The grand "Jurgen Klinsmann Experiment" could be reaching an apex in the next week or so and it could not only be make-or-break for the German coach's standing with the United States Men's National Soccer Team, but for the squad itself for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil next summer.
With World Cup qualifying games against Costa Rica and Mexico over a five-day span beginning Friday, the fate of the U.S. team could hinge on those results. Already saddled with a stunning loss to Honduras last month, the U.S. needs to get in the win column -- or least avoid another loss.
It won't be easy. "Los Ticos" is a home game, but Costa Rica is never an easy win for the Americans. They follow that up with a trip to Azteca Stadium to take on "El Tri," one of the toughest places to play in the world. A pair of wins, or a win and a tie, and the grumblings about Klinsmann's training methods may abate. A couple of ties? Not the end of the world. Two losses? Say goodbye to Klinsmann and all but kiss away the Americans chances of reaching Brazil.
It would appear Klinsmann, the former World Cup champion and former German National Team coach, is already on shaky ground, following a damning article published in The Sporting News, in which several anonymous players questioned the coach's methods. During his 19-month tenure as the national team coach, Klinsmann has constantly shifted his lineups, never staying with one for very long. There is a time to tinker with lineups -- to see who plays well with others, how players handle unfamiliar positions -- but World Cup qualifying is not the time to do it. The Americans' defensive line has been just shy of an unmitigated disaster and the offense still doesn't seem to have bought into Klinsmann's attacking style.
Yet here they are, playing their most important games of the year, without longtime captain Carlos Bocanegra (who was dismissed from the team after being benched against Honduras) and Landon Donovan (the home-grown talent who, mysteriously, is not in training camp). The scoring prowess of Jozy Altidore and Clint Dempsey, who are pulverizing the nets with their club teams, can't seem to translate it to the national team.
I, for one, was excited to see Klinsmann hired. A real soccer man who would pull out the best of the Americans and position them to be a real threat in World Cups to come. Hasn't really happened that way, not yet. And I'm beginning to think that is doesn't matter if Klinsmann's the coach or his predecessor Bob Bradley or even Bruce Arena, who had the greatest amount of success with the national team. I'm starting to believe the Americans just aren't that good and are destined to never be a big player on world soccer scene.
At first glance, it appears the rest of the teams in CONCACAF, which includes teams from North and Central America and the Caribbean, is catching up to the Americans. I think it's the other way around: the U.S. is sinking to the level of inferior opponents.
At one point, not too long ago, the U.S. was a top-20 team in the world. The Americans were ranked No. 33 in the latest FIFA rankings. Despite the "soccer mom/dad" culture that has permeated the American suburbs for generations, soccer hasn't seem to have caught on beyond the youth leagues. The cries of "Wait until our best athletes start playing soccer" are falling on deaf ears. The simple fact of the matter is, the best American athletes aren't playing soccer, not past the age of 10 or 12 anyway. Even if they are, they tend to gravitate to other sports.
Maybe it's time to temper enthusiasm for the USMNST and just enjoy the ride to the World Cup -- if they get there. The way things are going, that's no sure thing.
During my time as the Sports Lounge, I've kind of taken you behind the curtain, so to speak, and given readers glimpses into my personal life -- the birth of my daughter (who will be turning 10 in a couple of months), the death of the my dogs and now the passing of my father.
While I've received condolences from many people for the deaths in my family, I had never received any from any of the athletes I've covered in my 12 years on the Peninsula.
Until Sunday. Serra basketball standout Henry Caruso made a fan for life when he emailed me condolences on the passing of my dad after the Daily Journal published his obituary in last weekend's paper. Not that I go around looking for sympathy and I'm not looking for a rash of emails from kids, parents and coaches, but the fact a kid that I covered in Little League and now high school would have the common decency to take time out and shoot me an email really meant a lot to me.
Caruso knows me on a professional level, reporter-athlete. He doesn't know me personally and has never met my father. But obviously he has been raised right by his parents as well as his surrogate family at Serra.
Now don't go and do something stupid to mess all this up, Henry.
Nathan Mollat can be reached by email: firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone: 344-5200 ext. 117. He can also be followed on Twitter @CheckkThissOutt.