2013-2014 was something of an eventful year for the United States Men’s National Team.
In October of 2013, the Stars & Bars qualified for their seventh straight World Cup and midfielder Graham Zusiwas canonized by El Tri fans after equalizing in a meaningless CONCACAF qualifer against Panama—Mexico qualified for Brazil after a two-legged inter-continental win over New Zealand.
The U.S. were drawn into the Group of Death for the World Cup and somehow finished second among the likes of Germany, Portugal and Ghana. This was the pinnacle for the team as their Round-of-16 match against Belgium would end in a deflating 2-1 loss in extra time.
Landon Donovan finished his career with the squad mostly under sour circumstances after Jurgen Klinsmann somehow left him off the World Cup roster. Donovan would get a testimonial run-out in a friendly against Ecuador in October of 2014, but it was sweet sorrow for fans of the U.S.’s all-time leader in goals (57) and assists (58).
— NBC Sports (@NBCSports) October 11, 2014
While the USMNT’s World Cup campaign was a mild success, the results since have been mostly lackluster. After beating the Czech Republic in Prague 1-0 in September, the U.S. have drawn twice (Ecuador and Honduras, 1-1) and lost twice (2-1 to Colombia at Craven Cottage and an embarrassing 4-1 defeat to Ireland in Dublin).
The Colombia loss can be forgiven as Los Cafeteros rank third in the latest FIFA rankings, but even as Klinsmann tinkers with formations and new players, a 4-1 loss to the world’s No. 61-ranked team is a step in the wrong direction; the U.S. currently rank 23rd, for the record.
It was clear Klinsmann’s overarching strategy was aimed at the 2018 World Cup when his team selection for Brazil came to light. While Klinsmann and Donovan never saw eye-to-eye, his snub of Donovan in favor of bringing along a new breed of American talent was a reasonable long-term plan.
The Brazil setup had enough veterans (Clint Dempsey, Tim Howard, Jozy Altidore, Michael Bradley) to ensure the U.S. would compete, but leaving off a player of Donovan’s caliber has to be viewed as a short-term error by the manager.
The Ireland match produced a woeful result, but while the U.S. looked more like the Yanks of pre-1990—spraying hospital balls around the park and playing with the collective poise of a youth team—this was just a friendly, and the last one of the calendar year (nothing scheduled for the senior team through January of 2015 as of yet).
Some questioning the heart and fight of #USMNT vs. Ireland. If that fundamental and inherent U.S. trait becomes lost, then all is lost.
— Alexi Lalas (@AlexiLalas) November 19, 2014
Klinsmann has a good grasp of what it takes to be successful on the international level and his take on MLS and its overall mediocre play is absolutely warranted. However, Klinsmann continues to alienate the U.S. fanbase—humiliating their favorite son (Donovan) and ridiculing a league that continues to grow in popularity (albeit remaining stagnant in quality).
Soccer (or football) in the U.S. seems destined to mediocrity with the domestic league’s best team (the L.A. Galaxy, for the sake of argument) ranking just 13th on its own continent, let alone the world.
Klinsmann is not wrong for clamoring for America’s best players to hone their crafts in European leagues, but his disconnect with the American soccer psyche may end up being a detriment to the national team’s development.
Featured image courtesy of Fox Soccer