In January 2006, Freddy Adu was 16 years old and training with the United States senior team for the first time. Head coach Bruce Arena called the starlet into the team's January camp, a three-week training stint that played a massive role in determining who would make the roster for the upcoming summer's World Cup in Germany. Adu's youth and inexperience made him a long shot to earn a spot, but he had a chance to impress.
Why, hello there. The United States men's national team qualified for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil thanks to a 2-0 victory over Mexico in Columbus, Ohio. The win means that the American fan base can stop panicking about whether the Stars and Stripes will reach the world's richest soccer tournament (which, let's be honest, was never really in doubt), not worry about Friday's game with Jamaica, and start concerning themselves with the picking of the 23-man roster. Far be it from us to miss out on the prediction game. Without further ado, we present Jurgen Klinsmann's 2014 World Cup roster.
So, the United States men's national team went to another tiny Central American nation in World Cup qualifying and lost, falling 3-1 to Costa Rica on Friday night. I thought we were done with this type of ridiculousness.
Short answer: no. Medium answer: Welcome to CONCACAF. Longer answer: It meant more to the Ticos, and it showed. Costa Rica was pissed because the U.S. made them play in the snow (even though they wanted to continue, too, but whatever), and because Jonathan Bornstein (!) kept them from the 2010 World Cup in the most dramatic fashion possible. Manager Jorge Luis Pinto promised that his squad would go into the match "with hot blood and cool heads," which is a wonderfully lyrical thing to say and, you know, exactly what happened as they scored in the second minute (déjà vu) and again in the ninth.
Steve Cherundolo, Tim Howard, Stuart Holden, Maurice Edu, Brek Shea, Herculez Gomez, and Josh Gatt. These are members of the United States men's national team who missed time recently because of injury. Some of the afflictions are serious, requiring surgery and months of rehab, while some are less dire, but these are all players who have been unavailable at a time when Jurgen Klinsmann would have called.
One of the main reasons Klinsmann used 26 different lineups in his first 26 games as manager was because someone from the first team was almost always hurt. So, is the American squad particularly injury-prone?
The United States men's national team played 11 games in June and July, winning all of them. Along the way, the squad took home its first Gold Cup since 2007, had 15 players score a combined 35 goals, posted five shutouts, and conceded more than one goal only once. While Jurgen Klinsmann's side had some stretches of shaky play (set pieces, set pieces, set pieces) with long periods of dominance, it was always good enough to win.
The question is whether the last two months indicate some sort of American soccer sea change, a tipping point in the Klinsmann-ification of the U.S. team, or merely a temporary new high-water mark in the never-ending struggle to raise the level.
This is a cop-out, but the correct answer is a little of both.
All athletes come with an expiration date, and for soccer players, it hits roughly around their 32nd birthday. But like on a jug of milk, the date acts simply as a recommendation. While Gold Cup captain DaMarcus Beasley’s “sell by” moment will be past due come Brazil 2014, there’s a deceptive quality to his freshness. He retains a spry, youthful feel for the game, playing with a bright-eyed wonderment that a U-17 player could only hope for. The only predicament is whether there’s room for a player who is simultaneously too young and too old for the USMNT World Cup Squad.
There seems to be a bit of mythmaking or revisionism claiming that before the hiring of Jurgen Klinsmann, the U.S.'s soccer identity was that of a counterattacking team. That the Americans were often outmanned, but they had a bit of speed so they'd let the opposition into their half, then hope to hit them on the break.
The country's most famous goal (1950 aside) was scored on the counter but, in reality, the USMNT would have been just as happy to have possession. In the last World Cup, the U.S. played four matches. In three of them they both outshot and had more possession than their opponent (England being the exception). Those aren't the stats of a side trying to sucker you into a counterpunch.
Jurgen Klinsmann drew criticism for using 26 different starting lineups in his first 26 matches as head coach of the United States men's national team. But let's talk about more important matters, namely that he sported just as many outfits while smiling and scowling on the sideline. Whereas his predecessor Bob Bradley favored casual tracksuits or sweats, Klinsmann possesses some sartorial imagination, showing a bit of the flair and creativity that allowed him to score 47 goals for the German side between 1987 and 1998.
His wardrobe decisions are tracked and chronicled by fans, and there's even an infrequently updated blog dedicated to his choices. Klinsmann’s wardrobe choices inspired us to track down a few of our favorite fashion folks, give them some pictures of Klinsmann, and let them loose. Welcome to the first — and, let's be honest here, hopefully last — edition of Jurgen Wore It Best. (If you're so inspired, many of the items are for sale in the U.S. Soccer shop. Synergy!)
The United States men's national team only needed a tie against Costa Rica at East Hartford's Rentschler Field, but did one better as a late goal by second-half substitute Brek Shea gave the Americans a 1-0 victory in their third and final group stage game of the 2013 Gold Cup. The win was the squad's eighth in a row, which broke the all-time mark set in 2007. Coincidentally, the team to set the mark was the last Stars and Stripes side to finish the group stage with a perfect record and, perhaps more importantly, the last one to prevail over Mexico and win the regional championship.
Tuesday night's match, played in extreme heat, was a rematch of the infamous blizzard game and, in the words of head coach Jurgen Klinsmann, the true beginning of the Gold Cup. "Players understand they need to step it up and that the whole tournament really starts for us with Costa Rica," he said Monday.
The match started slowly as the Ticos packed nine players behind the ball and dared the Americans to break them down. While Belize and Cuba, the U.S.'s previous opponents, didn't possess the organization, the talent, or the will to stay compact, Jorge Luis Pinto's squad was up to the task. For 82 minutes, that is. The U.S. goal came on a rapid counterattack, with Joe Corona finding a streaking Landon Donovan, who subsequently hit a perfect one-timer to a flying Shea. The Stoke City midfielder beat Patrick Pemberton, and the Americans held on for the victory.
The reward? A Sunday-afternoon matchup against Group B third-place finisher El Salvador at Baltimore's M&T Bank Stadium. (Costa Rica plays Honduras in the other quarterfinal. If the Ticos and the U.S. win, the two teams will play in the semifinal because the goal of the Gold Cup is to keep the Americans and Mexico apart until the finals at all costs.)
For this team, this tournament is only partially about the results. It represents a chance to impress the coach on an individual level. After three games, who has and who has not?
This weekend I had one of those brief feelings of mid-Atlantic rootlessness that I sometimes get when the footballing world of my first three decades and the soccer world of the past 10 years intersect from their usually parallel universes. This time it was caused by the transfer of Jozy Altidore to Sunderland, which was greeted with mildly underwhelmed bemusement on both sides of the Atlantic, though for different sets of reasons, expectations, and histories, and with the usual divisions caused by a common language.
As someone with some knowledge of both camps, and who speaks a rudimentary version of both dialects, let me attempt to mediate:
The CONCACAF Gold Cup is a silly tournament with a rather goofy name. It serves as the regional championship, which means a bunch of teams play a bunch of games, then the United States and Mexico meet in the finals. The structure of the tournament, which started Sunday when tiny Martinique defeated Canada, 1-0, courtesy of 37-year-old Fabrice Reuperne, and Mexico lost to Panama, encourages this outcome and makes it nearly impossible for the two archrivals to play until the last match. In 2007, the Americans prevailed, a victory that earned the squad a trip to the 2009 Confederations Cup. Two years later, Mexico's "B" team thrashed the Stars and Stripes, 5-0, a result that helped a reeling El Tri get their groove back when playing in the U.S. In 2011, Bob Bradley's team went up two quick goals, then conceded four and lost. The coach lost his job, opening the spot now occupied by Mr. Jurgen Klinsmann.
The German by way of California wants to win this thing. That's partially because he wants to win everything, as he's desperate to instill a sense of urgency that he finds lacking in United States soccer. All players should feel pushed and that their places can disappear instantly. But it's also important because the tournament means something, as the winner will play the 2015 Gold Cup champion for a place in the 2017 Confederations Cup. Previously, the winner of the Gold Cup in the year after the World Cup automatically qualified for the Confed. Given that one of the Gold Cup's primary functions is to fund CONCACAF, it makes sense that the powers that be want to add another lucrative game pitting the two champions — likely the U.S. and Mexico — against each other.
Before Friday night, the United States men's national team had never won a World Cup qualifier in Kingston, Jamaica, posting an 0-1-4 record that included a painful, troubling loss last September. Nor had Jurgen Klinsmann, the squad's head coach, used the same starting lineup more than once in his first 27 games.
Both of those surprising streaks ended when Brad Evans, the most unlikely repeat starter from the previous weekend’s 4-3 win against Germany, scored a dramatic game-winning goal in the 92nd minute. Three minutes earlier, the Americans had conceded a potentially crushing equalizer to the Reggae Boyz's Jermaine Beckford, but Michael Bradley found the 28-year-old Evans, who turned and found the back of the net for his first national team tally.
When Jurgen Klinsmann took over the United States men's national team in the summer of 2011, United States Soccer Federation president Sunil Gulati tasked the former German star with two objectives: (1) qualify for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, and (2) remake the American program in an effort to turn a middling soccer nation into something resembling a world power.
Twenty months into the experiment, Klinsmann has succeeded in some areas and failed in others. It's been a battle, partly because those two goals come into conflict with each other. The need to win now butts against the development of players for the future. The head coach talks about imposing a system of high-pressure soccer, complete with skillful, one-touch passing. But changing a style and a culture while raising the overall level of talent takes time. And time is a luxury the squad doesn't have if it plans to reach Brazil '14.
With Michael Davies away, Rog goes solo, welcoming USMNT coach Jurgen Klinsmann to the pod. Fresh from the March of the Penguins win against Costa Rica, and a gutsy draw in the Azteca thunderdome, Klinsmann candidly discusses his own identity, management style, change strategy, and vision for American soccer's future. He is also willing to broach the big topics, including the heroic role Kyle Beckerman could play for the U.S. team at World Cup 2014 in Rio.
Normal suboptimal Men in Blazers service will be resumed next week.