Is group stage success enough For USMNT?

Photo: Barb Colligon

During the Chicago Fire-New England Revolution match on Saturday, US Soccer President Sunil Gulati talked briefly about a few topics. Concerning the outlook for the Men’s National Team for this summer’s, Gulati quipped, “Everyone wants to get through the first round: That’s our first goal.”

This quote came directly after a question from NBC Sports Network’s John Strong regarding the Women’s National Team, who are currently looking for a new coach. Tom Sermanni was fired after amassing a record of 18-4-2 as the coach of the Women’s Team. The primary blemish was a poor Algarve Cup tournament earlier this year.

Do you sense a double standard here? There probably is, and maybe there’s nothing wrong with that. Still, it’s an important World Cup year, and everyone wants to see the USMNT succeed.

Mind game?

The group draw for the US is no walk in the park. The lone dove would be Ghana, if it weren’t a consistent thorn in the United States’ dreams of deep World Cup runs. Toss in Germany and Portugal, and an uphill climb is an understatement for sure.

Was Gulati’s comment a method to depressurize the situation for the Americans? Maybe.

Typically, depressurization would be prudent for a clear favorite that always falls short of the ultimate prize, like Germany. It wouldn’t be surprising to hear Joggi Low talk pessimistically about this group.

Still, there are so many contingencies riding on this World Cup. The number of influential USMNT players now plying their trade in Major League Soccer has grown, and a good showing could help attract the casual fan to the domestic league. How’s that for pressure?

If Gulati wanted to lessen the mental burden on the team, it’s understandable. But that assumes there is a burden being felt.

A message for Klinsmann?

Let’s go back to this apparent double standard. You must grant that the Algarve Cup losses (especially Denmark) came against opponents the USWNT should defeat.

But let’s not forget the Men’s Team has also looked lackluster since punching their ticket to Brazil. The team has gone 1-2-2, including two defeats to European teams that failed to qualify for Brazil.

Is this current rough patch much different than what happened to the Women’s National Team? It’s not in a competition, but it is at a time when players should be laying it all on the line to make the final 23-man cut.

I’m sure Klinsmann and Gulati talk offline, but maybe Gulati felt the need to give Klinsmann a vote of confidence in the media and reassure him that a poor showing in Brazil wouldn’t gain him the same fate as Sermanni.

There is a parallel — Bradley

Maybe I’ve been thinking of this from the wrong perspective, though. I’ve been trying to interpret the Sermanni firing in terms of Jurgen Klinsmann’s status with the team.

It may be more appropriate to look back to 2011, after the United States succumbed to Mexico in the Gold Cup. It was after that tournament that Bob Bradley was let go by US Soccer.

A year earlier, Bradley had led the US to a good showing in South Africa, winning Group C after drawing England and Slovenia and eking out a 1-0 victory over Algeria. Much like Sermanni, good results got eclipsed by the more recent ugly ones.

Should Jurgen get a pass?

One of the criticisms I’ve heard of Sermanni is that he brought in a lot of young players. He was looking past the 2015 Women’s World Cup, which will likely end the Abby Wambach era of the WNT.

Can’t the same be said for the public wooing of Julian Green into the Men’s Team? Or Aron Johannsson for that matter? Sure, Johannsson has picked up where Jozy Altidore left off at club team A.Z. Alkmaar, and the US ought to be giddy for snatching an up-and-coming international player from Iceland.

Where does that leave the chemistry in the MNT locker room? How does a player like Maurice Edu feel about this development? That his spot going to Brazil could be pipped by a guy (or two) who hasn’t been with the team for more than 12 months? And one of which has yet to play a minute of top division soccer?

This seems quite similar to the way Sermanni put the present on hold to prepare for the future. And that got him a pink slip.

The double standard

It’s tough to say there shouldn’t be a double standard for the Women’s National Team as opposed to the Men’s National Team. Our level of success in the women’s game far surpasses that of the men’s, and the higher standard isn’t a bad thing.

Yet Gulati’s announcement of expectation for this summer’s World Cup seems almost dismissive, as if no result would be a problem. And maybe with the draw it has received, the US ought to be preparing for 2018 and beyond.

There’s still a lot riding on this World Cup for the US. Don Garber probably thinks so, and I imagine Gulati does too. Hopefully Klinsmann senses that too. Tom Sermanni likely never imagined the Algarve Cup would mean as much as it did to US Soccer.


  1. JediLos117 says:

    Wait…people think we’re getting out of group stage?!

    • Our team is as good as it’s ever been, but we still drew the Group of Death. Getting out of the group stage would be a tremendous achievement this year.

    • It’s less about whether the US can escape the group, and more about the double standard.

      • It’s not a double standard. The USWNT is the class of women’s soccer. While the men’s team is just trying to get a rep. It’s not double standards it’s different standards for different classes.
        That being said Tom Sermanni got a raw deal.

      • I argue this my friend. USWNT WAS the class of women’s soccer. Our run at the top is over. Too many other countries with again, smarter tacticians, spending the money to grow the sport. It won’t be long till we are on the outside looking in. Wait and see.

      • It’s run at the very top is over. But it is still one of the best teams in the world. And still deserving of a higher standard.
        I am still convinced that the older veterans ran Sermanni out beccause he was gonna modernize the team.

      • Could be. Modernizing the game. A hard sell in US Soccer.

      • Well The US were good for so long that they could more or less disregard tactics altogether. So yea that is part of it.

      • you continue to impress me. solid insight.

    • Germany will be the biggest challenge, but I don’t think a draw would be beyond belief.

      We can beat Portugal. It won’t be easy, and it isn’t a sure thing, but I think this team when all the players are on the field can take down Portugal.

      And Ghana just needs to go. Even if we don’t beat Portugal out of the group, we can’t loose to Ghana. We just can’t.

      • soccerdad1150 says:

        this +1

      • I think most people are penciling in Germany to win the group leaving the rest to fight for whats left. If we Tie Germany half the battle to get out of the groups would be done.
        I will say this tho. Every World cup one of the heavy favorites going in seems to implode. I had an inkling it may be Germany’s turn.

      • JediLos117 says:

        I think most American fans are foolishly underestimating the Portuguese team…
        …and blindly believing in an unknown, undefined and inexperienced American defense.
        Best hope that Ronaldo is hurt.

      • I am watching Bayern Vs.
        Real Madrid and well I am thinking Jurgen is on the phone right now trying to convince Germany to go halfsies on leg breaking goons.

    • The Black Hand says:

      I’ll be happy if we sore a goal!

      • I suspect scoring goals won’t be too hard. The question in my mind is how the hell are we going to stop other teams from scoring goals? Lots and lots of goals. I have nightmares of what Ghana’s Asamoah is going to do to us, let alone the 2nd greatest player in the world Ronaldo let alone a Germany team bent on winning the WC after Euro 2012 failure.

  2. Part of the problem is built by the federation themselves and the MLS. If they didn’t go about banging the war drums over NT signings like Bradley or Dempsey, it wouldn’t look so bad when we get steamrolled this summer.

    But since the MLS decided to tie the fortunes of the NT with the MLS so tightly, the utter failure coming up in the summer is going to reflect poorly on the MLS.

  3. I think the point is just facts: the group draw we had in 2010, we were expected to make it out of the group stage. This 2014 draw, you have to say on paper Portugal and Germany are better and Ghana is competitive, which equals us not making it. You could argue that 2010 was a disappointing world cup, but if we get a win and two losses this year, it’d be a success.

    Also, I don’t quibble with Klinsman recruiting Johansson, who is spectacularly in form, or Green, who is for the future. And if he takes them over Edu, who is not likely to see time either (if he goes), fine.

    I think Sermanni was fired because they didn’t feel he brought the competitive energy to the job that it needed. You made this point at the end, but it should be said again. The standards are based on the team you have. If Sunderland avoid relegation, they’ll be ecstatic. If Arsenal don’t make champions league, I’ll be pissed.

  4. Andy Muenz says:

    The double standard is completely acceptable here. The USWNT had finished in the top 3 in pretty much every major competition in the last 20+ years prior to the Algarve. The USMNT has only finished in the top 3 in two major competitions in the last 80+ years and one of those was in 1930.
    The Algarve Cup is one of the biggest events on the women’s calendar and I assume the US had their A team there. The men have generally been playing an A- team as either the European based players or the US based players have been missing from the recent games.
    Double standards are really a matter of perspective. Would David Moyse have been fired if he had led Cardiff City or Crystal Palace to the same spot that he led Manchester United?
    How we view the results in Brazil will depend in part on whether the team gets out of the group but also on who they play in the next round if they do. In 2010, the US would have been happy had they finished in second in the group and then lost to Germany in regulation. Instead, having done better in the group stage by winning, but then losing to Ghana in extra time, it felt disappointing. So if the US make it out of the group and then lose to Belgium, it won’t be seen as nearly as much of a failure as if they lose to someone else.

    • If the US make it out of the group stage, many will think it is advancement in the name of US Soccer. I am not quite so sure.
      I think we need a major overhaul in how we put the team together and how we scout players who make it- from youth to the top the entire structure of our game needs an overhaul. Too many spectacular players overlooked in the name of big and strong and God forbid athletic.
      As long as the Omar Gonzalez, Jozy Altidore and Jermaine Jones are considered top US players we will not evolve.
      Chances of US surviving group 15%.
      I am just patiently sitting and waiting for the revolution to be televised. Caleb Porter for President.

      • joel I think more and more we are seeing player with greater technicality being introduced to the team. It’s how Geoff Cameron made his leap after all.

        And I think you are overrating fans perceptions of Gonzalez, and Jones (Jozy I don’t think you are). I know Klinsmann rates Jones well but that doesn’t mean the fans do.

        Gonzalez isn’t necessarily a good player in his own right but he doesn’t player a position where he is on an island. He plays CB. and like in Miracle it’s not always about putting the best players on the field but the best team. And he is a very strong tackler and good aerial presence in both boxes. He just needs a complementary pattern that is the silk to his stomp.

    • It’s just a double standard that I believe is worth considering.

      I had originally started the article in this vein: that growth/advancement is expected in nearly every enterprise in the United States EXCEPT soccer.

      I’m not saying that we should expect the team to win the whole thing, but it’s an interesting aberration.

  5. If we are to get out of the group stage I see this as the likeliest scenario.

    If we get points from Ghana we put ourselves in good position.

    Its true that Portugal has a deadly attack but their defense is often susceptible and was for large parts of qualifications, they barely made it to the WC because of it. A win or draw is needed.

    By this point Germany should have clinched the top spot meaning they will be playing a mixed bag squad. This is the time for the US to pounce and pull out a win to get the second spot of qualification.

  6. I predict zero points for US 🙁

  7. We expect much more for the powerhouse WNT than we do of the MNT, therefore any small failure of the WNT is far more magnified than any slip-up by the MNT. We expect near perfection from the WNT given their dazzling legacy. Algarve was shocking for anyone who closely follows the WNT.

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