Steve Goff: ‘U.S. In The Group Of Death In World Cup’
For the last several months, much of the World Cup chatter – at least before Landon Donovan was cut from the U.S. national team – has centered on the Group of Death. With the festivities in Brazil almost upon us, are the Americans really in the toughest group?
In a word, yes.
“It’s definitely the Group of Death,” Washington Post writer Steve Goff said on The John Feinstein Show. “Germany is a championship contender, no doubt. Portugal is a high-quality team (that) happens to have the best player in the world, Cristiano Ronaldo. Ghana, if you go by FIFA’s silly rankings, they’re not considered a top team in the world, but they’re probably the best team in Africa, they’ve knocked the U.S. out of the last two World Cups and they’re full of players who are based in Europe.”
“There are no easy games in any World Cup group,” Goff continued, “but this is a tough one for the U.S. It was a brutal draw. Realistically, do they go through on paper? No. Can they go through? Absolutely.”
“To put it in college basketball terms, they are a mid major capable of playing with anyone, capable of winning. But if you look at it objectively, no, they shouldn’t advance.”
The U.S. opens against Ghana on Monday, June 16.
“The first game is key for them,” Goff said. “If they lose that first game, they’re in enormous trouble because that means they’re going to have to get a win and a tie in the last two games against Germany and Portugal. If they win that first game, then they’re in great shape because then (getting one more point) should at least get them through to the Round of 16. If they tie that first game, it doesn’t kill their chances, but realistically, it means they’re going to have to pick up a lot of points in those last two games.”
What happens if the U.S. goes 0-3? Would Jurgen Klinsmann get fired, especially after cutting Donovan?
“First of all, going 0-3 would be a huge setback, and frankly, I’d be surprised if they lost all three games,” Goff said. “Realistically, I think they’re looking at maybe a win, a tie and a loss – maybe a little better, maybe a little worse. It’s really hard to say.”
Either way, Klinsmann is very likely safe no matter what.
“Klinsmann was given a long-term contract, which is highly unusual for national team coaches before they’ve even gone into the World Cup,” Goff said. “It was a sign from the U.S. Soccer Federation that they’re thinking long term because they like Klinsmann’s ideas for building American soccer – not only the national team, but youth development. He will not get fired unless it’s a complete fiasco in Brazil. The contract is there for the long-term. He’s not going anywhere.”
Did Klinsmann’s job security influence his decision to cut Donovan? In other words, did he want as many young players as possible on this year’s team in preparation for 2018?
“Was he thinking ahead?” Goff asked. “I mean, yes and no. Yes in the sense that yeah, he’s trying to build American soccer to compete with the world’s top teams – and part of doing that is getting younger, talented players involved at the highest level at a younger age. So in that case, yeah. But is he sacrificing this World Cup and ditching Landon Donovan to get a young player on the roster? It’s more complicated than that.”
“Klinsmann was one of the world’s great stars,” Goff continued. “Incredible scorer, won a World Cup. He’s not in awe of any of these guys. I don’t really think Klinsmann respected Donovan over the years. Donovan took a sabbatical. Donovan’s a very cerebral guy, and I think that rubbed Klinsmann the wrong way.”
There’s also Donovan’s declining skill set. He’s still a very good player, but he’s clearly one Klinsmann thinks he can do without, especially since Donovan would likely have come off the bench.
“If you bring Donovan along and you don’t start him, then you’re creating a little side show, perhaps,” Goff said. “It came down to, This is my group, I’m mixing it with (veterans) and young guys, and we’re moving forward without Landon Donovan.”