A country’s national team and its coach are judged by results in big tournaments. The benchmark for the Jürgen Klinsmann era in U.S. Soccer is the team’s fantastic run at the 2014 World Cup, qualifying from a tough group many observers considered the tournament’s “Group of Death.”
The Copa América Centenario draw was held last week, and the U.S. once again landed in a tough group facing Colombia, Costa Rica and Paraguay, but don’t bring up the topic of “Group of Death” to Klinsmann again.
"Obviously it's a difficult group, no doubt about it, but it's doable," Klinsmann said at a news conference after the draw. "We had a similar kind of scenario in Brazil, and we went through, so now we start with Colombia right away instead of Ghana.”
These words of comfort and confidence from the squad leader are good, but is this team good enough?
The U.S. squad has met these three teams before with good results against Costa Rica and Paraguay, less good against Colombia.
"Colombia is one of the top teams in South America, no doubt about it. Paraguay is a strong team. Costa Rica we know," said Klinsmann. ”We start right on our toes with the opening whistle in Santa Clara. It's exciting.”
In addition, the U.S. squad has more maturing to do as a team. They need to sort out their defense and midfield or the result from this tournament will be more like their disappointing 2015 Gold Cup than their World Cup.
At least the prep work can now begin.
“We'll do everything to prepare very, very early for Colombia," Klinsmann said. "It's good to know the teams. Now we can put a scouting plan together."
All eyes will be on Klinsmann, too. The oft-maligned U.S. team coach has sparked controversy almost from the get-go, starting with the Landon Donovan saga and Klinsmann’s outspoken, often critical, views about U.S. Soccer’s business and development model.
Those on the fence about the German great or prone to side with the establishment will look to the squad’s success, or lack thereof, at the Copa América as an indication whether to follow or forget Klinsmann.
Needless to say, the stakes are high for the fans as well the team and its fearless leader.
"They all have to come with their best teams," Klinsmann said. "Would you like an easier group? Maybe on paper. But no group is easy. We'll take it the way it is."
We have been in this tough position before, and this writer wouldn’t want any other coach to lead us into the fray.
Video of the week
If you want to impress your coach, teammates and fans, don’t do what Sunderland’s Wahbi Khazri did in a Premier League match against West Ham:
From the wires
U.S. Soccer unveiled its new crest on Monday, spreading the word via social media.
Players including Carli Lloyd and Mix Diskerud, and celebrities like Robin Roberts, took to Twitter and Instagram to show off the crest, which is simpler and more angular than the previous design. It is the federation's first major rebranding since 1995.
"Loving the new clean crest! #onenationoneteam," Lloyd posted to Twitter.
The crest has a blue "USA" placed above red and white stripes. On the U.S. women's national team uniforms, it will be topped by three stars to signify the team's three World Cup titles.
The federation did not announce the rebranding with a news release. Instead, scarves and other products featuring the crest were delivered to supporters and players Monday morning. U.S. Soccer had teased the move Friday, releasing a video of the old crest being removed from the federation's Chicago headquarters.
— Mix Diskerud (@MixDiskerud) February 29, 2016
The Associated Press contributed to this report.