Reading Between the Lines of ESPN’s Inside: U.S. Soccer’s March to Brazil

Conspiracy theorists, discuss amongst yourselves

ESPN’s Inside: U.S. Soccer’s March to Brazil is a reality documentary series that takes you behind the scenes of the U.S. men’s national team as they prepare for the 2014 World Cup. So, as you’d imagine, in classic ESPN behind-the-scenes fashion, Inside explores every question you’ve ever had about the inner workings of the national team. Want to know what Jurgen Klinsmann wears when he’s not in a press conference or on the sidelines? Inside has you. How about what the guys wear in training? That’s right, Inside still has you.

Aside from being quality entertainment, Inside is also a tremendous tool for conspiracy theorists. To illustrate this point, I will reverse-engineer the only conspiracy to emerge from the U.S. camp (that we know of), the Landon Donovan saga, using a few Inside clips to reveal what I believe to be the series’ hidden story: Klinsmann knew Donovan’s fate all along. If you’re a better detective than I am, perhaps you can prove the opposite. Or something completely unrelated. Anyway, let’s go play.

May 20, 2014

Clip summary: Klinsmann and Roger Bennett, of Men in Blazers fame, discuss team unity and team selection.

What’s really happening: Foreshadowing! The theme of this clip is team unity, which is common enough in team sports. The idea is simple: the more unity a team has, the better its chances of maximizing potential and winning shiny things. So, what happens when you have a player who, despite undeniable contributions in the past, fled the country, Chappelle-style, for some fresh air and rest? How does that affect unity?

These Landon issues are front and center when you study the Klinsmann-Bennett clip. There are two insightful moments that shed some light on how Klinsmann ultimately chose to deal with this lingering issue of abandonment. First, Klinsmann notes that “unity happens every minute we are together.” Naturally, it’s hard to be together when someone is in Cambodia. That’s the obvious takeaway.

Second, Landon buries a cross in training at the 1:28 minute mark of the video. Never mind that there are no defenders. That’s not the point. Basic horror movie research suggests that when the house is empty, something’s going to happen—and it isn’t going to be pretty. The point isn’t the goal. The point is the foreshadowing. They are deserting Landon, one by one.

May 21, 2014

Clip summary: Klinsmann on a conference call with several journalists.

What’s really happening: Klinsmann is sending out bat signals.

Journalist: “I think it’s been perhaps almost a given, maybe default, that Landon is on every roster and on every team. But you’ve really asked him to meet a new standard to maintain his inclusion in the team, and I was wondering what hurdles you set for him so you’d feel comfortable that he’d meet your standards going to Brazil.”

Klinsmann answers this question by talking about Landon like he’s a regular civilian, not the savior of U.S. soccer. Nobody in the establishment talks about Landon like he’s a run-of-the-mill civilian. But here’s the kicker: The next question is about Jozy Altidore’s struggles. And Klinsmann responds by stating that Jozy is in his “development phase.”

Yes, go on, Mr. Klinsmann.

Then, Klinsmann drops, “Jozy can play a very big World Cup this summer in Brazil.”


Jozy’s in. We don’t know whether it’s because Klinsmann prefers development stages, believes that Jozy is part of the aristocracy, or if he simply believes that no one in camp can lead the line as a target man quite like Jozy. It doesn’t really matter why. Here’s what matters: Landon the Commoner and Jozy the Aristocrat are in very different social classes in Klinsmann’s universe.

May 23, 2014

Clip summary: Klinsmann gives a heartfelt, candid team talk to his final 23 players about moving forward without Landon.

What’s really happening: Therapy for post-traumatic stress. When you drop the hammer, you have to deal with the mess you’ve made. Klinsmann’s small talk and the distractions of ping-pong don’t quite eliminate the lingering feeling that something crazy just happened. But in chaos, leaders are defined. And Klinsmann was prepared for this moment. This isn’t a man who didn’t have a plan. Mr. Klinsmann showed no nervousness. Mr. Klinsmann’s cold delivery was that of a man playing with casino money, with a rifle in a duffel bag, just in case things get hairy. He knew this day was coming. Remember. Foreshadowing.

May 28, 2014

Clip summary: Roger Bennett talks to Klinsmann about his team. They discuss replicating the German blueprint in 2006, pace and athleticism, funneling players from the youth setup up through the senior team, and, of course, Landon.

What’s really happening: Nestled deep in Klinsmann’s pupils you see a distinct “I told you I’m my own man” glow. Every single time Klinsmann opens his mouth, he might as well be screaming “Takeover” lyrics from Jay Z’s Blueprint album. By the time he says, “Most other coaches probably will have Landon right in the 23. For me, how I look at it, and the challenges ahead of us…” I have to turn off the television, because I get indigestion watching premeditated criminal activity. In those few seconds that passed while I calmed my heart rate, all I could think was, “Rog, if you want to live to try on another blazer, get out of the room. Now! This man is a monster.”

June 3, 2014

Clip summary: In front of a national audience, Alexi Lalas tells a crowd in New York’s Times Square, “I don’t think [the USMNT] gets out of the group.” Tim Howard says Alexi’s words are “hollow.” Kyle Beckerman says, “They’re just words.”

What’s really happening: Klinsmann’s master plan is working to perfection. He surgically removed what so many thought was a vital appendage of the U.S. team. Then he gave us a cold German stare to drive home the fact that he knew what he was doing and wasn’t afraid to do the evil things necessary to rally his troops. But he knew that his team was still bleeding, so he employed a tactic commonly used in politics: He eliminated the old narrative by turning the focus to a new enemy. He used that new enemy to create team unity. Remember, team unity was the focus of the first clip.

The new common enemy is Alexi Lalas. My suspicion, based on reviewing several whole minutes of footage, is that Alexi is in cahoots with Klinsmann. You see it in his eyes, especially if you watch this segment in slow motion. Backwards. Successful leaders of nations don’t survive without having operatives who have infiltrated the fourth estate. And Alexi is clearly tasked with poking the bear. That bear is the team. That bear is also you. Klinsmann is poking all of us to build team unity. He might be a genius.

How do I know all this? Because I watched Inside: U.S. Soccer’s March to Brazil. So should you. It’s a goldmine of information if you put on your conspiracy glasses.