The objective for Thursday was never about aesthetics for the United States National Team. It wasn’t even about winning. Rather, it was about advancing to the next round. And in that regard, the Stars and Stripes got the job done.
While the 1-0 defeat against Germany counts officially as a loss in the record books, a more important mark was made by coach Jurgen Klinsmann’s team. For the first time in their history, the United States have now qualified for the Round of 16 in consecutive World Cups.
How the Americans fare in the knockout stage of the world’s biggest tournament remains to be seen. Nevertheless, it would be hard to fault Klinsmann and all 23 of his players if they didn’t share a few smiles in their locker room within the bowels of Arena Pernambuco in Recife.
Drawn into one of the World Cup’s two strongest groups, the United States defeated Ghana on a dramatic last-second tally, surrendered a dramatic last second tally in tying Portugal and then gave Germany a hard enough time to ensure passage into the final 16.
Most analysts, including the author of this article, didn’t believe the Americans stood much of a chance when the tournament’s eight groups of four were finally announced. Trying to get past the likes of a pre-tourney favorite in Germany, a Cristiano Ronaldo-powered Portugal and consistent nemesis Ghana just seemed like too tall of a task.
Even Klinsmann, the coach known for his daring strategies and passionate support of his players, sounded alarm bells within media circles for his comments regarding unrealistic expectations of the United States winning a World Cup.
What the media didn’t realize was that this World Cup was never about winning a world title in Klinsmann’s eyes. It’s a nice dream for Americans to look at their scrappy squad and dream of lifting a trophy after the final in Rio de Janeiro, but Klinsmann prefers to keep his focus on the here and now. And the reality is that regardless of whether his team makes an extended stay in the knockout stages or gets eliminated in their next contest, the German coach and his team have done exactly what they hoped.
Klinsmann looked at his team, saw enough talent to be competitive and systematically molded it into a team that can compete. The Americans play smart defense, are opportunistic on offense and bring full intensity for 90 minutes each time out. Being realistic for Klinsmann equated to competing each and every game. The United States did just that for three games and now get to reap the rewards.
After all, 32 teams headed to Brazil wanting to win the World Cup. Only one country will actually do so. And Ghana and Portugal, two teams more highly regarded internationally than the United States, are going home. The Americans? They will play on. For Klinsmann and company, that’s all that matters.