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Commentary: USMNT improving slowly but surely

BY JOSH BOLANDER | JULY 17, 2013 5:00 AM

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We have had the coming-out party for the U.S. men’s national soccer team already.

The U.S. had just defeated Spain, the world’s best team, ending its 35-game unbeaten streak and 15-game winning streak en route to a runner-up finish in the 2009 Confederations Cup. Team USA followed that performance by winning its group in the 2010 FIFA World Cup the following summer.

Unfortunately, that same showing in South Africa exposed why the U.S. wouldn’t be able to legitimately compete on an international level unless serious changes were made.

Aside from Sir Ian’s Darke’s legendary call of Landon Donovan’s stoppage-time winner against Algeria, there really wasn’t all that much to celebrate. Bob Bradley should still be thanking Three Lions’ goalkeeper Rob Green for his atrocious howler that allowed the U.S. to steal a point in the team’s World Cup opener against England that summer.

There wasn’t much improvement the rest of the way, either. Recall that the United States looked pathetic defensively against Slovenia and was stagnant for 90 minutes against the Algerians. It was pretty clear that soccer in this country needed a new face.

That change was made in July 2011, when the U.S. Soccer Confederation agreed to terms with perhaps the sexiest hiring in the sport’s history, Stateside. Jürgen Klinsmann took the reins of the U.S. Men’s National Team despite a massive amount of resistance from the team’s senior players.

Klinsmann, an established manager from Germany, immediately changed the way the team would compete. Players were forced to fight for their positions. Names were stripped from the back of the team’s uniforms. From Day One, Klinsmann’s tactical changes were evident, and it wasn’t pretty.

In a win-now culture of American sports, Klinsmann’s start of one win in six matches did not sit well with media members who did not know much about the game, aside from who won and lost. To his credit, his regional competition was stronger than what Bradley faced. The Stars and Stripes’ new headman was struggling, but the team’s style and class was showing through.

In a little over a year and a half, Klinsmann has guided his team to wins over colossal international sides (Germany and Italy), massive results over hated CONCACAF rivals (namely Mexico), and dominated both World Cup qualifying and Gold Cup play (so far). He’s coached the squad to its best winning percentage in a calendar year in U.S. soccer history.

Bradley didn’t do a bad job of managing the team, but the reality of hiring a high skilled tactical manager, who immediately challenged the squad, was that it kept U.S. soccer moving forward.

Would the same have happened with Bradley? I’d venture to say no.

The next challenge will ultimately be replacing what has been an exceptional group of talent with the next generation of players. While Clint Dempsey, Donovan, and Tim Howard will almost definitely don their country’s colors in Brazil in 2014, you can bet Klinsmann already has one eye on 2018 and 2022, too.

Is the future bright for the U.S. soccer? Absolutely. The team’s younger stars are increasingly being rated in the world’s top European leagues. Jozy Altidore will begin his second stint in England in August after signing on with Sunderland at age 23 — and, coincidently, Bradley’s son, Michael, looks to be the rock in the midfield Klinsmann needs to allow his more creative players to move about the pitch.

Let’s hold off on another premature coming-out party. We haven’t arrived just yet, but we’re definitely on our way.


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