Jürgen Klinsmann is a pragmatist, not an egotist. He built this American soccer team on the needs of a three-match first round, which demands endurance and strength and youth.
When Klinsmann left Landon Donovan off the squad going to Brazil, it was no act of domination, showing who was boss. I thought he was wrong, and still do, because, as a lot of people have said, sometime in this first round the USA just might need somebody to bust a goal, late.
Then again, they did that Monday in the steam bath of Natal, and it came from one of the five German-Americans, players with two passports, Klinsmann recruited to this team. John Brooks, 21 years old, with a father from Illinois and a mother from Berlin, inserted at halftime because of injury, popped in a header in the 86th minute for a 2-1 victory over Ghana.
This would not have been Donovan’s kind of game. But the next one against Portugal, or the one after that against Germany, might be the place where a wise, fleet attacker could pull out a draw, or a victory, to get the Americans into the round of 16, now a possibility.
When the Donovan debate was going on – and maybe it still is, since I am bringing it up here – I never could summon up any vitriol toward Klinsmann’s impact on this team. His credentials are too good. He was a fast and wily forward who scored World Cup goals, won a World Cup as a player and coached a third-place German team in 2006. “He knows stuff,” I told people. “He is no fool. He may think Donovan is soft, or past it. I think he’s wrong. But he’s a good coach.”
The USA has had other good coaches. Bruce Arena coached two of the best matches the USA has ever played, over Mexico and a bitter loss to Germany in 2002. (Klinsmann, uninvolved, thought the USA outplayed his homeland.) Bob Bradley had a team that scored a desperation goal against Algeria in 2010 -- yes, the Donovan goal. Now Klinsmann has done something neither of them did. He has beaten Ghana in the World Cup.
The Portugal match? They have injuries and a red card absence by the hot-headed Pepe. Klinsmann will put together a team for Sunday. He knows what he is doing. Now it is time for the players to recuperate. And us.
Welcome to World Cup 2022, the most absurd thing that the routinely absurd world of sports has ever produced.
Those extreme descriptions were what virtually the entire world, save for those who had walked off with bags of cash from Qatar, called the awarding of soccer’s greatest event to the incredibly tiny, incredibly wealthy country back in 2010.
Twelve years ago, many were convinced this event couldn’t possibly happen: staging the world’s biggest sporting event in a country the size of Connecticut, one with zero soccer culture and even less soccer infrastructure? The tournament couldn’t possibly take place in 120-degree heat, and FIFA, the governing body of soccer, most certainly wouldn’t upend football leagues around the world to change the traditional summer schedule, could it?
And, for God’s sake, what about the beer?
Those were just the logistical concerns. The moral concerns are far more distressing. FIFA, so busy paying lip service to equality, couldn’t possibly expect the world to embrace a country where you could go to prison for being gay, where women’s rights are severely curtailed and female victims of sexual assault could go to prison, charged with engaging in extramarital sex. And all those questions came before the global realization that the World Cup was being built on the backs of migrant labor: modern-day slaves held in Qatar with virtually no rights, low wages and no ability to leave. Migrants make up 90% of Qatar’s stated population of 3 million. The country’s native-born equal about 300,000, or roughly the size of Anaheim.
---Ann Killion, columnist for The San Francisco Chronicle.