Early Wednesday morning, just a few hours after the U.S. was eliminated from the World Cup in an extra-time loss to Belgium, Coach Juergen Klinsmann rebooked his flight back to Southern California.
Last month Klinsmann had pledged to stay in Brazil through the final, intimating that his team might just as well stay there with him.
"You never know what will happen," he said cheerily.
By Wednesday reality had returned. The U.S. is no more ready to win the World Cup than the Houston Astros are ready to win the World Series.
So Klinsmann, the technical director of U.S. Soccer as well as the national team coach, decided to rush home and get to work on turning that around. And he has a lot of work to do.
Essentially he's directing a team with little pedigree and even less history. The U.S. hasn't had a winning record in a World Cup since 1930. And through its reputation is improving, the U.S. has gone 2-5-4 under three coaches since 2002, reaching the World Cup's round of 16 twice but losing in the first knockout game both times.
The problem, Klinsmann said, isn't one of talent or even ambition. It's one of mentality, expectation and accountability. The U.S. accepts mediocrity in a sport it doesn't really understand. Where else are there public viewing parties for a team that has won just two of its last 11 World Cup games?
For Klinsmann, just trying is no longer enough. If Chris Wondolowski had scored instead of missing the net on his chip shot at the end of regulation Tuesday, the U.S., not Belgium, could be playing in the quarterfinals, the coach said.
That may not be what Wondolowski wants to hear but that's Klinsmann's point.
"Think about that a second," Klinsmann said. "They need that sense of accountability and that sense of criticism [from] people that are around them that they care about it. That is good because it gives a sense people care about the game. It makes them feel accountable and not just walk away from a bad performance and nothing happens.
"No, if you have a bad performance then people should approach and tell you that, and make sure next game is not bad and you step it up and be alert about that."
That's always been Klinsmann's point about the advantage of playing in Europe. It's not just about the level of play, it's about the level of accountability.
Klinsmann likes to tell a story about his time in Italy's Serie A when, he said, if his team lost a big game he couldn't go out to a store or a restaurant for at least a week without being berated and heckled by fans.
That doesn't happen in Major League Soccer.
"It is still mentality topics that we're working on," Klinsmann said.
Then there's developing that feeling that you belong on the world stage. In its loss to Germany in group play, the U.S. team, despite the coaches' badgering from the sideline, showed the world's No. 2-ranked team far too much respect. Klinsmann would have preferred the players attack, not admire.
"This is a constant discussion we have," he said. Yet it's one that hasn't sunk on the senior level so now Klinsmann is taking it directly to the youth national teams.
That's why Klinsmann wanted to be technical director in the first place. The national team program needs to be rebuilt from the bottom up.
"We have to continue to communicate that. And we have to especially start implementing all those elements with our under 17s, under 18s, under 20, under 21, which will be the future Olympic team," he said. "That's the next generation that's going to break in. So the more we kind of get that message to those kids the more we will benefit in a couple of years from now."
Part of the future is already here. Klinsmann's World Cup team had one teenager in Julian Green and two others who haven't turned 22 yet in DeAndre Yedlin and John Brooks. And there will be more youngsters coming in since its likely DaMarcus Beasley has played his last World Cup game and Clint Dempsey, Jermaine Jones, Brad Davis, Kyle Beckerman, Wondolowski and Tim Howard may leaving soon as well.
"Over the next year we want to see the young players grow and see how far they can make it," Klinsmann said. "This transition year coming up is definitely the opportunity to bring a lot of young players now through the ranks and seeing what they're capable of doing."
But there are other things that went wrong in Brazil too. The loss of Jozy Altidore with a hamstring strain 21 minutes into the tournament left the U.S. without a strike partner for Dempsey and crippled the U.S. attack, which was statistically the worst in the World Cup. It also made Klinsmann look silly for choosing a team without Landon Donovan, who could have filled in for Altidore.
The U.S. didn't attack early against Germany and didn't defend late against Portugal. The backline — the U.S.'s Achilles' heel coming in — lived down to expectations, especially against Portugal, and U.S. midfielder Michael Bradley had a disappointing tournament.
Come to think of it, maybe Klinsmann should have started working on the plane.
"When you get out in the round of 16," he said, "clearly it gives you the message you have a lot of work still ahead of you."Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun