Let's make it clear up front that the title above does not express or imply a prediction.
For what it's worth, yours truly is on record saying categorically that the US will make it out, which by itself would be a pretty remarkable accomplishment.
Granted, this space has not been, on the whole, entirely supportive of the USMNT's current boss although, as with Bruce Arena, as a loyal fan you swallow your personal distaste for the guy running the thing out of love and devotion for the team. (Although truth be told there was a large element of relief when il Bruce came back to MLS, since it made it OK to return to the status quo, ie. utterly despising the arrogant, obnoxious pain in the ass.)
At the same time, while we're all hoping and praying (and drinking) for the best, we all recognize that under the circumstances it's not impossible to imagine Jurgen and the Volksdeutsche flaming out of Brazil 2014 in the fashion of the Steve Sampson debacle at France 1998.
It wasn't that long ago that Sampson's side rode into the 1998 World Cup with high expectations based on a strong performance in 1994 only to lose all three group stage games, scoring only one goal total and left town officially finishing #32 out of - well, 32 teams.
And there are certainly some unsettling similarities.
Building on players sired by US servicemen such as Thomas Dooley and Earnie Stewart. Sampson scoured Europe looking for more and came up with guys like the immortal David Regis, who looked terrific in qualifying and then apparently forgot how to play when they blew the opening whistle in France.
Then, in a stunning move on the eve of the tournament, Sampson cut the team's acknowledged leader and captain John Harkes. Any similarity to the situation with Landon Donovan stops right there since, as far as we know, Donovan - unlike Harksie - was not caught banging one of his teammate's wives, but on the plus side Sampson didn't have a witless imbecilic son Tweeting to the world that the whole thing was entirely personal, either.
So that one's kind of a wash.
We're all well aware of the long term courtship of California Klinsy by a starstruck and lovelorn USSF President Sunil Gulati who ended up giving the German manager full control over, well, everything. Even Arena at the peak of his influence didn't have the kind of top-to-bottom power over the program that Klinsmann has.
This was epitomized by the last minute hiring of septuagenarian Berti Vogts as a "Special Adviser" with even Vogt himself appearing clueless as to why:
“Maybe Jurgen [has] some questions for me about special things. I give him a clear answer. That is my part.”
No matter. If all Klinsy wants is someone to fluff his pillow at night, USSF will happily cover the salary. Whatever Jurgen wants, Jurgen gets (boom-boom)
Additionally, everyone is well aware that Klinsmann has a contract through 2018, an almost unheard-of deal for national team coaches who, as a rule, shouldn't send out laundry (see: Mexico, El Tri).
And with the head scratching inclusion of Julian Green, a player who may well turn out to be the second coming but at the moment has exactly three minutes of first team PT in his entire life - a bribe every bit as obvious as anything Mohammad bin Hammam ever laid on a CAF delegate - it's clear the man fully intends to be running the program come Russia 2018.
Nonetheless, the question is, what if?
What if his team does a Sampsonesque swan dive out of the group, scoring one or two goals, losing three games, getting sent home like whipped puppies?
And is this what's behind all the puzzling interview quotes over the last week or so that have Klinsmann telling everyone who will listen that the US has no chance whatsoever, none, zip, nada. Forget it. We're no good, we're no good, we're no good, baby we're no good.
(Linda Ronstadt appears courtesy of Capital records)
Is it just a typical case of a coach laying in the weeds trying to lull the opposition into a false sense of security? Or is it a case of Jurgen trying to insulate himself against the possibility of disaster: "Well, you'll recall that I told you guys that we weren't going to win and I was right. What's the big deal?"
Like I said, not a prediction, just a question: if Klinsmann pulls a Sampson, can Sunil Gulati afford to let him stay or will he meet the fate that - literally - any other national team coach in the history of the universe would face for similar results?
Since I don't have the heart today to go over the latest FIFA/Qatar news, a few random notes:
New York Cosmos legend Franz Beckenbauer - he played a couple other places too, can't recall offhand - now says "Oops, my bad" and that he'd be more than delighted to answer whatever questions FIFA investigators might have for him. Furthermore, they can ask them in German, English or Swahili, he doesn't care.
Specifically, he promised to answer the 130 questions Garcia has put to him in writing at his earliest opportunity.
Subsequently his management firm issued a statement saying: "we assume that the provisional sanction imposed is immediately lifted against him.”
Der Kaiser just couldn't stand not being able to go to Rio. No comment from FIFA.
On the heels of the revelation over the weekend that FIFA commissioned a secret security report on potential World Cup terrorism that concluded that Qatar is a) surrounded by states which have been co opted by Al Queda and thus b) Qatar is a really dangerous place to try and hold a World Cup, comes the news that in fact some Muslims have decided that football is, overall, just a really bad thing.
According to the indispensable James Dorsey: "Saudi Sheikh Abdel Rahman Al-Barrak warned in a fatwa, a religious opinion, that football “has caused Muslims to adopt some of the customs of the enemies of Islam, who are (preoccupied with) games and frivolity” and calling football "the mother of all crimes".
Qatar. Just sounding better all the time.
Over the first few games FIFA has felt obliged to demonstrate repeatedly how well their new wildly expensive goal line technology works. Announcers had a hard time explaining why they were using it to show that balls which clearly hit the back of the net were proven by GLT animation.
Then, in its first big test, GLT managed to cause mostly confusion as the first GLT animation sent to the in-stadium big screens - and TV viewers worldwide - locked onto the rebound off the Honduras post and signaled "no goal".
FIFA is explaining that in fact it was a case of the technology being too fast, that it locked onto the no goal before the subsequent own-goal off the Honduran keeper's hands, and in truth a few moments later it did get the call right, but not before a good deal of the now-obligatory abuse of the fourth official by the coaches.
( I suspect that's the main reason FIFA puts those guys there: so that there's someone for the coaches to vent all over while the the game can continue.)
The lesson is not that GLT doesn't work, only that they should keep it in their pockets until it's needed. The problem was created because FIFA set it up to automatically project every ball near the goal line, without a human filter.