Inches closer and miles away: A look at the United States Men's Soccer Team

photo: commons.wikimedia.org

A little over a year ago, an argument was being made for the United States Men's National Team to retain Jurgen Klinsmann as coach through the 2018 World Cup.

Then World Cup qualifying began. The United States got off to a horrendous start, Klinsmann was let go, and Bruce Arena was brought in to coach. A one-time thought of soccer ascent now failing, the U.S. turned to its past to transform its future.

Despite  Arena sitting without a loss (7-5-0) since his return, the USMNT looks as uneven as ever.

They can look brilliant, as they did in a 6-0 win over Honduras and a tie with Mexico at Azteca. And the lackluster play follows suit, such as a Gold Cup win over Martinique.

Never mind the team is gearing up for a semi-final match-up in the Gold Cup versus Costa Rica. The results--though at times a struggle--have the United States exactly where they should be in the Gold Cup. 

Arena has used--for the most part--matches in the Gold Cup to evaluate some of the players considered to be on the fringe of making the national team for the 2018 World Cup. Players like Dom Dwyer, Jordan Morris, Kellen Acosta, and a defensive backfield are all trying to secure roster spots. While some have thrived (Dwyer), the players inserted on defensive--for the most part--have not had a very good Gold Cup.

Truth be told, with the World Cup creeping ever closer, I expected a slightly crisper performance from this squad, even with all the changes.

Looking ahead to World Cup 2018

Even with these "struggles", the future remains bright for the men's team. They have fought their way back into the mix of things in their World Cup qualifying group.

Team USA currently sits in third place with eight points, trailing their Gold Cup semifinal opponent Costa Rica (11 points) and Mexico (14 points).

They have positioned themselves thanks to the play of Fabian Johnson, Darlington Nagbe, and the future of United States soccer himself, Christian Pulisic.

All of 18 years of age, Pulisic is already putting on display a wide array of skills. He became the youngest U.S. team player to score in World Cup qualifying, way back when he was 17. In 16 career appearances for the national team he has scored seven goals. (Pulisic is currently playing for his club team Borussia Dortmund and not playing in the Gold Cup.)

Pulisic, along with younger players such as Nagbe, Bobby Wood, and DeAndre Yedlin are help fortifying the United States team. The more caps they get and the more time they get to play together should only mean great things for the men's team soccer future.

Coupled with the play of seasoned veterans Clint Dempsey, Michael Bradley, and Tim Howard, the USMNT is on the right track to get back to the World Cup in 2018.

Interestingly enough, their next opponent (Sept. 1) in qualifying is the team they're playing Saturday night: Costa Rica.

Gold Cup

The last two match-ups versus Costa Rica have been inverse results. Team USA owned them in a 4-0 victory before Costa Rica turned the tables and beat the USMNT by the same score.

Costa Rica has played much like the United States in this Gold Cup. Neither team has really dominated in their matches.

The USMNT, since Arena took over in November, has been playing better and more inspired. They have these spurts in which they look to be one of the top-ten teams in the world. Usually, it's immediately followed by stretches in which they shouldn't even be on the field. 

Luckily, it hasn't hurt them too much. As things get more serious over the next few months, they will have to start converting on early chances. There have been a lot of near misses and failed opportunities in the Gold Cup; opportunities better opponents will easily capitalize on. 

Yes, this is not the team we will see next summer. They can keep playing at this level and earn a slot in World Cup 2018. But if cohesiveness doesn't occur and Arena doesn't find the right combination of players, then their stay in Russia will be a short one.

And then it will be back to the drawing board all over again.

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