Why Jurgen Klinsmann Is Under Most Pressure for USA at the World Cup

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Why Jurgen Klinsmann Is Under Most Pressure for USA at the World Cup
Buda Mendes/Getty Images
Klinsmann is under pressure, even if he never seems like it.

Jurgen Klinsmann is under the most pressure of anyone associated with the United States men's national team in the coming World Cup.

At the most basic level, Klinsmann is under the most scrutiny at this World Cup because the expectations for his team are so low—and because his decision to leave Donovan off the 23-man roster is a big reason why those expectations are where they are.

Whether or not "the success or failure of his 2014 team will inevitably be seen in the light of the Donovan decision," as Graham Parker wrote for Grantland, cannot be known until after the tournament is over. But Klinsmann did draw a bright, wide bull's-eye on his back with that call.

Did the contract extension Klinsmann received last December alleviate some of the pressure on him in this World Cup? To a degree it had to. Then again, you do not need to look far to see instances of long-term contracts that never reached maturity.

Beyond all of that, Klinsmann is under the most pressure of any of the USMNT personnel because, given the low expectations he helped to create, none of his individual players is really under the gun.

Start with the kids. Julian Green, John Anthony Brooks and DeAndre Yedlin probably would not have made this team if Klinsmann's mind weren't already on 2018. There is little guarantee that any of these young guns will actually play meaningful minutes at this World Cup.

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If Green plays at all, he'll be doing so with the house's money.

And if they do and perform poorly, the blame will go to Klinsmann for blooding them too soon.

Next come the rank and file 20-somethings and 30-somethings that make up the majority of this team. These are guys who may or may not be part of the Americans' 2018 World Cup side and who are being asked to do what they can under trying circumstances.

Players like Brad Davis, Kyle Beckerman, Chris Wondolowski and Geoff Cameron are not going to be pilloried if the bounces do not go their way in Brazil. For that matter, Davis and Wondolowski might not even see much time on the pitch at all.

So we move on to the team's "stars." In quotes, because at the World Cup level, the stars are Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi and Neymar. Being the best player on the United States men's national team is like being the best Brazilian baseball player.

The team boasts several USMNT veterans who have plenty to gain and little to lose in this tournament. Tim Howard, Clint Dempsey and Michael Bradley (among others) have legitimate World Cup experience. They have "been there, done that" before.

Certainly those stalwarts would love one more run into the knockout stage, but if form holds and the Americans are gone after failing to survive Group G's gauntlet of villains, it is not like any of their individual legacies will be tarnished.

Conversely, if the Americans somehow catch Portugal or Germany napping and slip past one of them on the way to a surprise run to elimination matches, it will likely be because one or all of these tested vets turned the clock back and carried the squad.

And you can't really point to Jozy Altidore here. He has scored twice in six months.

The fact that both goals came in his most recent match does not alter the reality that he is a striker still looking for his best form like a student cramming for a final exam after skipping classes all semester.

Which brings us back to Donovan.

Joe Scarnici/Getty Images
Donovan can use that snappy Samsung phone to find a good soccer bar on Yelp.

Klinsmann has the most pressure on him of anyone in Brazil with the U.S. team. But Donovan will almost certainly be feeling a lot of heat himself, even if he is watching the matches from a bar with a cold drink in front of him.

Donovan might be forgiven for hoping just a tiny bit that the Americans go to Brazil and come back goalless and pointless. Because a shocking run to World Cup glory for the 2014 version of the American World Cup team would be an indictment of what he achieved before and of the player he is now.

If the Americans have surprising success without Donovan, Klinsmann's decision to leave him off the roster will be vindicated in spades. And no one will be asking how far the Americans could have gone with Donovan, because the focus will be on what the 23 Klinsmann took are doing.

Moreover, an American foray into the business end of this tournament would, to some degree, diminish the past World Cup runs Donovan played such big roles in. If this Frankenstein's monster of a squad can advance, the efforts of past American sides lose some luster.

Donovan would not dare come out and say that he wants the American team headed to Brazil to fall on their faces.

He sort of does not have to.

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