A 2016 Peek into the United States Men's National Team

photo courtesy of wikipedia

In 1916, despite playing organized soccer for just over 30 years, the men's national team played it's first international match under the guidance of the United States soccer organization.

Fourteen years later, the USMNT had its best World Cup finish, placing third. The future looked bright for the upstart men's soccer team. A future that the organization firmly believed would bring in a World Cup title in no time at all.

86 years later, fans of the men's national team fans are still waiting for a finish as high as that glorious year, let alone even sniffing that elusive title. (Fans of the USWNT don't have to say the same. They have numerous titles.) 

The summer of 2016 has had a World Cup feel to it for soccer fans. Euro 2016 is tantalizingly close to securing its final four (Portugal is already through. Wales--led by the mighty Gareth Bale--joined them with an upset win over Belgium today.)

Meanwhile, Copa America ended about a week ago. The final saw the great one Lionel Messi lose yet another championship game, as Argentina fell to Chile 4-2 on penalty kicks after regulation saw the two teams tied 0-0.

The USMNT is fresh off a fourth-place finish at Copa America, their best finish since also placing fourth in 1995.

The Jekyl and Hyde performance the men's soccer team has been prone to displaying over the past few years reared its head in the semifinals. We witnessed a team that lost 4-0 to Argentina in the semis, a game in which it looked like Argentina barely broke a sweat in mauling the Americans.

Then, a third-place game in which, despite the resulting 1-0 loss to Colombia, saw a United States team play full of energy, vigor and pride. This match once again reeled in the fans' hopes that one day the USMNT will consistently play well on the game's grandest stages.

Rest assured, men's soccer fans. Though the frustration continues, there are young players on this team--some of which were on display in the 2016 Copa--that will hopefully carry the USMNT on a strong run come World Cup time in 2018.

Frustration with the men's soccer team might be an understatement. After escaping a 'Group of Death' in the 2014 World Cup and narrowly losing to Belgium in extra time, hopes were high for this men's team moving forward. Coach Jurgen Klinsmann had finally blended together the old and new guard of talent and the team was poised to make more noise on the world stage than ever before.

Then, needing only one win to advance to the 2017 Confederation Cup--held in Russia and a great tune-up for the World Cup--the USMNT could not get it done, eventually losing to Mexico 3-2 in extra time. All the momentum from the previous year's World Cup had seemed to disappear from this team.

These matches were also sandwiched around the USMNT placing fourth in the 2015 CONCACAF Gold Cup, only two years after Klinsmann led the Americans to their fifth Gold Cup.

Up. Down. Down. Up. Every time it seems the Americans take a step forward, two steps backward occur. This has been the story of Klinsmann's time at the helm of the USMNT.

For a man seen as a savior for the men's soccer program, Klinsmann has often time struggled to keep the Americans playing at a consistent level. Fans have attacked his personnel decisions and tactics, especially when the Americans are playing at their worst.

Truth is Klinsmann, celebrating his fifth anniversary as coach in July, is good for this soccer program. He may be a bit unorthodox, but sometimes that's what is needed when taking a team to the next level. His love of German-American born players, criticism aside, has helped grow the United States men's program. Players like Fabian Johnson and Jermaine Jones have helped the USMNT win matches the team had no business even being in.

Across the pond, there are former English players and soccer aficionados clamoring for Klinsmann to become England's national team's new coach. (The Three Lions are without coach after their coach resigned following England's quarterfinal loss to Iceland.)

Losing Klinsmann would be a blow to the USMNT program. He is currently signed through the year 2018 so England signing him away might require a queen's ransom. Would England do it? Probably, considering their dismal finishes in recent years in big events. Would Klinsmann go? Who knows. If he feels he's not moving this program forward or garnering respect he deserves, there is a chance he would jump ship.

The USMNT, as it stands now, is better with Klinsmann at the helm. As maddening as he can be, Klinsmann is the man needed for the now. He should be in charge for the 2018 World Cup. This is a coach that has led our national team to wins over Germany (twice) and the Netherlands. The team also now owns a win over the Czech Republic (a good win, too, that counts towards World Cup qualifying).

The collection of young talent will only continue to grow as they earn more caps. Players like Deandre Yedlin, John Brooks, and Johnson have already earned a lot of experience. Others, like Bobby Wood and Gyasi Zardes have taken hold on roster spots over the past year. Even better? Young stars-in-making like Christian Pulisic and Darlington Nagbe could very well play integral parts in the next World Cup.

Klinsmann, much like he did with Landon Donovan in 2014, might have some pretty big decisions to make for the 2018 team. Jones will be 36, but is still a fantastic leader on the field. Goalkeeper Tim Howard will be 39 and has played less as of late, with Brad Guzan getting the nod to man the net during the recent tourney. (Though Howard played pretty well in the third-place game. Should be interesting in a couple of years).

Even Michael Bradley and Clint Dempsey should have spots on the 2018 roster, though Bradley's play can be as frustrating as the team's. He can be brilliant one match and then abysmal the next, consistently losing balls in the midfield. Even Jozy Altidore, who has battled injuries the past few years, may not have a starting spot thanks to the play of Wood.

And who knows, perhaps many of these names might not be around. We are, after all, still two years away from the World Cup. Injuries can occur, new names can make their mark and coaches may leave. I, for one, hope that Klinsmann is around to lead the USMNT. He has given us some fine play over the years. Yes, watching the U.S. play against teams like Argentina only re-affirms the fact the team is miles away in terms of precision and speed, but it's getting closer.

Five years in, Klinsmann's style and tactics have spread down through the various national programs. Not qualifying for the Olympics aside, the national program is on the rise.

Klinsmann should stick around for his contract. Being a fan of the soccer since my early days, I'm glad that he has taken the men's team to new levels. It has made me a fan of the national team on a monthly basis, not just a "every four year" fan.

If anything, Klinsmann should be applauded for that alone.

We'll see you in 2018, coach.


Popular posts from this blog

The Bromance of Freddie Prinze, Jr. and Matthew Lillard

Counting down the days until Nevada Day

Christmas Letter 2017