USMNT Roundtable: Good Enough?
Done. Dusted. On to the next one. But before we start looking ahead, let’s have one last think about USMNT in Brazil…
USMNT’s 2014 Word Cup is in the books, and the books say the team finished 15th out of 32. Of course, that is an imperfect measure: the USA only played four of the teams in the tournament.
There are other, more subtle ways of calculating achievement. One could consider quality of opposition. One could compare this performance with that of past World Cups. One could dig into passing stats, or shots on target, or possession percentages – whatever stat it is one thinks might tell the story of a game more accurately than the score.
All the effort is ultimately in the service of one question: how good was my team? And that question sets up the real question: was my team good enough?
And that is the question for this final USMNT roundtable of the World Cup season: did the Stars and Stripes do enough for you to consider them successful in Brazil?
The roundtablers’ answers are below; give us yours in the comments.
I didn’t think USMNT had any great chance of getting out of Group G. At their best, each and every opponent looked better than Klinsi’s squad, and it seemed improbable that at least two out of the three would turn up under-cooked.
Improbable, but it happened. Ghana’s squad had internal issues of the sort of that, with hindsight, perhaps robbed the team of the resolve needed to find the decisive edge in a close game. Portugal was all kinds of banged up when it took its turn to face the Yanks. The Germans didn’t need their best against USMNT, so never brought it.
Still, there isn’t a team in the tournament that didn’t have problems. Klinsi had to cope with Jozy pulling up lame, his most influential midfielder being merely competent rather than excellent, and whatever effect the “Landon would have made the difference” chatter had on his squad.
Klinsmann talked a lot about fight and fitness before the tournament. He knew he was managing a transitory generation of American players. There was talent and technique in the 23, but not quite enough of it tested at the highest level against the best players.
Maybe he was hoping for a breakout performance from a player of lesser reputation, but it never really arrived.
My abiding memory of USMNT’s tournament is Matt Besler lying on the turf, watching Romelu Lukaku blaze a trail toward goal. Plenty of defenders have been out-run, out-worked and out-thought by Lukaku, otherwise he wouldn’t score any goals. But in MLS, Besler probably wins a foul for getting knocked over by the big Belgian.
In fairness, in this World Cup, he might have won a foul if he were German or Brazilian: big names tend to get the big calls.
We’ll know when the Yanks have arrived on the world stage when the whistle blows for them rather than at them. But to get the benefit, first you must reduce the doubt.
All of which is to say: this team did much better than I expected. Wondo clips that half-volley just right instead of just wrong, or Besler stays on his feet, and maybe we’re talking about a slightly happier ending.
Getting out of the group was an achievement to celebrate. Doing whatever necessary to get within a kick of the ball of beating a manifestly superior opponent was an achievement to celebrate.
Once the tournament started, the time for lamenting the lack of this player or that tactic was over: all you could do was hope the team did better than form and reputation might suggest. It did, and credit is due.
Germany deservedly won World Cup 2014. Argentina and Germany both had some decent looks at goal, but eventually it was the tournament’s overall best team that came through in overtime to seal victory.
The whole world, outside of Germany and Brazil, was waiting for the magical moment to arrive for Lionel Messi to shine on the world stages, but it just did not happen. Congratulations to Germany for winning the World Cup, and defeating pre-tournament South American front-runners Brazil and Argentina along the way, to secure a championship that has eluded them for twenty four years.
To the question: was USMNT’s performance in Brazil enough to be considered a success?
One can say yes: for qualifying out of the group of death above Portugal and Ghana. To get out of this group was a large endeavor for this team based upon the statistical models created before the World Cup started. The various narratives for each team USMNT would face were imposing: the old nemesis, Ghana; the flamboyance of Cristiano Ronaldo and Portugal; the German machine.
So, by one measure, advancing out of this group was a success.
However, the manner in which it advanced out of the group demonstrated USMNT still has a long way to go before it catches up to the elite soccer nations.
The team still relied on athleticism, defensive grit, and a never-say-die attitude to secure a place in the round of sixteen. Even with qualifying into the elimination rounds, USMNT held the distinction of being the team with the least amount of possession in this World Cup.
Is this distinction due to the talent level of the USMNT program or was it down to a lack of tactical acumen? The loss of target striker Jozy Altidore in the early stages of the tournament forced some players on the team to play different roles than normally expected. Still, there is no guarantee that a healthy Altidore would have made much difference to the results.
Coach Klinsmann has another four years to build a new team, to learn from the mistakes of this World Cup, and to essentially change the soccer culture of this nation of 300 million.
USMNT can compete and our benchmark now is the round of 16. Twenty-four years ago we finally made it back to the World Cup after being in isolation for 40 years. We are trying to catch up to countries with several decades of a head start to their programs, their coaching, and their culture.
But, we are catching up. World Cup 2014 was a mild success for USMNT, with a lot of caveats. Let’s see how this team looks in Russia 2018.
The simple answer to the question is: Yes.
The US did more than enough in the 2014 World Cup. Their quality of play validated their overall result, instead of advancing with a sub-par opportunistic style. Unlike 2010, the United States were not drawn into an easy group, but like 2010, they advanced out of the group stage before bowing out in extra time to a better team.
Before the tournament started, I maintained the success for the Yanks would correlate with the success of Michael Bradley. He was the best player in a US jersey and he needed to play like it. It turns out I was wrong. He had a sub-par tournament, yet those around him filled the void, and the US advanced to the round of 16 in successive World Cups for the first time.
Ultimately, this World Cup validated Jurgen Klinsmann’s system. He had been questioned from day one about the methods to his madness. Every step of the way, there was criticism: his roster selections for friendlies and qualifiers, his recruitment of foreign born players, his tactics and his refusal to kiss the ring of Landon Donovan.
All of these “questionable” decisions led to the deepest roster the US ever produced with the ability to adapt their game to any style.*
For a team that I felt that was in transition heading into Brazil, they demonstrated they are on the right path.
*The game against Germany being the exception, but I think everyone had that problem.