BALTIMORE – It was the first question each manager faced on Saturday. And each time the query left the reporters mouth, Jurgen Klinsmann and Agustín Castillo seemed to sigh a little before launching into their respective answers.
Yes, Klinsmann said he’d “rather play Belgium 10 more times than El Salvador for the 100th time” following a 4-2 thrashing at the hands of the Europeans at the end of May. And yes, the Salvadoran media and public understandably latched onto the quote as a clear sign of disrespect.
However, if Castillo is to be believed, the sound byte that’s inspired headlines in both countries isn’t bulletin-board material. It’s water under the bridge.
"I think its something that sometimes coaches say," Castillo said. "I went to play Venezuela and Paraguay and I said something like that. Something like, 'Sometimes it's worth more to play in South America.' Things like that come out of coach's mouthes once and a while."
Even though Castillo isn't riled up in the least, there’s a good chance the Americans will hear about the insult – perceived or not – come Sunday afternoon when a large number of Salvadoran ex-pats pack a sold out M&T Bank Stadium for the first of two Gold Cup quarterfinals (4 pm ET, Fox/Univision, Live chat on MLSsoccer.com).
Klinsmann’s certainly on the side of perceived slight, insisting his statement had far more to do with the learning experience Belgium provided rather than a disdain or disrespect for El Salvador.
“I think it’s just a normal statement that happened there because we had a very bad game against Belgium. It had nothing to do with El Salvador, who we respect a lot,” Klinsmann explained. “We expect a very difficult game tomorrow. We are prepared for it. We are ready for it. Our goal is getting to the semifinal. Our goal is to win this tournament, respecting every opponent that we face.”
Like the US Under-23s learned the hard way in Olympic qualifying, El Salvador is more than capable of an upset on their day, a prospect sure to be on the minds of Los Cuscatlecos there to support their seleccion.
And although he was effusive in his praise for the US’ opponents, Klinsmann made it clear his respect should not be confused with charity.
There is plenty of the former for the Salvadorans in the US camp, no matter what their supporters might have intoned from the German’s comments, but that doesn’t mean the streaking Americans are willing to accept anything less than advancement in Baltimore.
“You can’t lose. It doesn’t matter that you have now eight wins in a row or five or two or whatever,” Klinsmann said. “In order to win this tournament, you’ve got to win the next three games. We are not looking at any series. We are not looking at any statistics. We know that we have a difficult match here tomorrow and we’re ready for it. But for us, the Gold Cup is only successful if we win it.”