Klinsmann feels the weight of rising US expectation
How things change in sport. In America right now Jurgen Klinsmann, national team coach, is being pilloried for admitting what everyone knows – that the US will not win the World Cup.
American sport is about dreaming the impossible dream, but the irate reaction to Klinsmann's realism shows that, quietly, America is beginning to expect.
Growing up in the States, I've watched the evolution of American football over my lifetime. Italia '90 was a memorable tournament for the US, too. I still remember the 5-1 drubbing at the hands of Czechoslovakia in America's first game. It was jarring to see the US so bad at a sport.
Four years later, we hosted the big dance. The jerseys were an abomination, but we had hair like no country had hair– Cobi Jones, Alexi Lalas and other forgotten mullets. A freak Escobar own goal saw us past Columbia. Brazil were on the ropes in the round of 16 before sticking the knife in.
France '98 felt like an omen. We lost every group match, including an unforgettable defeat to Iran in Lyon. The 'Great Satan' had been vanquished, we finished last overall and America considered forgetting football.
The earth started to shift in 2002. First came the shock slaying of the great Portugal team of Figo and Rui Costa on the same day Ireland drew with Germany in Ibaraki. In the last 16, a young Landon Donovan inspired America's greatest result – a 2-0 dismantling of old enemy Mexico – before we were eventually booted out by that middling Germany side in the quarter-finals.
In Germany '06 we didn't get out of the group and it took a stoppage-time miracle goal from Donovan against Algeria four years ago to reach the final 16. In both tournaments, Ghana would play a major role in booting us out.
Lalas' ginger afro, a litany of bald goalkeepers, Jozy Altidore – America's contribution to planet futbol cannot be downplayed.
Sadly, we are due a bad tournament. With Germany, Portugal and bogey team Ghana in our group, a round of 16 place would be a great success.
Klinsmann's team looks callow, and whole lot of pressure is going to fall on the young shoulders of Altidore. Be afraid, be very afraid.