U.S. men’s soccer team on its way to success
Published: Sunday, March 11, 2012
Updated: Monday, March 12, 2012 14:03
In light of the recent 1-0 win over Italy, the United States Men's soccer team has begun to slowly trend upward under the reins of head coach Jurgen Klinsmann. Clint Dempsey scored the only goal of the game via Jozy Altidore in the 55th minute. It was an affirmation of the hard work dedicated by the players, as they had not beaten Italy in 78 years.
The game was important for several reasons. First, it set a tone for the U.S. as it continues to improve in anticipation of the 2012 Summer Olympics and the 2014 World Cup. As the No. 31-ranked team in the world, the Yanks were clearly the underdog against No. 8-ranked Italy on their home turf in Genoa. Without the guidance of well-known player Landon Donovan, not much was expected of the American team. However, the team proved to itself that not only can it hang in there with the best, but it can beat the best. Confidence is contagious, and now it is in abundance. This is especially important for the younger and more impressionable players, such as Altidore, who will be leading the team for years to come.
Second, the game proved that the team can flourish under the guidance of former Germany coach, Jurgen Klinsmann. After being hired last July to take the helm, Klinsmann had to take over an underachieving team left over by defensive-minded former coach Bob Bradley. Klinsmann was hired with the thought the team would be infused with more creativity and play a more technical style. The U.S. has always been known as a scrappy group and usually the fittest on the pitch. However, goals have never been easy to come by. Klinsmann was initially hoping to change that through a reinvention of sorts. "I believe that the style of play should reflect the culture of the country," he stated at Youth Soccer Workshop in January. Yet, what he has realized is his job isn't so much of a reinvention as it is a refinement. Instead of a total overhaul, it now seems tweaks here and there may be the best option for players that have years of experience together. After a slow start to his campaign as head coach, Klinsmann's approach finally seems to be reaping dividends, and the boys are now buying into the notion. He has won his last three games and is now 5-4-1.
Thirdly, the game provided the younger players a chance to play against an elite team. Klinsmann realizes that he can only do so much in redefining the style of the older players and therefore knows his influence can be much stronger on the younger ones. U.S. mainstays Tim Howard, Steve Cherundolo, Carlos Bocanegra, Dempsey and Donovan will all be in their 30s by the time of the next World Cup. This group, arguably the most successful in the American national team's history, won't be around much longer. Thus, the importance of getting fresh faces some playing time is pertinent. In the near future, players like Brek Shea, Michael Bradley and Altidore will be leading a new generation of players that will reflect Klinsmann's style more accurately. They will also come in with higher expectations than previous groups.
While the coaching of the U.S. team is beneficial, the key to its success is ultimately the players. The level of talent has increased dramatically in the last several decades, so much so that the team is now consistently competitive with any team in the world. It starts at the grassroots level with training academies such as IMG in Florida, which provides elite training year-round. By beginning training at early ages, we are increasing the skill level of our future stars.
Furthermore, we can now see the improvement in players when looking their respective club teams. Most of the national team plays in Europe, primarily in the English Premier League or Germany's Bundesliga by playing against the best in the world, our players are getting world-class competition all year. Only a decade ago, there may have been just a handful of American players in top leagues overseas. To be the best, teams need to compete against the best as much as possible instead of just in national team games. The strength of Major League Soccer is playing a large part in the continued success of the Americans. The league is expanding and becoming stronger every year while providing another outlet for American players to compete at the same time.
With upcoming matches against Scotland, Brazil, and Canada, the U.S. team must continue trending upwards. World Cup qualifiers begins June 8 against Antigua and Barbuda, and the next few months will provide a snapshot of what is to come in the following years.