Photo by John Todd/ISIphotos.com
By FRANCO PANIZO
SAO PAULO — Much has been made of Jurgen Klinsmann’s recent comments regarding how unrealistic it is to expect the U.S. Men’s National Team to win the World Cup this summer, and many people have come out and publicly disagreed with the head coach’s stance.
The U.S. players are not among those people.
Following their open training session at Sao Paulo FC’s practice facility on Wednesday, several veteran players echoed the controversial sentiments of Klinsmann by saying that the primary focus this summer should be on getting out of the group stage. The players believe that only then can they turn their attention towards accomplishing something bigger in Brazil.
“The most important thing is we have to get out of the group stage,” said midfielder Alejandro Bedoya. “After that, it’s anybody’s game really. You play any team after the group stage, you’re obviously already confident and you’ve got some motivation from advancing out of the group stage. It’s football, anything can happen.”
The team’s measured approach ahead of the World Cup might be a surprise to casual fans or those who tune in once every four years — after all, it doesn’t fit into the usual American psyche of trying to win it all. But those who have been paying just the slightest bit of attention in recent years are aware that the U.S. has a tough task ahead of itself due to Group G having no pushovers.
There is Ghana, the African powerhouse that has eliminated the Americans from the last two World Cups; Portugal, who boast reigning FIFA Ballon d’Or winner Cristiano Ronaldo and a bevy of other talented players who play for some of the top clubs in the world; and a Germany team that is stacked from top to bottom and considered one of the favorites to hoist the World Cup trophy in Rio de Janeiro on July 13.
While most pundits outside of the U.S. are not giving the Americans much of a chance to advance from what is considered by many to be the “Group of Death” in this summer’s competition, Klinsmann’s side is solely focusing on what they can control.
“It’s not important what the people outside say,” said midfielder Jermaine Jones. “It’s important what is inside of the group. We know that we have a good group and the focus has to be game to game.”
The focus is just that right now, and part of the reason why Klinsmann was not too keen on answering a question about Portugal — the Americans’ second group-stage opponent — during his press conference on Wednesday.
He and the rest of the U.S. team is strictly focusing on their group opener vs. Ghana right now, as that match in Natal on June 16 will likely play a determining role on if the Americans can meet their stated goal and possibly surpass it.
“Look, we haven’t won a World Cup before so you can’t go into the World Cup saying, ‘Oh, we have to do what we’ve done in the past,'” said forward Jozy Altidore. “You come here obviously with that dream in the back of your mind, let’s not be silly. At the same time, you have to be honest and say, ‘There are some teams that maybe are a bit more favored than obviously we are to win the tournament.’
“Saying all that, you try to take it one game at a time and see how far you can go. Then, as it gets closer — hopefully, if we get closer to the end — then you start to (think of a winning it all).”