SAO PAULO – A lack of talent didn’t doom the United States at the World Cup, but the wrong mentality certainly didn’t help them achieve their goals.
That was one of the final thoughts from Jurgen Klinsmann at the US training ground here in Barra Funda on Wednesday, one day after the Americans were knocked out of the round of 16 for the second straight World Cup.
Klinsmann – who addressed a range of topics with reporters in his longest interview session since the team arrived in Brazil in early June – said that the team’s group stage loss to Germany and Tuesday’s elimination loss to Belgium in Salvador were “more of a mental topic than a talent topic,” and reiterated his previous stance that the American players gave too much respect to their opponents in Brazil.
“We could have turned [the Belgium game] around in the last 15 minutes of extra time, absolutely,” Klinsmann said. “We had enough chances to win that game 3-2 in extra time. But why aren’t we doing that earlier? This is a constant discussion we have…
“We gotta start this process this earlier with our younger players that we are not reacting to the opponent, but that are trying to take the game to them and play it. I believe it’s more of a mental topic that we have to work on than a talent topic.”
The United States played Belgium to a scoreless first 90 minutes in Salvador before the Belgians scored two goals in the first 15 minutes of extra time. The Americans controlled much of the final 15 minutes of the match after youngster Julian Green scored in the 107th minute, but the US were unable to find the equalizer late to send the game into a penalty shootout.
The Americans were decidedly outplayed much of the game – they allowed 17 shots on goal and set a modern day World Cup record for clearances from a backline under siege all night long – and only managed to control the game in the waning minutes of extra time.
“After analyzing every game of this World Cup … we will look at the details and communicate those details to the players in a couple weeks, after they’ve had their break,” Klinsmann said. “We learned a lot of lessons from a World Cup like this. And we will go through it all thoroughly with [the players].”
Klinsmann admitted on Wednesday that the Americans had a goal of reaching the quarterfinals or perhaps even make a surprise run to the semifinals, and reiterated his stance that their long-term goal is to become ranked among the top eight teams in the world on a regular basis.
“Saying that we could come into this World Cup and win the World Cup is just not right,” Klinsmann said. “You’re raising expectations to a level that is over the moon. Is it possible to come of that group we were in? Yes, because we did it. Is it possible to maybe even win four more games? Yes, it is possible. But you can’t go in there and say we’re here to win the World Cup when you have Brazil and Germany and all the big countries in there.”
Klinsmann added that if certain breaks had gone the Americans’ way on Tuesday – he cited Chris Wondolowski’s stoppage-time miss from inside the box as one opportunity – the team could have challenged Argentina in the quarterfinals later this week in Brasilia.
“After this World Cup I think a lot of countries look at us differently and say, ‘they’ll give us a game,’” he said. “They’re not taking us lightly anymore no matter where we go. We’re building that respect more and more, and hopefully we’re ready now to be in those top eight or top 10 teams sooner than later.”
The team’s schedule might allow for the Americans to climb the rankings, but only if they hold their ground in crucial tournaments before the next World Cup. The US will compete in the CONCACAF Gold Cup next summer with a spot in the 2017 Confederations Cup on the line, and the 2016 Copa America will be played on American soil and give Klinsmann’s group a chance compete against the best teams from South America, something they didn’t get in Brazil.
There’s also a shot at Olympic redemption on the line in 2016, another one of the events Klinsmann referred to as “benchmark moments” for a program now looking to move on from its disappointment in Brazil.
“It’s important that the people identify themselves with how the American team is playing,” he said. “The energy, the commitment, the tempo and the aggressiveness that we played with made people proud at home and also surprised people outside of the United States.
“I got many emails and comments from people that said, ‘You were so close to beating the big ones.’ We take that compliment, but it makes us even more hungry for the next time.”