SAO PAULO – United States head coach Jurgen Klinsmann came under fire from one of the most powerful men in American soccer on Thursday regarding his comments that the national team could not win the World Cup.
Don Garber, commissioner of Major League Soccer for the past 15 years, is an admirer of Klinsmann but believes the coach made a major mistake by admitting that any U.S. hopes of lifting the trophy were "unrealistic."
"I believe that when you go into a special competition you have to go with the expectation that you are going to do really well," Garber told Yahoo Sports in a telephone conversation. "[Klinsmann] may have all sorts of reasons to say what he said over the last week or so. But I for one have put the U.S. to go all the way in the MLS bracket pool.
"I couldn't imagine thinking anything else."
Garber likened the situation to the "Miracle on Ice" at the 1980 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid, where an underdog American team stunned the hockey world and electrified the nation by defeating the all-conquering Soviet Union.
"I thought of the American hockey team beating the Russians and being the Miracle On Ice," Garber added. "I would guess that [coach] Herb Brooks probably sat down with those players and said, 'We are going to win this thing and we are going to get a gold medal.' "
Common sense suggests that Klinsmann's U.S. team is one of the outsiders in this event. It is ranked 13th in the world but is pooled in the Group of Death along with Germany, Portugal and Ghana.
However, Klinsmann's comments in a New York Times interview from last December that "we cannot win this World Cup, we are not at that level yet," remarks which he reiterated earlier this week, did not go down well with large sections of the American public.
[Photos: Behind the scenes of Team USA training]
ESPN's Pardon The Interruption co-host Michael Wilbon fiercely criticized the German-born coach for his stance, overstepping the line by telling him to "get the hell out, get out of America," in a classless rant.
Soccer optimism is a strange phenomenon and it is almost an unspoken rule that no coach ever admits that a tournament triumph, however unlikely, is impossible. By contrast, Mexico boss Miguel Herrera took a different tack on Thursday, despite his country's struggles during qualifying.
"We can win the World Cup," said Herrera, as reported by ESPN FC's Tom Marshall. "We have a team that can be world champions, but we need to believe it."
Garber pointed to the U.S.'s dream run through to the final of the Confederations Cup in South Africa in 2009, a tournament in which the Americans defied the odds by defeating reigning European champion Spain. The Spanish went on to win the World Cup the following year.
"If anybody had thought in the 2009 Confederations Cup that the U.S. would beat Spain and then score two goals and then lose to Brazil in the final it would have been thought that they were crazy," Garber said. "But we did beat Spain and we did almost win the Confederations Cup in 2009 and I believe that the U.S. is going to do really well."
The U.S. plays its opening game of the tournament against Ghana in Natal on Monday. The national team made the semifinals of the first ever World Cup in 1930, but its best result since then has been a quarterfinal defeat to Germany in 2002.