More Than A Game: Why USMNT’s Big Wins In Europe Are A Huge Deal
There’s a growing force in America that has the goal to upset the status quo in the world of FIFA.
(And I’m not talking about the Department of Justice’s ongoing investigation into a variety of bribes and chicanery involving the global soccer organization that may have involved American citizens, businesses and bank accounts.)
This challenge to power comes on the pitch, and it’s coming from the US Men’s National Team.
In five days, the Yanks went to Europe and pulled off two victories against top 10 teams.
After stunning The Netherlands Friday with two late goals to cap a 4-3 win in Amsterdam, the World Champion Germans fell to the US 2-1 in Cologne yesterday.
Entering the matches, the 27th-ranked US team had somewhat sleepwalked through the 2015 campaign, defeating Panama and Mexico, dropping matches to Chile and Denmark, while drawing the Swiss. The team currently sits behind Wales, Greece and Mexico among others in the world rankings.
Next month, they’ll begin their quest to defend the CONCACAF Gold Cup at home, a tournament they’re favored to dominate. These historic US results are a huge deal for their current games, the following month and the future trajectory of the team.
Friday afternoon, the US got their first result of any kind against the Dutch. They did so with a chaotic second half that began as so many recent American games have: with the Dutch offense exploiting the inexperienced opposing defense to build a 3-1 lead.
Then, something strange happened in Amsterdam: The US offense came alive. Led by midfield maestro Michael Bradley, three goals turned another expected, disappointing reinforcement of the Americans’ place in world soccer into a shocking victory.
That game might be the more important and impressive result of their turnaround; however, winning in Cologne was a more significant victory because of how the US did it.
They’ve defeated Germany before in 2013 at RFK Stadium. While the German side in Cologne didn’t feature all the stars who took the World Cup last summer, it did include familiar names, like goal-scorer Mario Gotze.
The Germans did control the pace with 64 percent possession and got five shots on goal, but the Americans countered. Another late US goal proved the difference.
The forwards showed speed and guile. However, their setup might need some work, as they were flagged offsides four times.
These wins serve as a huge boost to coach Jurgen Klinsmann’s hopes and visions for this team. He brought some MLS players across the pond, but he leaned heavily on foreign-based talent to win the two friendlies.
The Americans raced in the offensive half, and they looked like the more fit team during waning moments. Bradley dictated the movements and set some excellent opportunities. The finishes came from new names and looked like elite international soccer.
Results like these reinforce the team's confidence and let their opponents knows they must be ready to play and claw for every second of those 90-plus minutes.
As Landon Donovan rides off into the California sunset, and the team searches for a new identity, these victories serve as a watershed. They could make the USMNT an ensemble cast working toward the goal of shared glory, just like the historic teams of the 90s.
Wait, who are these guys?
Despite his early successes, Klinsmann’s tenure as national team manager has been marred with verbal sparring against MLS commissioner, Don Garber, over whether his players should play in the domestic league or join European clubs.
Well, these two results aren’t going to help much. Twenty-two-year-old forward Bobby Wood tallied both game-winners after late insertions, displaying a nose for the net.
Those who follow the younger teams know he tallied four goals in six appearances with the U-20 team, yet he hadn’t scored for the senior team in all six of his previous games.
He’s played in the second division in Germany for his entire career. However, his team was relegated to the third league for next season, and some wonder if a MLS squad will offer to bring the Californian home for the summer.
Americans playing abroad is not an uncommon occurrence. Super goalie Tim Howard still plays in the English Premier League, as does his apparent successor, Brad Guzan.
Of the 23 players who suited up for the friendlies, nine were based in Europe. The U-20 team that has made the quarterfinals of the World Cup in New Zealand features seven foreign-based players, including starting goalie Zack Steffen, who plays in Germany.
Next month, the US will compete in the Gold Cup on home soil. This tournament will develop the national team and give the fan base a chance to meet the stars of tomorrow.
After the summer, the US will try to qualify a modified U-23 team (three players are allowed to be over 23) for the Rio Olympics.
As technical director for all the men’s programs, Klinsmann will have some role in naming that squad, even if he doesn’t lead them into the tournament.
The Lasting Impact
These victories against high-ranking teams will give an immediate boost to the US ranking. Beating the #6 and #1 teams will earn the US over 500 points per victory in FIFA ranking system, which should propel the US back into the top 20.
A repeat of their 2013 Gold Cup dominance will further the progress up the charts (winning regional tournaments are weighted more than friendlies, even if the competition isn’t as strong).
The US would love to dominate rivals like Costa Rica and Mexico en route to claiming the title in Philadelphia July 26. This might help them focus more on winning friendlies against world powers and, perhaps, another Confederations Cup run like 2009, which included a victory over Spain before falling to Brazil in the final.
So, does this mean anything for the World Cup in 2018? It actually does. In late 2013, the US was ranked 13th entering the draw, boosted by their Gold Cup and WC Qualifying dominance (7-1-2 in the hexagonal, winning all five home matches).
They could have made the seeded grouping, however, but missed by a few points. While these victories will diminish over time, the value will still go into the final year’s score.
An extra 1,000-plus points will certainly boost that score and propel the rankings for years to come. Should the US qualify for the 2018 World Cup, their chance of making the seeded teams’ pot have increased with these wins.
In Brazil, six of the eight quarterfinalists were from the seeded pot. That’s where the US wants to be. In two nights in Europe, in two friendlies that meant seemingly little to the defeated hosts, they took giant leaps toward that destination.