SAO PAULO – The oddsmakers give the United States a 250 to 1 chance of winning the World Cup. If you ask Jurgen Klinsmann, you’re better off investing that money elsewhere.
On Wednesday, prior to the USMNT’s public training session at São Paulo FC’s training grounds, Klinsmann doubled down on his proclamation in The New York Times that lifting the World Cup trophy amounts to nothing more than a pipe dream for an American team that has just four victories on the sport’s biggest stage since 1990.
“Even half a year before and even now today before the World Cup starts, to say that we should win the World Cup is just not realistic,” Klinsmann said. “If it’s American or not American, I don’t know. You can correct me however you want.”
Plenty of USMNT fans claimed Klinsmann’s comments to the Times were the latter, sentiments that may have been shared considering the long odds but perhaps weren’t palatable in a public forum, especially coming from the mouth of the man being paid millions to lead the team to unprecedented success.
On Tuesday, the Times followed up with a poll that surveyed the residents of all 32 countries, asking which team would lift the World Cup trophy in Rio de Janeiro on July 13. Only two countries chose themselves as the most common answer: Brazil and the US, reinforcing the stereotypical American belief that, against all odds, anything is possible.
Could the US make an unlikely run? Stranger things have happened. Klinsmann likened his team’s situation to Greece’s before they clawed their way to the 2004 European Championship and added that if the US can somehow navigate the Group of Death, “then the sky is the limit.”
And if the Americans do indeed find a way past Ghana, Portugal and Germany, then they won’t be “shying away from anybody.” The US may not be favorites by any stretch of the imagination, but confidence isn’t lacking either after coming off a record-setting year in 2013.
“I think every year we are making another step forward. We are getting stronger,” Klinsmann said. “We always now approach games where we don’t look at ourselves as an underdog, even if a lot of people want to put us as the underdog in this very difficult group. We’re not.”
But they also know history isn’t exactly on their side, either.
In 22 World Cup matches since 1990, the US have only managed to defeat Colombia in 1994 (an own-goal broke a 1-1 draw), Portugal (an own-goal broke a 2-2 draw) and Mexico in 2002 and Algeria in 2010.
Jozy Altidore was on the lone US team to reach an international final, which the Americans lost to Brazil in the 2009 Confederations Cup, and he echoed his coach’s thoughts. Yes, anything is possible, but expectations should be measured until the Americans prove they’re truly capable of greatness on the world stage.
“We haven’t won a World Cup before, so you can’t go in saying, ‘Oh, we have to do what we’ve done in the past,’” Altidore told reporters on Wednesday. “You come here obviously with that dream in the back of your mind. Let’s not be silly, at the same time, you have to be realistic and understand there are some teams that are a bit more favored than we are to win the tournament.”
Still, like Klinsmann, Altidore said he and his teammates know the knockout stage – and therefore any hope of shocking the world, and their head coach for that matter – hinges on performances on June 16, 22 and 26 that will be decided by a few critical moments.
Like World Cups past, those games will almost certainly come down to split-second decisions and fateful bounces.
“I am a believer,” Klinsmann said. “They will go for us.”
And if they do, who knows? Perhaps the US can surprise Klinsmann and his brutally honest German sensibilities after all, odds be damned.
“It’s an opportunity for us to prove him wrong,” said a grinning Mix Diskerud.