In an alternate universe, the U.S. Men’s National Team not only qualifies for the 2018 World Cup in Russia, but advances to the semifinals.
This is the universe that’s occupied by former USMNT boss Jurgen Klinsmann. In a pair of interviews with Yahoo Sports and Sports Illustrated that were posted this week, Klinsmann stated he could see the U.S. making a semifinal in either Russia or the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.
“I realistically saw a group growing into the World Cup 2018 that could go into a semifinal,” Klinsmann said.
Klinsmann added later in the interview, “It was so valuable to play Copa America because it gave the players a sense of where they were, that they can beat South American opponents, good teams like Paraguay, Ecuador,” he said. “I think it was really huge for that group of players.”
Obviously this is bonkers on so many levels. The U.S. were on a downward spiral following the 2014 World Cup and the horrendous defeats to Mexico and Costa Rica back to back to open up the Hex were the last straw.
Due to the “lost generation” of players, Klinsmann and his successor Bruce Arena had to over rely on aging stars like Clint Dempsey and Michael Bradley as well as young players like Christian Pulisic, who at the time was just 18-years old and was too young to put the hopes and dreams of a nation on his shoulders.
It’s easy for Klinsmann to go on a redemption tour a month out of the World Cup and claim what could have been, and perhaps it’s not necessarily his fault that the likes of Bobby Wood, Brek Shea, Gyasi Zardes, Matt Hedges and many others never developed into top-level players like Dempsey and Bradley. But while it’s likely the U.S. would have qualified, the World Cup squad would have to look a lot younger than the qualifying squad – Arena admitted as much last year.
And it’s unlikely such a young squad could have made a run to the semifinals.