct in December, although his brutally honest assessment seemed all wrong coming from a coach:


SEE ALSO: U.S. ready for World Cup showdown against Belgium


“We cannot win this World Cup, because we are not at that level yet,” Klinsmann told the New York Times Magazine in an interview that was published in June. “For us, we have to play the game of our lives seven times to win the tournament. Realistically, it is not possible.”

Critics howled and accused him of being un-American.

They were right, because such frankness is virtually nonexistent. It is considered tantamount to quitting before the competition begins.

Klinsmann wasn’t conceding anything, however, except the obvious fact that the United States isn’t close to elite status in international soccer. Escaping the treacherous Group of Death, with Germany, Portugal and Ghana as obstacles, would be a difficult feat.

Advancing through the knockout stage to reach the World Cup final would be close to impossible.

I never understood the big deal about Klinsmann’s comment. It seemed like the perfect combination of tampering public expectations and challenging the team to reach deeper. Coaches always do the latter in private, during practices and meetings, but they usually refuse to let unfiltered truth seep out during interviews.

Consider Major League Baseball, where “hope springs eternal” every February as training camps open. The Houston Astros lost more games than any other team last season. While I haven’t scoured every quote from manager Bo Porter, I would be floored if he said winning the World Series this year is impossible.

In the NBA, the Milwaukee Bucks lost eight of every 10 games they played last season. They clearly are not at the championship-level yet. But good luck getting Larry Drew (or ego-tripping, soon-to-be Milwaukee coach Jason Kidd) to flat-out admit the Bucks’ chances of winning the title are unrealistic.

I’ll give NFL coaches a pass. It’s the easiest league to go from worst to first — or at least worst to playoffs. Losing teams get the easiest schedules and vice versa, creating more parity and turnover among postseason participants.

Besides, football culture is too macho to allow any concession that opponents might be superior.

Klinsmann’s analysis outraged many observers, but it took pressure off the team. With the focus squarely on him, the players could respond in two ways: they could grow despondent and consider failure a given, or they could find extra motivation and use it to prove Klinsmann wrong.

In the latter case, he always had an out, illustrating the simplistic brilliance of his comment. More coaches should follow suit and use the same qualifier when talking about their teams.

Klinsmann said, in December, that the U.S. was not championship material “yet.”

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About the Author

Deron Snyder

Deron Snyder is an award-winning journalist and Washington Times sports columnist with more than 25 years of experience. He has worked at USA Today and his column was syndicated in Gannett’s 80-plus newspapers from 2000-2009, appearing in The Arizona Republic, The Indianapolis Star, The Detroit News and many others. Follow Deron on Twitter @DeronSnyder or email him at deronwashtimes@gmail.com.

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