How many players on the current U.S. team would have made the cut under the Sage of ’94? Bora Milutinovic won’t say.
Talk is not cheap when it comes to Bora Milutinovic. Though Bora’s policy is to pay homage to the highest bidder, he is more than willing to throw his two cents in when it comes to evaluating the progress of the U.S. national 20 years on. According to Bora, this U.S. national team might not be as strong as his own American squad was in 1994. Bora will not be trapped into stating this outright—he will give you a nod and a wink (and a few foreign phrases thrown in)—but if you read between the lines, it’s clear he believes that the U.S. national team was better in his day.
After the Ghana–South Korea match at SunLife Stadium Monday night, I asked Bora if the current team was better than the one that upset Colombia at USA ’94. His reply: “I don’t like to make comparation.” He meant “comparisons,” but that is what you get from a polyglot who is a master at being obtuse—in several languages. “I was so happy with my team. Only, I can ask you something, between us. What do you think? How many players from this team can play on my team? Don’t give me the answer. You know better than me.”
Then, the nod and the wink he has been giving me for almost 25 years, suggesting that Balboa, Harkes, Lalas, Meola, Ramos, Wynalda et al. were superior to Jurgen Klinsmann’s group. That does not mean Bora believes the U.S. will be going three and out. In fact, Bora is optimistic about the U.S.’s prospects. (Of course, Bora is positive about just about everything—he started the conversation shilling for Qatar 2022.)
Can the U.S. defeat Ghana? Here is Bora’s very roundabout way of saying yes:
“My experience—it is not important what the people think before, [it is] important the day you play. Only this, nothing else is important. Everything other, the newspaper, everything.
“It is important the day. For one day, the U.S. has very good players, they show up that day, they have excellent mentality. It is not to dream. You only can be realistic. You can beat.
“You know what I think, I respect all teams, I respect the USA team. It will be a challenge for all teams in this group. This group is very strong. It is a small World Cup between four teams.”