1) Jurgen Klinsmann
“A lot of things in U.S. football are developing positively. Not only the national team, but also the youth department and the training conditions.” – Jurgen Klinsmann
Look, this qualifying campaign hasn’t always been pretty, but you could argue that it was never supposed to be. Jurgen Klinsmann has the unenviable task of making the United States a great footballing nation. This transition is starting to pay off too, especially as the team heads to Brazil next summer. The most talented senior players are getting substantially better, younger players are bringing a higher level of competition to the established senior players, and more U.S. players are competing in Europe against higher levels of competition week in and week out.
Most of all, you are seeing the start of a terrific trend: the U.S. wants to take its style of play to whichever opponent is on the pitch. Klinsmann’s team is seemingly confident playing the minnows of Belize and the powerhouses like Germany now. 4 years ago, could we say the same thing? Through youth development at all levels, squad development, tough friendlies against high level competition, fierce competition within his own squad, challenging players like Landon Donovan, Jozy Altidore and Clint Dempsey (C) and recruiting foreign based U.S. players, Klinsmann has started a revolution. And the U.S. likes its revolutions.
2) Senior U.S. Players
“Kasey refers to ‘collective spirit,’ I use mentality, commitment, determination … and balls……that is what our team is about.” – Michael Bradley, responding to Kasey Keller’s quote about the U.S. team spirit.
The leaders of this U.S. team are battle tested. Beasley, Donovan, Dempsey, Bradley, Altidore & co. have been put through their paces by Klinsmann and have responded admirably. Truth be told though, they know that they have to set the example and continue to improve to have any real chance to make noise in Brazil. Their leadership will be a big factor in how this story pans out.
3) The Snow Game
“It is time to step up — not through talking and interviews — but through our play and by giving a performance everyone can be proud of.” – Michael Bradley, before the Snow Game
I went to the infamous Snow Game, and let me tell you, it was insane for the players (and fans) to be subjected to those conditions. What came out of it though was crucial to this World Cup Qualifying campaign; fortitude. Before the game against Costa Rica in Denver, there was a scathing article written by the Sporting News about the mindset of the team, divisions in the locker room and whether Klismann’s coaching methods were effective. The team responded with a great week of training and a crucial victory to get 3 points after a disappointing loss in Honduras the week before. The Hex is a tricky beast to navigate and the Snow Game provided a platform for the U.S. to re-establish itself in the standings. Side bar: I have never been that cold in my life, but it was so worth it.
“Now it’s just normal. Now it’s just normal. The players come in, they know there are double sessions waiting for them. The players know what we expect tactically. The players know that there’s another guy behind them in every position, that if he doesn’t give everything he has, the next one steps in and steals his spot.” – Jurgen Klinsmann
One of Klinsy’s biggest coups of this campaign is the insertion of young players into the squad. Fabian Johnson, Matt Besler, Mix Diskerud, Joe Corona, Alejandro Bedoya, Aron Johansson and others have added much needed depth, speed and explosiveness to the existing squad. They understand Klinsy’s methods and want to play a more exciting style of football. While they need to be thrown into the fire a bit more, the future past Brazil 2014 looks very bright.
5) Home Field Advantage
“As an Englishman who has lived in this country for 20 years, it felt overwhelming to hear, and hard at first to believe, I was in America. Many U.S. internationals who toiled in the 1980s and early ’90s will agree with me. The growth and passion of America’s buoyant fan base is as important as the development of its football team. The fans passed the test with flying colors.” – Roger Bennett, ESPN
Last, but CERTAINLY not least, the U.S. has been immense at home during this World Cup Qualifying (WCQ) cycle (and Gold Cup). In fact, the U.S. is unbeaten in the last 26 WCQ at home. Denver, Seattle, Salt Lake, Columbus and Kansas City (on October 11th) have become fortresses for this team. Every location has it’s extreme advantages, but one factor has stood out in every city; The American Outlaws. AO has BROUGHT THE NOISE and created an in-game atmosphere to be extremely proud of. The best part: it is only getting better. Our tifo’s are growing larger, chants are getting louder, and the team is matching our performance.
PS: Mexico hasn’t scored on U.S. in last 443 minutes. Dos a cero.