Will Klinsmann's Gamble Pay Off For US?

It takes a brave man to drop Landycakes and Tim Stannard - over in the United States - wonders if it will backfire for a nation ill at ease with reduced expectations...

Last Updated: 10/06/14 at 09:38 Post Comment

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Jurgen Klinsmann had a big choice to make, that all important conundrum of what will be needed in Brazil to get through the Ultimate Group of Super Death. Something had to go. There was only a finite amount of space. In the end, the USA coach went for the basic, no-nonsense choice - a couple of pairs of beige slacks and some blue ones for good measures along with polo shirts and trainers, too.

The decision was filmed in all its glory in ESPN's fine documentary 'March to Brazil', which captures the preparations of the US team ahead of the World Cup. The swift, practical choice of official outwear reflected the ruthless, perfunctory qualities of Klinsmann. The other telling moment was that just three outfits were chosen. With judicial washing, sadly, that may be all that is needed despite Brazil's current twin tendencies for sweatiness and torrential rain.

Despite being a country known for plucky optimism and a can-do spirit in the face of adversity, the US fans would not be at all surprised if the national side came home without a point and without a goal to the side's name. The Americans' group contains Ghana - a bogey team of the past two World Cups, Portugal and Germany.

Optimists look to a victory in the opening game against a Ghana team that might be overpowered by a side that runs about a lot, a point against a Ronaldo-less Portugal and a Germany team looking to preserve energy ahead of the next round. The glass-half empty brigade will simply note that the US may have to rely on Jozy Altidore up front for goals. Never a good situation at the best of times, never mind in the World Cup.

The alternatives are Clint Dempsey, who is not the same level as four years ago, Chris Wondolowski, an interesting MLS option, as well as Aaron Johannsson from AZ Alkmaar. Not exactly Cristiano Ronaldo, but by no means as depressing an option as Helder Postiga, to be fair.

One figure not on the list is Landon Donovan and boy, that got tongues a-wagging across the pond, not just because the LA Galaxy forward is the biggest household name to anyone who might dip into soccer Stateside. Landycakes - a term used to describe the striker's tendency to take it easy in MLS - was cut from the roster due to a combination of poor form and Klinsmann never really liking the 32-year-old. Some footballers were "just a little step ahead of Landon in certain areas", claimed Klinsmann with few believing the German trainer.

This dislike of all things Donovan began when the forward decided to take a sabbatical from club and international football at the end of 2012, claiming exhaustion, a feeling that sent him off to find himself in Cambodia. This did not wash with the former German striker, who has always wanted his footballers to be primed, motivated and ideally playing in top clubs in Europe, rather than taking on the calamitous defence of DC United for kicks.

Klinsmann's snub may have left an easier squad to manage, but it leaves the US without guile and firepower, at a time when it mosts needs it. The US national coach even admitted that his players are unlikely to win the tournament unless seven 'games-of-their-lives' are produced.

This caused gasps of those who expect a more positive attitude ahead of the World Cup for America's finest, balanced by those who know football and realise that Klinsmann was both talking sense and not saying anything too different to most other World Cup managers.

The game's standing in the US is sufficiently strong that a poor showing in the World Cup will not put a dent in the its support, but it will be a huge blow to Klinsmann, who is try to rebuild the US game from the grassroots level. That began by hacking down its biggest tree in Donovan, a heck of a gamble for a limited side.

Tim Stannard

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