The United States National Team is well on their way to punching their ticket to Brazil 2014. Heading into tonight’s tilt with Honduras, the Yanks are on top of CONCACAF’s final qualifying group at the halfway point. They have their manager to thank for their form.
Not only will tonight’s game mark the second half of the hex, it also is Jurgen Klinsmann’s 30th game at the helm of the US National Team. Klinsmann was hired on July 29, 2011 after US Soccer let go of Bob Bradley. It was a move that was oft clamored for by the US supporter base. Coaches have a shelf-life, and Bradley’s had expired after the US got upset by Ghana in the second round of South Africa 2010.
This time around, the United States won’t be a team that can afford to be satisfied with just advancing through the group stage. They will be expected by everyone, Klinsmann included to make a run deep into the tournament.
The United States hasn’t progressed past the second round since 2002 when they defeated Mexico in the round of 16. That magical run caught the entire world by surprise and put US Soccer on the map.
It also turned the US from a soccer afterthought — a team that better teams would overlook, into a team that soccer powers were forced to take seriously.
In 2006, the US thought they would be able to creep up on teams again and they paid the price for it in the form a first round exit. Bruce Arena lost his job and in came Bradley.
Bradley was supposed to help the United States take the next step into a consistently solid soccer program. Weird lineup maneuvers and inconsistent play never endeared Bradley to the United States fanbase, who wanted to hire Klinsmann after Arena.
In 2006, Klinsmann took Germany to a third place finish when they hosted the World Cup. German fans begged Klinsmann to return but he declined the invitation.
In Klinsmann, the United States has a man who rose through the German Football Factory and has major experience coaching a world football power. He is exactly what the United States needs heading into Brazil. He knows what it takes to prepare for a match against a world power and what it takes to beat them. Already on Klinsmann the USA got their first ever victory over Italy and a famous first victory at Azteca over Mexico.
That is why we should trust Klinsmann, no matter what he chooses to do with his squad. It is a squad that takes some getting used to. Landon Donovan, Steve Cherundolo, and Carlos Bocanegra haven’t featured much at all under the German.
Donovan took a sabbatical from the US team to sort out his personal affairs. Since that team the US hasn’t struggled all that much and have taken control of the final CONCACAF qualifying round.
Bocanegra, who has captained the United States almost exclusively since Claudio Reyna retired after Germany 2006, is fifth on the US depth chart at center back as Klinsmann has instead opted for the young, but incredibly effective tandem of Omar Gonzalez and Matt Besler.
Cherundolo on the other hand has a chance to feature when he returns from injury. The US has great depth at center back but the wingback position may be one of their weakest.
Klinsmann has turned some heads by using DaMarcus Beasley at left back during qualifying. After struggling to adjust at first, the athletically savvy veteran has played well in recent games at left back. I still think the job belongs to Cherundolo, but by giving Beasley a chance to feature in one final World Cup Klinsmann is nurturing some competition that will force Cherundolo to be in form right away.
Replacing Donovan wasn’t expected to be easy, but his presence has not been sorely missed. The United States’ two best players — Clint Dempsey and Michael Bradley — continue to make a positive impact going forward and players like Eddie Johnson, Jozy Altidore, and Fabian Johnson are in great form.
This is not to suggest there is no place for Donovan or Bocanegra when Klinsmann picks his World Cup squad, it is to suggest that maybe the best place from them is outside the starting XI.
Consider this, if there was a tournament like the World Cup in baseball (one that was taken with the same sincerity, not the World Baseball Classic), would Derek Jeter be named to the 25 man roster? Probably. Would he start over the likes of Troy Tulowitzki or Manny Machado? Hopefully not.
Donovan could be a dangerous weapon coming off the bench in Brazil. If ever the United States was in need of a life-saving type goal to come from the bench who would the Yanks rather see come off the pine than the best player in the nation’s history? Nobody.
Meanwhile, this fresh, young squad can continue to develop its chemistry as they impress their way onto the world’s biggest stage.