U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann wasn't afraid to shake things up by leaving Landon Donovan—the most decorated player in the history of American soccer—off this year's World Cup roster. So his latest comments about the United States not having a realistic shot of winning the 2014 World Cup probably shouldn't come as a huge surprise.
Nonetheless, they're likely to inspire an impassioned response from American supporters.
Here's what he told reporters in Brazil, via ESPN's Jeff Carlisle:
You have to be realistic. Every year we are getting stronger. We don't look at ourselves as underdogs. We are not. We are going to take the game to Ghana and they will take it to us and it will be an exciting game and then we go from there.
For us now talking about winning a World Cup, it is just not realistic. If it is American or not, you can correct me.
That may sound like a bit of a downer heading into the World Cup, or it may sound like a harsh dose of realism from a man trying to manage expectations. It could be seen as a motivating tool for the players, or simply a splash of cold, stark pragmatism.
On one hand, the odds are stacked against the United States. It will be incredibly difficult to advance from a group featuring Germany, Portugal and Ghana. And while this team is currently ranked No. 13 by FIFA, much of that has resulted from its dominance of CONCACAF, a weaker collection of talent than you find in Europe or South America.
On the other hand, many Americans will read Klinsmann's comments as pessimistic, an attitude that may not necessarily sit well in the United States. Some will acknowledge the United States have long odds to win the entire tournament but will prefer to focus on having hope and belief before the tournament. This is a team that comes into the World Cup with six wins and two draws in its last 10 matches, after all.
ESPN's Marc Connolly feels Klinsmann could have worded his point better:
Wouldn't Klinsmann be better off saying, "We know we're not the top team in the world. But any team can get hot in a tournament format."— Marc Connolly (@mconnolly10) June 11, 2014
And then there is the perspective offered by Michael Bradley, who interpreted Klinsmann's comments a little differently, as he told Carlisle:
It's up to each person to take what they want from that. I look at it all pretty simply. Every team starts on zero points. Every team has three games to show they can get out of the group. If you are able to pass, then it is knockout games. We have seen time and time again over 90 minutes, anything can happen. Our first goal is now taking care of business. We expect to be in a position where we can get out of this group and then we take it one game at a time. More than that? Does it make sense to think about it in any way other than that?
Give Klinsmann this—he is never boring, and you never quite know what he'll do next. The Donovan exclusion was a shocker. The team has tinkered with new formations and styles of play in recent friendlies. He has never been shy about expressing his opinion on the state of American soccer.
Perhaps Klinsmann's habit of doing the unexpected is just what the team needs. Perhaps keeping them thinking they are the underdogs, that nobody expects them to succeed, will be the motivating force that propels them to great things.
We shall see. Once again, Klinsmann is pushing buttons. However, it remains to be seen if he's pushing the right ones.