Jurgen Klinsmann's big ploy
RIO DE JANEIRO -- Never before has a U.S. men's team advanced to the knockout round in consecutive World Cups. Never. Yet when this U.S. team got out of the much-publicized group of death, it was not surprise or relief or even reflection that we heard from the players -- it was hunger.
"We want more," U.S. midfielder Michael Bradley said. "There's no feeling of satisfaction." And U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann was quick to point out, "Be proud, not content."
The same Jurgen Klinsmann who, with a masterstroke of genius, managed to get an entire country behind this U.S. team with just one sentence:
The United States cannot win the World Cup.
Our country instantly roared in shock and horror pre-World Cup: Oh my! Did he just say that out loud?! How dare Jurgen Klinsmann say the U.S. cannot win!
But the savvy German-born Klinsmann has lived in America long enough to know all too well: Don't ever tell Americans that they can't do something.
Instantly, a nation responded, chanting "I believe!" in bars, on the streets, into a camera, a megaphone or anywhere they could be heard. "I believe!" was the rally cry that became the collective Klinsmann rebuttal. And as the chorus gets louder, the viewing parties get bigger. Grant Park became too small to host the overflowing crowds in Chicago, so the free viewing party for Tuesday's U.S.-Belgium match is now on the giant screen at Soldier Field. The scene will be the same at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, the home of the Dallas Cowboys. I have heard countless tales from friends at home talking about a buzz and energy that is unprecedented in the States.
And with this unified "I believe!" chant, the nation has morphed from hesitant to hopeful. What if the United States beats Belgium on Tuesday? Why not?
Could the American men even possibly beat Argentina? Why not? Surely it's possible, given some of the storylines at this World Cup. It's both tempting and premature to think beyond the round of 16 matchup, but the confidence in the players and Klinsmann is palpable.
"We're not spending a lot of time worrying about who's the favorite on paper," Michael Bradley said.
"We have a lot of respect for the Belgian team, but no fear at all," U.S. captain Clint Dempsey said.
There is a calm, grounded confidence to this U.S. team that I don't remember from prior World Cups.
And while America wraps its arms around the question of why not, Klinsmann reminds the players they have not shown their best yet. They must perform to live another day: "Now we want more. We are very, very hungry and focused."
Because, from here on out, as these players know well, four years is a heck of a long time to wait to get another chance. And as U.S. defender Omar Gonzalez noted recently, "Jurgen has asked us to change our flights to July 14/15 because he says we're gonna be here. We plan on being here a few more weeks."
Well, look at that, America ... #Jurgendoesbelieve.