While watching the Mexican National Team cruise to a 5-1 victory over plucky New Zealand in the first leg of their World Cup qualifying intercontinental playoff series, I got thinking about the American team’s journey to Brazil up until this point.
While it had been a much longer road then most realise, what really sticks in the mind is the USMNT’s run of form through CONCACAF’s “hexagonal” final qualifying round.
From 10 games, the US ended up with a record of 7-2-1, the two losses being to Honduras at the beginning of the hexagonal, and to Costa Rica towards the end, when qualification was all but assured.
While qualification from CONCACAF is not a given, as is presently being demonstrated by Mexico’s trudge through the play-off mire, it is evidently not as difficult a process as top teams from most other continents have to go through. What exactly then, can one then take from the American’s progression to the finals in Brazil?
Jurgen Klinsmann’s impact on the squad cannot be understated. Under previous regimes, the tactic always seemed to be to grind out a goal, then sit back and soak up pressure and potentially grab another on the break. That style doesn’t suit this manager and it’s been made evident, particularly in recent results such as the 2-0 defeat of Mexico at home in Columbus Crew Stadium.
Other than the introduction of a more attack-based mentality, I believe that Klinsmann has instilled a bond and togetherness throughout the player-pool that other USMNT managers may have been just slightly lacking in. My case in point for this argument is the famous, or should I say infamous, “Snow Game” versus Costa Rica back in March. Prior to the game, rumours had it that players were not all too happy with coach Klinsmann, particularly his tactics and team selection coming off an opening round 2-1 defeat to Honduras.
Then came the snow; the US defeated Costa Rica 1-0, the squad appeared unified, an identity started to develop, and the team then went on an unprecedented run of 15 wins from their preceding 18 games, the only losses coming in the form of a 4-2 defeat to high-flying Belgium and the 3-1 “Revenge For The Snow” loss to Costa Rica.
In terms of the player pool it appears as though, for the most part but with a few exceptions, Klinsmann has his squad. This is particularly true in deep lying pivot with the deployment of Bradley and Jones, goalkeeper Tim Howard, the attacking midfield of Clint Dempsey and Landon Donovan, and the all-important central striker position being stake-claimed by the newly effervescent Jozy Altidore.
While his current club campaign would be defined as anything but a glittering success, he is still the man to lead the line for the Americans in Brazil. At 24 years of age, Altidore is already the holder of several American scoring records, including the “consecutive games with a goal” streak that he broke in style with a hat-trick in the 4-3 comeback victory over Bosnia and Herzegovina in August.
While all this team development and growth is great for the players and their footballing abilities, what I have really found most fascinating about the qualification process has little to do with the team itself. What has been most enjoyable, for me, is that the American fans are actually behind this team.
Believe it or not I do believe football in America may be taking off, honestly this time I think it may be happening. I realised this during the 2-0 win over Panama in Seattle. I have never seen anything like it from football fans in America. We are talking about proper support here; raucous backing, well organised singing and chanting, and knowledge of the game being demonstrated by a vast majority of those in attendance.
While I don’t expect the USMNT to make a massive splash in Brazil next summer, this squad has the look of a team that could push for a quarter-final birth, and I would love to see how this group of American players and fans would handle that sort of development.
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