USMNT crow tasted good: rough finish, decent aftertaste

Just about all of us spent the middle-to-late part of June reveling in the World Cup, most specifically in the USA breaking through the Group of Death. While I said when the group was announced, “I like the Yanks chances,” I must admit that in my ESPN Bracket I had Germany and Portugal.

There was crow to be eaten on many levels in the Group Stage, from the lack of faith in Jurgen Klinsmann to get his team through, to the squad selection. It wasn’t all roses for the US, but largely things went better than expected.

Overall result? Better than expected

Here the full quote from the article linked to above:

All that said, I like the Yanks’ chances. Facing Ghana in the first match is a great help. The confidence built in fending off their greatest bane in recent history might just propel the US to a result against Portugal.

If they struggle against the Black Stars? Well, there’s always Russia in 2018.

It’s about as non-committal as a prognostication can be, but I’ll take it. It was a dramatic victory against Ghana, buoyed by a heroic substitute performance from John Brooks resulting in the winning goal. His celebration will be etched in our memories for years to come, putting to bed the nightmares of past failures.

I think all of us worried about that first match. Finally facing the unknown of “the future without Landon Donovan,” we saw a team that scraped out the victory, but also struggled to cope with the step up to top competition. They were ahead for much of the Ghana match, but looked like a team needing belief that they could thrive without Donovan.

Portugal proved to be the most confidence-inspiring performance from the US in the tournament, but the late concession on a singular moment of Cristiano Ronaldo magic put doubt back in the hearts of American fans.

Things were never quite the same after that. Yes, the US put in a valiant defensive performance against Germany to advance, but the subsequent Round of 16 matchup against Belgium looked to have potential. Instead, Tim Howard had to give a performance for the ages simply to force extra time before falling to the Belgians.

Life without Landon? Tough to tell

So the talking point of the tournament was quickly muted after the defeat of the Black Stars. With each subsequent result, the rumblings could be heard within the noise of the chatter about the USMNT.

There could be validity on both sides of this argument. On one hand, those defensive postures look much better when you have a natural at running the fast break. Donovan fits that bill to a tee, learning from a master in the tactical counterattack named Bruce Arena.

But there are a lot of unseen forces that are often conjured but not proven. Whether Donovan’s presence would have adversely affected the chemistry on this team is something we can speculate about for years. I’d hope that the collective guile of Howard, Bradley, Dempsey, Beasley, and even Klinsmann himself, would be able to put Donovan in his place. If that is the case, leaving Donovan home was a clear mistake.

But if Donovan was truly bigger than the team, maybe that was the kick in the pants the team needed to step to the plate and own this cycle. Which they did (save perhaps for Michael Bradley).

The other additions and one omission? Largely good, but…

If you want to look at John Brooks, Deandre Yedlin, and Julian Green, they all had successful World Cup debuts. It would be a lot to expect any of these players to contribute more than in sub appearances, and so their contributions were all above expectations.

Chris Wondolowski, for as much as we MLS fans have come to love the guy, had no place at this World Cup. It was a nice tip of the cap to a guy who has been a great goal scorer in the league for a few years now, but when it came down to that one critical moment where a poacher proves his worth, he missed. You may remember San Jose’s Supporter’s Shield run in 2012, but it’s also hard to forget those playoffs. Wondo never showed up in that knockout tourney either.

Lastly, Terrence Boyd’s omission should haunt Jurgen Klinsmann for the next four years. Jozy Altidore was so pivotal in Klinsmann’s developed setup, that not taking a tactical equivalent as backup was inexcusable. Who knows how things turn out if Boyd was given a chance?

The future? Promising

We look at those young players given opportunities in Brazil, as well as the qualifying buildup, and have to think things are looking up for the team.

Not only do you have the Gold Cup next year, where a victory would earn qualification for Confederations Cup in Russia in 2017, you have the centennial Copa America which will be held in 2016 on American soil. These will be two tournaments where Klinsmann’s new blood will have a chance to test themselves again. Plus, we have yet to see how 2018 World Cup Qualifying will be interspersed in that process — 2016 could be a very demanding year on a few fronts.

The great moments from the US run in Brazil were pleasing, and while it wasn’t the greatest of conclusions for the Americans, we should have a solid foundation for 2018 and beyond.


  1. just wanted to thank you. good article.lots of thought and logic.

    al c

  2. Andy Muenz says:

    I still see this as a somewhat disappointing WC for the US. It was outside Europe where the US usually shine (the only time the US hasn’t qualified for the 2nd round in a cup they participated in outside Europe was 1950, and we all know about one game there).
    They beat one of the two teams they should have beaten and then went all Philadelphia Union on Portugal at the end of the game when Portugal was ripe for the picking. (yes, I did use Philadelphia Union as an adjective!)
    Then they lost to the two seeded teams they played. So as I see it, we could have expected to see 2 wins and 2 losses and came away with less than that.
    And while there are plenty of opportunities to showcase the team in the next 3 years, 2018 looms in Europe where the US has traditionally underperformed in the WC.

    • Andy, while it is true that Portugal were a weakened team, expecting a win against them is absolutely wrong. Hoping for one? Sure. But regardless of when we played them, they are a team studded with stand-outs from European leagues filled out with players who at the very least are getting regular playing time in those same European leagues.

      • The Black Hand says:

        The USMNT played world-class football against Portugal. For me personally, it was the best I have seen our national team play. No way, were we expected to win that match.
        In all honesty, we were beaten badly by Germany and worse by Belgium…they murdered us! Ghana was probably the better team, as that match wore on. But, the U.S. never gave up and managed to keep themselves in those matches (Ghana being a win). That deserves credit.
        To advance out of THAT group was a tremendous accomplishment. If we can get some key players (Besler, Gonzalez, Yedlin) European experience, we will be a formidable team for the coming years.

      • Andy Muenz says:

        I’ll respectfully disagree with you, Mike. Portugal only finished second in a qualifying group won by a mediocre Russian team. They had one starter suspended and two others injured. Aside from Altidore, the US was a healthy team. I tend to be pessimistic about my team’s chances (which is frequently justified by the Union’s results), but I went into watching the game expecting that the US should beat Portugal.

      • Agreed Andy. The manner in which we were thoroughly outplayed by the Germans and Belgium is a bit alarming for me and significant for how far we yet have to go. I do not dispute we are improving but anybody who thinks we are a top rated team because we survived the “group of death” group stage at this world cup and in ought10 is being mislead by the same notion that welcomes back the new ‘hero’ Deandre Yedlin as I continually hear him referred to.
        As an aside, the true CONCACAF leaders in my opinion were Mexico and Costa Rica. Mexico showed greater ingenuitive quality than us. Costa Rica for that matter showed greater quality than us- as evidenced by their advancement.

      • I will acquiesce to this though, maybe the team would have looked different had Altidore stayed healthy. Missing him was compromising even though I want to move on from him.

      • The Germans displayed what true shape the Portuguese were in for this event. Beating them is good and necessary (but only a draw in real life) and maybe the gap is closing but that team was a shell of discontent and misgivings. I read a French type mutiny was welling from some sources.

  3. Life without Landon will be an interesting point for a while, but I’m wondering about Life After Howard. We’ve got a lot of promising young ‘keepers — Hamid, Johnson, Robles, Irwin, and I think MacMath has played his way back onto the list — it’s time for one of them to move to Europe and claim the No. 1 spot. I don’t think a ‘keeper playing in MLS can cut it for the USMNT (sorry, Nick Rimando).

    • Hmm You seem to have forgotten about Brad Guzan. Played stellar in the US Qualifiers in the Snow Bowl against Costa Rica and the goalless tie in Mexico City. He’s only had great season after great season at Aston Villa.

    • If Howard steps down, Guzan will fill his shoes quite well for the next cycle. He is easily one of the best netminders in BPL. – oops everyone got to this before I hit refresh…nevermind.

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