What the Future Holds for the US Men’s National Soccer Team
Last week, the members of the US Men’s National Soccer Team gathered on the patio of their hotel to enjoy one last lunch together as a complete squad. The mood most certainly was surreal being that the players, coaches, staff, medical team, and numerous other integral personnel have been together every day for nearly two months. Players from all over the world, some without English as their first language, became an inseparable family in the process. Over the 60 days together, the unit has sweat, bled, and overcome the daunting challenge that was arguably the most difficult World Cup draw in the nation’s history. In a journey that went from Palo Alto to New York, Jacksonville to Sao Paulo, Manuas to Salvador; the team earned the world’s respect in what was a triumphant rise out of the group of death.
On a temperate-cloudless day in the paradise of Sao Paulo the feeling was melancholy. After lunch concludes the players will go their separate ways; some on vacation, some home to their families, others rejoining their club teams. It is highly unlikely that all of these 23 players will ever take the field together again but based on what this team showed the world, the future of the US National Team is bright and promising.
Jurgen Klinsmann has provoked the ire of the national sports media on numerous occasions since taking over for Bob Bradley in 2011. Whether it be his foreign nationality, his unorthodox tactics, bluntness with the media or unpopular personnel decisions, Klinsman has gotten nowhere near the credit he deserves for the evolution of soccer in the United States.
Klinsmann has excelled in three key fields: tactics, talent evaluation, and recruitment. Klinsmann was never afraid to shift around his formations in accordance to the talent at his disposal and the tactics of the opponent. Under his predecessor Bob Bradley, the USMNT rarely moved away from the traditional 4-4-2, even if that meant putting key players out of position and limiting their strengths. It is without debate that Klinsmann has never deployed the wrong tactics and very rarely drew up a bad game plan, something that alone demonstrates the progress of the United States.
Jurgen was never afraid to field players with limited caps during high-pressure situations. World Cup heroes John Brooks and DeAndre Yedlin were surprise inclusions to the 23-man roster and were never expected to see that field in Brazil, let alone be integral parts of the squad’s success.
Indisputably, Klinsmann’s most important contribution to US Soccer has been his ability to recruit dual nationals. Under Bruce Arena and Bob Bradley the national team lost out on blossoming young talent due to the unappealing previous allure of the United States. Current European stars such as Nevan Subotic and Guesseppi Rossi, both previously illegible for the USMNT, chose to play for Serbia and Italy respectively. Under the tutelage of Klinsmann the United States has brought in several German nationals such as Fabian Johnson, Danny Williams, Timmy Chandler, Terrence Boyd, the aforementioned Brooks, as well as Bayern Munich’s Julian Green. In addition to the German dual-nationals Klinsmann has successfully stolen premier talents away from Mexico (Joe Corona), Norway (Mix Diskerud), and Iceland (Aron Johansson). With Klinsmann around, if more dual-national talent begins to blossom around the world, US Soccer can feel confident about their successful recruitment.
The match against Belgium may have very well been Tim Howard’s last game between the posts in a US jersey. And what a game it was. His 16 saves were the most in the World Cup in a half-century, a performance that should solidify him as one of the top-five goalkeepers in the world. The Everton keeper will be 39 during the next World Cup and has already decreed that at the end of the 2017-2018 Premier League season he will retire, saying “I have no interest in playing into my 40s,” adding that when he reaches that age ”I want to be on a beach somewhere…I’d pretty much take it to the bank that I won’t be playing when I’m 40.” The end of his contract would coincide with the 2018 World Cup in Russia, but it has yet to be determined if Howard plans on being a part of the upcoming cycle and making Russia his swansong.
If Howard indeed does decide to hang it up the US is still in very capable hands. Current backup keeper Brad Guzan is a talented Premier League veteran that many countries would be ecstatic to have as their number one. Guzan has been with English side Aston Villa since 2008, earning a regular spot in the first XI since 2011, and was even awarded the most valuable player award from his teammates during the 2012-2013 season.
The United States, never short on goalkeeper talent, should have plenty of young stars coming through the ranks to compete as Guzan’s future backup. Chicago’s Sean Johnson, Houston’s Tally Hall, and DC United’s Hill Hamid should most certainly get the first opportunities. European based youngster Cody Cropper should also get plenty of chances to solidify himself as the goalkeeper of the future as well. This is one area in which US fans should have no worries.
The US hopeful have plenty to look forward to with this unit. Matt Besler and Fabian Johnson were the most consistent players in red, white, and blue during the World Cup and will both be around in 2018. Joining them will be Geoff Cameron and Omar Gonzalez who hopefully after four years will transform from temperamental newcomers to savvy veterans. Young John Brooks will most certainly be around and will push the aforementioned crew for first team reps. After a taste of glory, I’m sure the German-born centerback is hungry for more World Cup minutes. The unit, however, will most likely be without the forever-young Damarcus Beasley. Beasley has been quite a pleasant surprise. As a fading winger in Europe, Beasley saw limited minutes in the 2010 World Cup. A year later, under the tutelage of Klinsmann, Beasley saw his career revitalized playing a brand new position. In Brazil the Puebla defender played every minute in the four games spell, becoming the first American to play in four World Cups.
One of the brightest stars in Brazil was the Seattle Sounders’ DeAndre Yedlin, whose similar skillset should supplement Beasley on the back four just fine. His infusion into the US lineup was nothing short of mesmerizing. His blazing speed on the right wing was the key to Clint Dempsey’s go-ahead goal against Portugal. When called upon for the injured Fabian Johnson against Belgium, Yedlin once again showed his world-class athleticism, repeatedly getting past the Belgian defense on attack while still recovering nicely during the counter. Aside from Tim Howard there was no better American player on the field against Belgium than Yedlin. The Washington-born youngster has gained international attention from his cup performance, garnering looks from a myriad of Serie A clubs including super-club AS Roma.
Volume II: Midfielders, Forwards, and Possible Future Dual-Nationals
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