"Did you see the game?" said Bobby.
"Which one? The sports calendar is remarkably crowded at the moment," said Janie.
"The US game, of course! We - oh, fudge, it's Captain Bringdown."
WHOOOOOOSH! "Hi, kids!"
"Crap," said Bobby.
"Wait, how are we still kids? Isn't this bit ten years old by now?" asked Janie.
"Closer to fifteen," said Bobby.
"God spare us."
"So, what are you talking about?" asked the Captain. "Hooliganism? Politics? Gun violence?"
"The Argentina game at Copa America," sighed Bobby.
"Oh," said Captain Bringdown.
"It's just that...well...for once, you have brought me down."
"What a strange person."
TUNE IN NEXT TIME FOR MORE AMAZING ADVENTURES OF CAPTAIN BRINGDOWN!
I hate Juergen Klinsmann. I'm not saying there's nothing he can do to win me over - he may one day rescue my poodle from eating a chocolate bar or something, who knows. But as far as what he might theoretically accomplish with the US men's national team? I'm not going to pretend I have an open mind. He's said and done too many crazy things for me to ever trust the guy - except when it comes to his palpable contempt for American players and fans. I believe on that subject he's completely sincere.
After the Ecuador game - the one where he fulfilled his promise to get to the Copa America semifinal - his initial promise, before he backed away from that as yet another pirouette in the never-ending Ballet of Expectations Management -
What is it about Klinsmann that demands run-on sentences? I tell you, Strunk and White themselves would be exasperated at the man.
Anyway, Klinsmann guides us to the semifinals, and once again we have the image of him as Master Motivator. And naturally, any idea that Sunil Gulati would go to Nike or Baylor boosters or whoever and buy out the contract is officially dead. Semifinals of a major tournament. Because Klinsmann got the team to believe in itself.
So what if Klinsmann's feat was equaled by Steve Sampson, whose status as an all-time US coaching legend is, to say the least, still pending? So what if neither FIFA nor CONCACAF has any official policy on handing out lollipops as a reward for beating Ecuador at home? Klinsmann and Geoff Cameron and everyone else got to go in front of a camera and give the best, most satisfying speech in sports. "No one believed in us, but we answered our critics."
Hell, it was even true in this case. Klinsmann's critics were finally louder than his defenders going into this tournament, let alone after the Colombia flop. You may have hoped the US would recover, but did you really believe? Did anyone? Well, by golly, Klinsmann did. And he got the players to believe in themselves.
He may not be the greatest tactician. He may not make the greatest substitutions. He may not be the best talent scout. But he understands players. He understands heart. He motivates.
Here's the thing. If Klinsmann is that good at motivating - if Klinsmann's whole California Raisin d'Etre is to fire up gutty little underdogs to take on the best of the best - well, maybe we should have seen some trace of that against Argentina. Because I cannot think of a worse performance by any US national team since Caligiuri scored on Trinidad. I've been upset after US games before, but never "If I ever see Steve Sampson I'll apologize to him" upset.
I don't remember asking for a win, let alone demanding one. But I think it was reasonable to expect something better than the most abject failure in modern American soccer history. Hell, I even expected something better than the second most abject failure in modern American soccer history. Not only did we get off a shot against Iran in 1998, we actually scored on the SOBs. Here, let's get Sampson on the Hall of Fame ballot again, I think we've misjudged him.
This was the worst possible outcome for the US in Copa America. The team did just well enough to add another layer of aluminum to Klinsmann's armor, on the questionable math that three acceptable games against bad teams is better than two horrifying matches against good ones. But the US left the tournament so meekly that if anything, confidence in the program is lower than before the Colombia game. Once the United States national team took pride in its performances against the very best in the world. The US wouldn't always win - although occasionally they would - but they would always give a performance that fans could be proud of. That legacy now lies in ashes.
Let me address this as an analogy, since I'm ticked off and want to take it out on someone and you, gentle reader, are the unfortunate target. Let's say you go into a joint that says "World's Best Milkshakes!" And so you order one. Because you like milkshakes, who doesn't? And you've had your share of good milkshakes since, I dunno, 1989 or whatever.
So you take a sip. And it's not the best milkshake you ever had. It's not the second best, or the third best, or even the fourth best. Instead, it's a milkshake that makes your head explode, causing a geyser of blood to shower over the soda fountain. And the last words you hear, as your headless ghost is cast into hell, is: "Another satisfied customer!"
Your surviving loved ones would probably want to call the Health Department to shut down Klinsi's Milkshake Haus. But instead, what they get is "Well, what do you expect when I have to work with spoiled milk and rancid ice cream. Making a quality milkshake is a painstaking process, and our customers need to be educated on how it's done."
Choose any other analogy you like. Klinsmann has overpromised and underdelivered on a scale unprecedented in American soccer, and I'm counting Earl Foreman's promise that indoor soccer would be one of the four major sports. The Argentina performance was not an outlier, but a culmination. The program is in the hands of an incompetent egotist who puts his own image ahead of all else. Klinsmann has been given time and resources unavailable to any other national team coach in American history, and squandered them utterly. The only reason not to replace him is that although finding someone worse would seem to be an impossible challenge, it's nevertheless a challenge to which Sunil Gulati is perfectly suited.
At least the guy can change his damn shirt once in a while.