USMNT Report: A New Kind of Pressure

The United States has already qualified for Brazil, but now the Americans true test before the World Cup begins
by Herb Scribner   |   Friday, October 11, 2013

USMNT Report - coverage of the United States Men's National Team

The hard part’s over and all typical forms of pressure are off – the United States Men’s National Team has officially qualified for Brazil.

Now the true test begins as the Americans ready for their final 2 CONCACAF Hexagonal World Cup Qualifiers against Jamaica and Costa Rica. Though the Yanks are already through to the World Cup, players will be fighting for positions and a spot on the plane.

THE ROAD TO NOW: The United States suffered a dip in performance last time out before clutching the coveted ticket to Brazil. After losing 3-1 away to Costa Rica, the Americans rebounded and swiftly secured another “dos a cero” victory over an ailing Mexico side. Once Honduras drew Panama, it was all settled, and the USA was officially a 2014 World Cup finalist.

PRE-GAME CHATTER: On Thursday, USMNT manager Jurgen Klinsmann partook in a Q&A interview with Sports Illustrated, in which he mentioned he’d like to stay with the US beyond the 2014 World Cup.

He also answered questions for US Soccer after unveiling new call-ups for the USMNT (adding Michael Orozco, Brad Davis, Chris Wondolowski and Clarence Goodson for the injured Eddie Johnson and Omar Gonzalez). He said that even though the US has qualified, there’s still pressure on the team to succeed.

“Everything we do now sets the tone for summer of 2014, and therefore it’s important the players understand this is serious business,” Klinsmann said. “We want to see an improvement of the entire squad, and we want to see competition in every spot. You only have to say one word: Brazil. Then you automatically get fired up.”

Klinsmann doesn’t want to get involved with talking about other CONCACAF teams qualifying for Brazil. He wants to focus on gaining as many points as possible in the next two games.

“I want to go down to Panama to get 3 points, so we take a very strong group,” he said. “Also, we don’t have a lot of games left before the World Cup. Every game gives us a lot of answers to questions about players, our attitude, and our state of mind. We want to get the job done in Kansas City against Jamaica, and then we go 1,000% into the game against Panama.”

ANALYSIS: The USMNT doesn’t have as much pressure on its back as it did last month, but there’s still a lot of importance to these upcoming games.

There’s a lot of hype surrounding this team, especially from American fans who are proud the red, white and blue are officially heading out to Brazil next summer. But it’s important to remember that this United States team has been inconsistently successful. Right before Americans trounced Mexico 2-0, they were cut down by Costa Rica 3-1. It’s back and forth with this team.

No one should feel too confident or secure with this American team. Much of the success – like that 12-game winning streak – has come against CONCACAF minnows and not against elite teams (Germany’s side, which lost the USA, was certainly a B or C squad). One of the few premier teams they played, Belgium, brought the Americans back down to Earth. Belgium, which is undergoing its own golden generation right now, is a darkhorse candidate for a run in the 2014 World Cup – that’s the type of opponent the USA will face.

This is what makes these next set of games so crucial. The USA needs to fine-tune its roster and develop to the point where it can be successful in Brazil. Many of the positions are already filled with likely starters, so it’s really a matter of who comes along to fill out the squad depth.

This upcoming set of games will prove especially important for Kyle Beckerman, who’s looking to break into 1 of the 2 defensive midfielder spots that Klinsmann uses. Michael Bradley, once he’s back from injury, is guaranteed one slot, and so far it’s looked like Jermaine Jones will take the other. Seeing as Jones has been nursing an injury and won’t see as much playing time, Beckerman has an opportunity to slide in and prove his worth to Klinsmann.

It’ll be interesting to see how the attacking third does now that Europe is in season. Jozy Altidore has done very little at new club Sunderland, so he likely won’t be as confident and offensively sound as he was in previous qualifiers when he was brimming with confidence. He’ll need to step up, though, for the US to be successful seeing as the red hot E.J. will be out with a groin injury.

Landon Donovan should provide great service up top. Klinsmann will have a lot of options for the midfield pairings, especially with the top 3 midfielders. Donovan should play in the middle with Graham Zusi – who will certainly start against the Reggae Boyz seeing as the game will be on his own field of Sporting Park – on the right and possibly Brad Davis on the left. But because Davis hasn’t been included in too many recent USA games, he’ll likely be benched behind Sacha Kljestan.

And the backline will still face its typical issues. Matt Besler, DaMarcus Beasley, Geoff Cameron and Orozco are likely to start, and present a mixed bag in the back. Beasley has solidified himself as the starting leftback, though he still hasn’t shown consistently in his newly-acquired position. Besler has been prone to make mistakes and Cameron and Fiscal haven’t been featured too prominently at defense, so they may not gel well with Besler and Beasley.

Having already qualified for Brazil, the pressure is on the USA to perform well and iron out the wrinkles. And seeing as the Americans have dominated CONCACAF through the Hexagonal and the Gold Cup, it’d be a fitting end to the World Cup qualification process if they could climb ahead and finish in first place with clear-cut victories.

This current US squad has proven to be the best in CONCACAF today, though the region has certainly been weaker than in the past. The question is, will that dominance carry over to the world stage next summer?

NEXT UP: October 11 – World Cup Qualifier: United States vs. Jamaica, Sporting Park, Kansas City, Kans. 6:30 p.m. EST, ESPN, UniMas.

Herb SCRIBNER

Nationality:
USA
College:
UMass Amherst
Club Domestic:
RSL
Club Foreign:
FC Barcelona
SN managing editor and award-winning journalist, Herb has always been known as "The Soccer Guy" wherever he goes. He's a leftback in most outdoor and indoor leagues. He also writes for Deseret News National.
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