January Camp: The Good, the Bad, and the Surprising

Posted on January 06, 2017 by Felecia Clow | 0 Comments

After what seemed like forever, January has finally arrived and Bruce gets his first chance to build a USMNT roster after over a decade away. January Camp, sarcastically dubbed “Camp Cupcake,” is notoriously less than prestigious as far as national team duty is concerned. A hodge-podge group of players who have danced on the fringe of being considered for the national team player pool (or who are on their way out), called in to train together and play a couple B-list friendlies. However, this year the stakes are significantly higher.

After miserable showings in 2016, the USMNT has found themselves with little room for error if they intend to catch their flight for Russia. Sitting at the bottom of the Hexagonal isn’t an ideal scenario particularly for a newly appointed coach. This January Camp will be critical in establishing some depth and confidence going into March qualifiers.

Sifting through available talent (players competing with European clubs are unavailable), Bruce Arena has compiled a diverse group of 32 MLS players who hope to earn themselves a roster spot come March.

GOALKEEPERS (5): David Bingham (San Jose Earthquakes), Stefan Frei (Seattle Sounders FC), Bill Hamid (D.C. United), Nick Rimando (Real Salt Lake), Luis Robles (New York Red Bulls).
DEFENDERS (10): DaMarcus Beasley (Unattached), Steve Birnbaum (D.C. United), Brad Evans (Seattle Sounders FC), Greg Garza (Atlanta United FC), Matt Hedges (FC Dallas), Taylor Kemp (D.C. United), Chad Marshall (Seattle Sounders FC), Keegan Rosenberry (Philadelphia Union), Walker Zimmerman (FC Dallas), Graham Zusi (Sporting Kansas City).
MIDFIELDERS (12): Kellyn Acosta (FC Dallas), Alejandro Bedoya (Philadelphia Union), Michael Bradley (Toronto FC), Benny Feilhaber (Sporting Kansas City), Jermaine Jones (Unattached), Sacha Kljestan (New York Red Bulls), Sebastian Lletget (LA Galaxy), Kekuta Manneh (Vancouver Whitecaps FC), Dax McCarty (New York Red Bulls), Darlington Nagbe (Portland Timbers), Chris Pontius (Philadelphia Union), Wil Trapp (Columbus Crew SC).
FORWARDS (5): Juan Agudelo (New England Revolution), Jozy Altidore (Toronto FC), Jordan Morris (Seattle Sounders FC), Chris Wondolowski (San Jose Earthquakes), Gyasi Zardes (LA Galaxy)

The Good:

As soon as USSF released Jurgen Klinsmann USMNT fans wishfully wondered which Klinny black listed players might get released from their dungeons. Bruce did not come to disappoint. Dax McCarty, Chad Marshall, Chris Pontius, Darlington Nagbe, Matt Hedges and Benny Feilhaber; all known to be out of favor with Klinsmann, all getting another shot from Arena. Considering age for a couple of these players, a serious role on the first team is likely a fleeting reality, but their club performances at very least merit them an honest shot.

Kellyn Acosta has been called up as a midfielder. Can I get a frick-yeah for playing players in their natural positions! Acosta has been utilized on the USMNT as a left-back. Some games he has done alright, while other games he has sincerely struggled. Yet for his club team (FC Dallas) he is a defensive midfielder, and he shines. I know there are a select few players that have the versatility to succeed in more than one position, but performance speaks for itself.

One major concern about Bruce Arena reclaiming his position of USMNT head coach came from comments he made in 2013 concerning foreign-born players.

“Players on the national team should be–and this is my own feeling–they should be Americans. If they’re all born in other countries, I don’t think we can say we are making progress.”

He has since retracted this statement saying, “I will embrace all players who are eligible to play.” Luckily it seems Arena is sticking true to that word naming, among several other dual citizen players, Kekuta Menneh who just recently received his US citizenship in September 2016. Menneh a Gambian-American has been a standout with the Vancouver Whitecaps after being picked up as the 4th overall pick in the 2013 MLS Superdraft. At just 22 years old he has a lot to offer in terms of speed and creativity, and we are looking forward to see him meet this opportunity head on.

The Bad:

Let’s face it. Looking over the league, the MLS is seriously lacking American born strikers. With Clint Dempsey out indefinitely due to health concerns our hopes fall on a very limited player pool, or more a puddle. When we have to resort to continually calling in Chris Wondolowski, it is clear we are lacking options. In his defense Wondo has continued to perform well for his club, which at least gives some sort of explanation why USMNT coaches call upon him time after time. But when club success does not translate to the national team, after numerous failed attempts it is time to move on. Unfortunately there isn’t much else to choose from. Jozy Altidore had a sensational season with Toronto and will likely bare the weight of lead striker alongside Bobby Wood when he is available for qualifiers, and MLS Rookie of the Year Jordan Morris will more than likely fall next in line. Fingers crossed that all stay fit and maybe our severe lack of strike force won’t matter?

The Surprising:

So I’m basically going to contradict something I said above, but stay with me here. Graham Zusi, not unfamiliar with the USMNT, has received another call up. No big shocker there. However, instead of playing in midfield where he has played for the USA in the past, he will be giving a go at right-back. Playing players out of position was one of the biggest complaints about Klinsmann’s coaching style in the past, since he tried to do so time and time again with little success. Arena changing Zusi’s role from midfielder to defender, however actually makes a fair amount of sense.

Firstly, Zusi has some experience as a right-back as he has filled the position on various occasions for Sporting KC. Arena got to see him play the position first hand while he was coaching LA Galaxy, and obviously Zusi impressed. We are also limited in options for our defense, and currently have a wealth of midfield options. Depending on who Arena favors to lead his midfield, Zusi will be fighting for a role. Though if Zusi puts on a solid performance in the back line, he could become an essential ingredient in the USMNT recipe for success moving forward.

All things considered, Arena's January Camp has a lot of potential. In an ideal world, calling in some younger talent to have thier go at the big stage is always nice, but the current reality is that we need results. The number one priority is qualifying for the 2018 World Cup through whatever means necessary. Luckily for Arena he has a 32-man roster loaded with players who are more than ready to prove themselves worthy of suiting up for their country. 

Posted in us soccer, USWNT

Get to Know the Future Faces of the USWNT

Posted on October 19, 2016 by Felecia Clow | 0 Comments

When Jill Ellis released her 24-man roster ahead of October's USWNT friendlies, many were surprised to see some big names left off the list. Julie Johnston, Megan Rapinoe, and Alex Morgan were among those exclude from training camp, and in their place, 11 uncapped athletes looking to prove themselves on the big stage. 

The USWNT will soon begin the long journey of WWC qualifying. What better time then now to scope the young talent who could be the future world champions.

 

Jane Campbell: Real name Carolyn Jane Campbell. Currently plays for the Standford Cardinals where she stands undefeated in goal. In 2013, at just 17 years old, Campbell became the youngest goalkeeper to be called up to national team camp with the senior squad. When she isn’t in goal, saving shots, and shutting out her opponents we hear Jane can teach you how to Dougie (though this has not been confirmed).

Age: 21

Hometown: Kennesaw, Georgia

Position: Goalkeeper

Experience: U-17, U-20, U-23, Standford

Abby Dahlkemper: Western New York Flash love Dahlkemper so much they never take her off the field. Literally. She played every single minute, of every single game, all season long this year with her club. How could you blame them, she is basically a brick wall (in a good way). Though this is her first senior national team call-up, the former U-17 captain is ready to prove herself on the 1st team.

Age: 23

Hometown: Lancaster, Pennsylvania

Position: Defender

Experience: U-17, U-20, U-23, UCLA Bruins, Western New York Flash, Adelaide United (loan)

Lynn Williams: Luckily for us Lynn Williams is humble, so you won’t have to hear her brag about being the NWSL’s 2016 MVP (that’s Most Valuable Player for those who are bad with acronyms). 11 regular season goals for the Western New York Flash is going to be difficult to beat next year wearing the Golden Boot she was awarded.

Age: 23

Hometown: Fresno, California

Position: Forward

Experience: U-23, Pepperdine Waves, Western New York Flash

Shea Groom: FC Kansas City’s 2015 Rookie of the Year, ain’t no one to mess with. After all you can’t become FCKC’s 2016 leading scorer without being a total badass. The skill she brings to her team’s offense has not gone unnoticed, and that hard work has been rewarded with her 1st senior national team call-up.

Age: 23

Hometown: Liberty, Missouri

Position: Forward

Experience: U-23, Texas A&M Aggies, FC Kansas City

Danielle Colaprico: This USWNT training camp will not be the first rodeo for this Chicago Red Stars starter. Following the U.S.'s 2015 WWC victory, Colaprico was called to train with the senior squad for their Victory Tour though she has yet to make her debut on the pitch. Danielle looks great in hats, especially red, white and blue caps… *wink-wink*

Age: 23

Hometown: Freehold, New Jersey

Position: Midfielder

Experience: U-23, Virginia Cavaliers, Chicago Red Stars

Casey Short: Despite being picked early (5th pick overall) during the NWSL 2013 College Draft, Short’s professional career was sidelined by two separate season-ending injuries before her seasons ever began. Fast forward a few years to the 2016 NWSL season, where Short played a major role in the soccer equivalent of Albatross, a locked-down defense that conceded only 20 goals for the entire season.

Age: 26

Hometown: Naperville, Illinois

Position: Defender

Experience: U-20, U-23, Florida State Seminoles, Avaldsnes Idrettslag, Chicago Red Stars

Arin Gilliland: The other half that makes Chicago Red Stars’ defense whole, Gilliland helped make the club almost impossible to score against (20 goals allowed all season). Called up to senior team duty with the yin to her yang, colleague Casey Short, the duo could prove to be the future leaders in the USWNT Department of Defense. 

Age: 23

Hometown: Lexington, Kentucky

Position: Defender

Experience: U-20, U-23, Kentucky Wildcats, Chicago Red Stars

Kealia Ohai: Besides having the most delightfully punable name, Ohai has made quite the name for herself while representing the USA in youth programs. Most noticeably that one time she scored the game-winning goal during the 2012 FIFA Women’s World Cup... NBD. There’s a reason why Houston Dash picked her up as their first ever draft pick during the 2014 NWSL College Draft (2nd pick overall). She’s fast, smart, and extremely focused. She is also legally blind in her right eye, we’re assuming it’s only because with perfect vision she might truly be unstoppable and take over the world.

Age: 24

Hometown: Draper, Utah

Position: Forward/Attacking Midfielder

Experience: U-17, U-20, U-23, North Carolina, Houston Dash

Andi Sullivan: Nickname= Sunny. Don’t let her age fool you, Sullivan is a USA youth national team veteran with two Women’s World Cups under her belt (U-17 2012 & U-20 2014). Currently a junior at Stanford, there will surely be many years of Sunshine in the USWNT’s future.

Age: 20

Hometown: Lorton, Virginia

Position: Forward/Attacking Midfielder

Experience: U-17, U-20, Bethesda SC, Stanford Cardinals

Merritt Mathias: It’s been awhile since we’ve had a sweet home (grown) Alabama player called into WNT duty, and we couldn’t be more excited that that void will be filled by Mathias. A forceful presence in the defense for Seattle Reign, Mathias helped her club hold out 531 consecutive minutes of play without allowing a goal.

Age: 26

Hometown: Birmingham, Alabama

Position: Defender

Experience: U-17, U-23, Texas A&M Aggies, FC Kansas City, Seattle Reign FC

Ashley Hatch: Not only is Hatch the top scorer for BYU, she is the top collegiate scorer in the nation (15 goals so far this season). Basically she is a goal machine, programmed to dismantle defenses, & fire rockets into the net. “I’m pretty sure she’s a robot,” said a former teammate probably.

Age: 21

Hometown: Gilbert, Arizona

Position: Forward

Experience: Legends FC, BYU Cougars

FULL USWNT OCTOBER TRAINING CAMP ROSTER

Goalkeepers: Jane Campbell (Stanford), Ashlyn Harris (Orlando Pride), Alyssa Naeher (Chicago Red Stars)

Defenders: Abby Dahlkemper (Western New York Flash), Arin Gilliland (Chicago Red Stars), Merritt Mathias (Seattle Reign), Kelley O’Hara (Sky Blue FC), Becky Sauerbrunn (FC Kansas City), Casey Short (Chicago Red Stars), Emily Sonnett (Portland Thorns FC)

Midfielders: Morgan Brian (Houston Dash), Danielle Colaprico (Chicago Red Stars), Tobin Heath (Portland Thorns FC), Lindsey Horan (Portland Thorns FC), Carli Lloyd (Houston Dash), Allie Long (Portland Thorns FC), Samantha Mewis (Western New York Flash), Andi Sullivan (Stanford)

Forward: Crystal Dunn (Washington Spirit), Shea Groom (FC Kansas City), Ashley Hatch (BYU), Kealia Ohai (Houston Dash), Christen Press (Chicago Red Stars), Lynn Williams (Western New York Flash)

 

Posted in us soccer, USWNT

Abby Wambach: Living Legend

Posted on December 16, 2015 by Felecia Clow | 0 Comments

Today one of soccer's greats hangs up her boots. US Women's National Team's super star, Abby Wambach, retires after 184 goals, 254 caps, and 15 years of service. Though tonight will be her last night stepping onto the pitch, she has forever left her mark on the footballing world and its perception of the women who play this beautiful game. Thank you Abby.

 

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Posted in Abby Wambach, us soccer, uswnt

No Better Time To Support U.S. Soccer

Posted on September 17, 2015 by Felecia Clow | 0 Comments

Being a soccer fan in the United States automatically comes with a heaping dose of criticism. Not only does the rest of the sporting world scrutinize the U.S. bandwagon for adopting “their” sport, “Americanizing,” and spoiling it. But our neighbors are just as quick to berate the game, quickly dismissing soccer as an over complicated, boring sport, played by sissies before even understanding rules or reason. In all, defending your love for soccer can be truly tasking.

“No, Steve making the goals larger wouldn’t make the game more exciting… Yes, I understand the score would be higher, there’s a lot more to it than just a score… Yes the point is to have more goals than the other team… Having scoring goals be more difficult is half the fun…You can’t just change the rules cause you think it would be better... Of course I want my team to have more points, Steve I think you’re missing the point…”

The thing is, as with everything, there will always be naysayers ready to rain on the parade. Luckily a couple showers have never stopped soccer supporters before. Whether people like it or not, no amount push back will be able to stop the momentum that soccer has gained in the United States. Now more than ever, there is no better time to be a soccer supporter in the U.S.

"But the U.S. has never even won a World Cup."

Um, excuse me what? Hell yeah we have! Our U.S. Women's National Team has won three, and continues to dominate as the most successful women's soccer team of all time. Don't think women's sports matter? Tell that to the 22.8 million people who watched as U.S. completely trounced Japan in the FIFA Women's World Cup Final, the most viewed televised soccer event in the nations history (played by men or women).

"Okay, but the men's team is losing."

Losing compared to what? Because compared to decades past, we've been winning a whole mess more than we normally do. We got put into the "Group of Death" for the first round of the World Cup and came out of it! No one expected that. This past spring we even won friendlies against the reigning World Cup Champs Germany and 3rd place Netherlands on their home soil. It is insane when looking at the U.S.'s performance in the past.

But yes, it's true the men's team has lost some crucial matches as of late. Over the summer the USMNT was knocked out of the Gold Cup in a heartbreaking loss to Jamaica, and just last week were crushed 4-1 in a friendly against Brazil. Some have pointed fingers at coaching staff. Others have been talking about the over extroversion of players, bouncing between their regular home teams schedule and tournaments resulting in injury and disappointing performance.  Still others have been discussing the lack of youth training infrastructure to develop quality American players. 

Wait. What's this? People are talking about soccer! In America? The fact that any of these discussions are taking place at all should be proof enough that soccer is finally making a permanent place for itself in U.S. sports. You don't talk about, and certainly don't have opinions on things you don't have vested interest in. We may be losing, but we've always been losing. The difference now is that people actually care that we are, and that is half the battle towards fixing things, which means we will only continue to improve.

"Soccer is not an American sport, this bandwagon will never last."

Soccer is as American as pizza... and all the other countless things we have adopted over the centuries. We didn't invent the sport, and never claimed we did but that doesn't make our support thereof any less true. So maybe we're a little late to the party that 3 billion other people in 200 different countries were already a part of. Who cares? We are here now and gaining steam by the day. Soccer has the fastest growing fan base of any sport in the U.S. Call it a bandwagon if you must, but I'd suggest jumping on.

 

Posted in US Soccer, USMNT, USWNT

Will Jurgen Klinsmann's fate be determined in October?

Posted on July 31, 2015 by Jeff McIntyre | 0 Comments

Will Jurgen Klinsmann's USA Fate Depend on Oct. 9th Confederation's Cup Playoff Match vs. Mexico?

What a difference two months can make!  In early June, the USMNT railed off straight victories over the Netherlands and World Cup champs Germany, two of the world’s great soccer nations.  They ventured forward into the 2015 Gold Cup as heavy favorites, and though there were some shaky displays, they perused through the group stage with relative ease.  A commanding 6-0 drubbing of Cuba set the stage poignantly for a gallant charge to glory.  But then the USA capitulated against Jamaica and bowed out at the semifinals.  And then a disheartened display led to a PK loss against Panama in the 3rd place match.  It’s all gotten a bit gloomy…

If there’s one case for hope it’s this: due to the USA’s 2013 Gold Cup win, they’ll face off against Mexico (the 2015 Gold Cup winner) on October 9th for the right to play in the 2017 Confederations Cup tournament.  What is the Confederations Cup you may ask?  Well, it’s a largely meaningless World Cup dress rehearsal played at the site of the impending World Cup one year prior to the event, this time in Russia.  Despite its place as a “friendly” tournament, it offers players and teams the chance to visit the site of the next World Cup and play against some top caliber teams, which will this year include Germany, Chile, and Russia, as well as the EURO 2016 winner.  It is an invaluable opportunity for teams hoping to succeed at the World Cup and gives them a chance to get a feel for the nation and its stadiums, without all the pressure that comes the following summer.  In essence, it’s the chance to take a look at a class final test the day before you actually take it, and it’s what the USA should have qualified for directly with a Gold Cup title.  The fact that this experience is now up in the air and dependent upon a playoff result against our most fierce CONCACAF rival is alarming.  And the thought of potentially losing it is atrocious!  With such pressure starting to mount on manager Jurgen Klinsmann, could this match end up being his last game in charge for America?

While it may seem odd to put the German’s job on the line over the Confederations Cup qualification, I do feel that the United States Soccer Federation must be concerned over how Klinsmann has fared at the helm.  Let’s look at the big picture of his results since joining the team in 2011. 

He started off terribly, losing 4 of his first 6 games, but the federation practiced patience.  They were rewarded with a famous 1-0 friendly victory over Italy in early 2012 (Friendlies seem to be where Klinsmann’s managerial prowess has paid off…).  In 2013, the USA won the Gold Cup, putting him back in the good graces.  The 2014 World Cup was a modest success as the team progressed beyond a tough group of Portugal, Germany, and Ghana, though a painful loss to Belgium in the first knockout round crashed the team back to reality.  There was also the curious error to leave Landon Donovan off the roster, which may never be forgiven...  A early summer’s teaser this year unfortunately led to this compounding Gold Cup finale, and now looking at the USA’s progression, it’s not all that stellar.  In fact, Klinsmann’s really done little more than some of his predecessors. 

In my mind, this upcoming playoff match against Mexico could be it for Jurgen.  The USA is by far the most talented team in CONCACAF, yet they’ve lost to Jamaica and Panama to cap off an altogether underwhelming performance at the Gold Cup.  Losing to our greatest rivals Mexico would be yet a further regression. 

And this is the vital question as we look ahead to October and the pivotal match against Mexico.  Has Jurgen Klinsmann actually brought the magic we were promised when he was installed as USA manager?  Are we getting any closer to contending for a World Cup?  If we stumble and fall to Mexico on home soil, I’d have serious doubts.  Make no mistake about it, this match will be hard-fought on both sides.  Mexico may have just dismissed their manager Miguel Herrera for an incident involving a reporter, but the players will have their eyes on the 2017 Confederations Cup just as much as our own.  Let’s hope that Klinsmann can truly dig deep and grind out a result for America. His job very well may depend on it.

Posted in jurgen klinsmann, us soccer

5 Reasons Why the USA Will Win the 2015 Gold Cup

Posted on July 02, 2015 by Jeff McIntyre | 0 Comments

The biennial international CONCACAF soccer tournament is on the horizon, and American soccer fans can rejoice in the fact that they enter this 2015 Gold Cup as the heavy favorites to win the title.  While it may seem a tough task given the great improvements in the region (evidenced by 3 CONCACAF teams progressing to the knockout rounds of the 2014 World Cup), the USA is more than equipped to handle the competition, especially on home soil.  Here are 5 points as to why America is destined to repeat at this Gold Cup:

  1. The Best Roster – Comparing the might of the United States’ soccer team against those of the Caribbean island and Central American nations is largely unfair. There’s no doubt about it; the USA is vastly superior.  From stars like Clint Dempsey, Jozy Altidore, and Michael Bradley, to hungry up-and-coming youngsters like DeAndre Yedlin and Gyasi Zardes, the USA should run their opponents off the pitch.  Manager Jurgen Klinsmann has fielded a great balance of players that retains the core group of key players with a supporting cast of highly talented guys ready to grab their opportunity at a major tournament.  The defense is a bit inexperienced, but is relying on players like Omar Gonzalez and Fabian Johnson to realize their potential as they enter their peak years.  This should be the time this young group truly clicks.
  2. A Solid Goalkeeper – The one glaring omission from the USA Gold Cup squad is Tim Howard, the hero who has kept the team alive against many a more talented opponent with world class saves time and time again. In his place will be Brad Guzan of Aston Villa, who has quietly produced a tremendous career in the English Premier League and as Howard’s backup for the USA.  6 years younger than Howard, Guzan represents the possible future at the position and this will be his chance to seize it.  A 30-year-old keeper with over 100 EPL starts will be more than serviceable at the Gold Cup.
  3. Top Form – How a team has played in the run-up to a big tournament can never be underestimated, and the USA has been marvelous as of late. Two friendly wins over European juggernauts Germany and the Netherlands show a team capable of greatness.  Incredibly, a roster without many of America’s top players orchestrated those wins.  Players like John Brooks and Mix Diskerud led the way.  But have no fear, many of those same players have been called up to the Gold Cup, and combined with the likes of Dempsey and Altidore will create a formidable team.
  4. Experience in the Big Games – Having performed well at the World Cup and having won the 2013 edition of the Gold Cup, America is entering a period of sustained success. This has put them under immense pressure numerous times and they have often pulled through.  Additionally, in placing the team in friendlies against top international opponents, Klinsmann has prepared the players for the magnitude of high profile matches.  The squad has produced under these circumstances, making them well equipped to handle the games ahead.
  5. A History of Winning – America has won the Gold Cup 5 times. Only Mexico has won it more (6).  Costa Rica or Honduras might pose a challenge, but that’s about it.  The USA enters this tournament full well knowing that they should win it, and this will breed a level of confidence.  The team has been here before and produced, so it only makes sense to expect them to do the same.  Yes, there is a slight chance of over-confidence in such circumstances, but given the superior talent on the roster and their rich Gold Cup history, I certainly see no reason to doubt that America is well poised to win the title at the 2015 Gold Cup!

Posted in American outlaws, Gold Cup, US Soccer, USMNT

What does USMNT need to do to become elite?

Posted on April 10, 2015 by Jeff McIntyre | 0 Comments

There’s little doubt that the United States Men’s Soccer team has come far in the past 25 years.  From not qualifying for a single World Cup in 4 decades, the team has reached each of the last seven.  We’ve progressed through the group stage in three of the past four World Cups, proving that our team is quite good.  But that final step is often the toughest.  How can America go from being a decent team to one that regularly contends for and actually wins the World Cup?

Outside of truly elite nations like Brazil, Germany, Italy, France, Argentina, Spain (and England and Uruguay half a century ago), nobody else has claimed the World Cup.  Let’s take a look at those nations and what makes them so special in the sport.  First off, they have a passionate fan base that loves the game of soccer far above anything else.  Their nations’ entire youth grow up playing the sport, and they’re hundreds of soccer clubs placing the top talent into development programs from the age of 10!  With thousands of kids all gunning for professional careers, only the best will make the national team. 

In America, young athletes have a wide array of options.  Football, basketball, and baseball often prize away our top athletes.  Only recently has the MLS grown in stature and popularity to the point where it can inspire our youth to play the sport.  As a nation, America actually has the greatest potential for building a World Cup contender.  Our population greatly exceeds most competitors, and our multi-cultured environment welcomes immigrants from all over the world.  Top talent can certainly be within our grasp, as we’ve seen recently with foreign-born USA internationals like John Brooks and Jermaine Jones.  But ultimately, to become great, we must foster a crop of stars from our soil. 

Players with exceptional talent need to be focused on the sport from a young age in their own localities.  America does have an impressive youth sports training program through IMG (which has produced stars like DaMarcus Beasley and Aron Johannson), but it requires players to be sent away to Florida and is quite expensive.  Local players would benefit most from focused programs close to their home at lower prices.  MLS clubs are doing just that and have been expanding their youth options.  This is great, but ultimately we’ll just have to be patient and see if solid pro players develop from such programs.

The good thing to point out is that we are on the right path, and there have been solid American performances at major tournaments, including five Gold Cup titles.  The World Cup is something different though, and the USA needs superstars to win such an event.  Right now the only such player who could even be argued for as such is goalkeeper Tim Howard, who’s proven his worth for over a decade playing in the English Premier League.  He had a record-breaking performance at the 2014 World Cup, saving 15 shots in a single game against Belgium, though as evidenced by the 2-1 loss, he simply cannot do it alone.  Given his advanced age, his career is nearing its end and America will soon lose this hero.  To win a World Cup, we’d need at least five players of that caliber.

In a certain way it’s unfortunate that our top stars like Clint Dempsey, Michael Bradley, and Jozy Altidore recently came back to the MLS.  While it’s exciting for fans and could help long term by inspiring more kids to play the sport, to become elite we need stars at major European clubs competing week in and week out against only the best.  It raises their level of play and prepares them for the biggest of games.

There are great American prospects playing in Europe like Brooks, Johannson, Julian Green, and Timothy Chandler.  However, they need to get from the fringes of such European clubs to become regular first-teamers and impact players.  As long as the majority of our American soccer stars continue to have mediocre professional club careers, ultimately such will be the result of our national team. 

Lastly, I feel there is the issue of belief amongst the American squad when it comes to the World Cup.  This isn’t just an American issue; it affects all those top 20 (but not top 5) nations worldwide.  Whenever it comes to a major match against a heavyweight, the jersey across the field intimidates them, and they simply cannot beat them.  I understand; I’m sure it would be terrifying to line up against a Germany or Brazil with the World Cup on the line, but until our team beats one of these guys in the knockout rounds, or even just the decent team we need to beat in order to get into that match, then we’ll always be a step below elite.  Sure, we’re fighters, and can sometimes scrape out a draw or win in a friendly against a major nation, but we need players ready to step up on the big stage who can challenge the elite on skill level alone.  That’s when our fighter’s mentality will push us over the top. 

I feel Jurgen Klinsmann is getting the team in the right direction, especially with his own personal success on the biggest stage.  American soccer must be patient.  Our developing youth system is improving and we’ll one day see the results of such persistence.  Our day will come; it’s just a matter of wh

Posted in us soccer, usmnt

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