Prospects were dim and expectations low for the United States Men’s National Team as they embarked on the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil, but after a positive showing there are many reasons to believe the U.S. just may be a player in world football for years to come.
All the talk prior to the World Cup was about the ‘Group of Death’ and about the controversial omission of U.S. all-time leading goal scorer Landon Donovan. But it quickly became clear that Coach Jürgen Klinsmann knew exactly what he was doing. In fact, most every move he made turned to gold for the United States. Questions can be raised concerning tactics but overall, Klinsmann’s leadership was without question.
The United States fell in the Round of 16, 2-1 in extra time to Belgium, eliminating them from the tournament after a 1-1-1 showing in the group, surviving the ‘Group of Death.’ Given events further on in the tournament, the U.S.A.’s narrow 1-0 defeat to Germany in the group finale stands as a proud result. Germany will play for the title this Sunday after their historic 7-1 obliteration of host country Brazil in the semifinals.
The losses to Germany and Belgium, as well as the preceding 2-2 draw against Portugal, underscored both the good and the bad right now with U.S. Soccer. While we are long on pride, heart, guts, and effort we are short on technical skill and the ability to consistently make the big play. While Germany has more of an even game, against Belgium it was ugly at times from the American perspective. The Americans were simply unable, far too often, to contain the larger, more talented Belgians.
They have only been keeping the statistics for goalkeepers since the 1966 World Cup. But in that time no keeper had ever had the type of performance U.S.A. keeper Tim Howard had against Belgium. Howard made an astonishing 16 saves, the most ever recorded in a World Cup match.
The vast majority was of the spectacular variety. But the U.S.A.’s lack of technical ability cost them the game, as substitute Chris Wondolowski missed an open shot in the 92nd minute from six yards away that would have given the U.S. a 1-0 victory. The volley went over the bar, and the Americans best chance along with it.
Howard’s magic was not enough as Belgium got a pair past him in extra time. The United States got on the board in the 107th on a beautiful goal from 19-year old Julian Green, but when Clint Dempsey was stopped from point blank range late, Belgium had enough to advance.
Jürgen Klinsmann is signed as the national coach through the 2018 World Cup in Russia, and these next four years are going to be fascinating. The style has changed to one much freer flowing and attacking, but currently the needed skill is not quite there. We got a glimpse of the future in Julian Green who could be the most physically gifted talent the U.S. has ever had. These next four years of growth will be critical for Green who figures to be one of the stars in 2018.
The American side will look much different in four years. The hope is that Klinsmann’s style and the continuity of having him as coach during these formative years will allow the roots to grow strong—with a pipeline of talent from the youth ranks to the national team. Certainly what we saw in Brazil is reason to believe in our future prosperity.