Saturday, July 12, 2014

Full 90: America's Dream Deferred?

Has the soccer arrived in the United States? No. Has the World Cup arrived in the United States? Maybe. Has the United States Men’s National Team arrived in the United States? Yes.

Similar to the previous two World Cups, the USMNT have been eliminated in the Round of 16 after heartbreaking extra time losses. However, USA went out on a high note rather than a low one. This campaign by the men’s national team was shaping up to be a fine underdog story. After being placed in the Group of Death, there were strong doubts they would ever advance past a very strong German side, a team captained by Cristiano Ronaldo, and the team’s nemesis from 2010, Ghana.

The team began their journey in Brazil with a thrilling 2-1 win over Ghana in which substitute, John Brooks, hammered in an 86th minute goal to secure the victory. This was the most pivotal game for the U.S.- a must win situation. If they were unable to beat Ghana, their chances of making it out of the Group Stages would be next to none. Considering, Germany, rated the best team in the world by many, was their third game of the group stages, it was important to get a result against Portugal.

After allowing an early first half goal, the United States battled back in true-grit-American-fashion to knot it up and then take the eventual lead. With seconds remaining, Cristiano Ronaldo broke the hearts of Americans when he connected with Silvestre Varela off a pinpoint cross to tie the match 2-2. Although the tie felt like a loss for the U.S. and took away the team’s certainty of advancing; the one point would later propel the U.S. to advance.

For the United States, the game vs. Germany was crucial. A win or tie would advance them. However, a loss would too be acceptable so long as their goal differential wound up better than Portugal’s. With a 0-1 loss for the U.S. and a 2-1 win for Portugal, the USMNT was through. The very same man, Ronaldo, who broke America’s heart, revived it.

The United States knew they would have their work cut out for them vs. Belgium, a young team that is full of skillful players. Despite winning all three of its Group Stage matches, Belgium was not living up to expectations and appeared a bit disjointed. Unfortunately for the United States, the Belgium squad was in its best form by the Round of 16.

A heart-wrenching match, Tim Howard stood on his head to single-handedly keep the U.S.’s dreams alive. Completing save after save, it was only a matter of time that Belgium assault would prove successful. However, after several late opportunities for the U.S. in regulation, one had to think that maybe the tides had turned and the U.S. could slip in a quick goal to advance. After being pushed to overtime, Belgium’s artillery broke through the United States’ wall, that is Tim Howard. To the United States’ credit they once again battled back and netted a goal by the wunderkind, Julian Green, the boy who ended Landon Donavon’s World Cup career. At 19 years of age, Julian Green’s efforts, combined with the efforts of Seattle Sounder phenom, DeAndre Yedlin, left Americans feeling more optimistic than dejected. One could not be more proud of the adversity the USMNT overcame during this year’s campaign.

The man who was under the most scrutiny throughout the 2014 World Cup preparations, Jurgen Klinsmann, has positioned the United States for great success in years to come. Critics of Klinsmann were quick to nit-pick recruitment tactics and squad selection for this year’s World Cup roster. However, these critics must realize a new-age of American soccer has arrived.

Klinsmann’s risk-taking and international recruitment of foreign-born United States players has proved successful. Klinsmann knew the United States were never going to win this year’s World Cup. However, he did know that the team would be able to make a deep-run, that showcased our country’s fighting spirit and youthful talent.

This man has meticulously engineered a team that is more talented, yet less recognizable than the team sent to the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. More so, Klinsmann has achieved the most important aspect of the World Cup: he sent a team to Brazil that created a culture of USMNT soccer, enhanced national pride, and created life-long fans of the sport.


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