State of U.S. Men's National Team heading into Gold Cup
College Contributor Network
Neither the Netherlands, ranked sixth in the world, nor Germany, ranked first, had their best players on the field when they faced the U.S., but the U.S. didn't field their best players either, missing the likes of Clint Dempsey, Jozy Altidore, Matt Besler and Omar Gonzalez. The backline for the U.S. looked shaky at times, partly because manager Jürgen Klinsmann was experimenting with different players with the Gold Cup fast approaching.
In this past World Cup, Besler and Gonzalez were the starting center-back pairing for the U.S., but Klinsmann decided to pair John Brooks, a dual citizen of Germany and the U.S. who scored the winning goal against Ghana in the World Cup, and Ventura Alvarado, another dual citizen, eligible for Mexico as well as the U.S., who fittingly plays at the club level for América in Liga MX.
Timothy Chandler, yet another U.S. player eligible for Germany and the U.S., started at right-back both games, but failed to impress. Versus the Netherlands, Brek Shea started at left-back. Shea recently came back to MLS after failing to live up to expectations in Europe, and although he used to play in the midfield, he started playing left-back at the club level with Orlando City when he returned to America, and it paid off as Klinsmann took notice. Against Germany, Fabian Johnson, another player eligible for Germany and the U.S., started at left-back. Johnson, who plays for Borussia Mönchengladbach in Bundesliga, started for the U.S. during the World Cup and will probably do the same at the Gold Cup.
In the midfield, Michael Bradley captained the U.S., and many believe he played the best stretch of games in his career, playing confidently with the ball, making beautiful runs and distributing world-class passes. MLS veteran Kyle Beckerman started at defensive mid for the U.S. against the Netherlands; surprisingly, Danny Williams, another dual-citizen eligible to play for Germany, started against the country he was born in, and that decision paid off as he scored the first goal of his U.S. national team career at a crucial time.
Up top, 23-year-old Gyasi Zardes, a forward for the L.A. Galaxy, impressed even though he is still inexperienced at the international level. However, the most surprising player for the U.S. was forward Bobby Wood, who at the time played in the third division in Germany. Although he played well for the U.S. in previous games, it was obvious he needed to improve his finishing, missing many scoring opportunities.
Against the Netherlands, the game was tied at three apiece when Wood netted the fourth goal for the U.S. in the dying minutes of the game. Against Germany, the game was tied at one, and Wood scored again, this time in the 88th minute, to secure the victory for the U.S., two to one. Just days after Wood impressed on the international stage, there were many rumors that he was heading to VfB Stuttgart, a club playing in Bundesliga, Germany's top league.
Although you don't want to read too much into these games, the fact remains that the U.S., currently ranked 27th in the world, was able to establish itself as a legitimate threat on the international stage. The biennial Gold Cup, most recently won by the U.S. in 2013, is where the U.S. will find out what it's made of, facing stiff competition against countries such as Mexico and Costa Rica. Last summer, the U.S. exceeded expectations, making it out of the group of death only to lose against a tough Belgian squad in gut-wrenching fashion. This summer, we'll see if the U.S. has improved since then.
Klinsmann has received a lot of criticism since taking the helm of the U.S. squad, but after these past two performances, his critics have quieted down for now. With the U-20 and U-23 teams putting on fairly good performances in recent weeks, many prospects are on a fast track to play on the senior squad, including Gedion Zelalem, Emerson Hyndman, Rubio Rubin and Julian Green.
The future is brighter than ever and with the woman's team playing well at the World Cup, it's an exciting time to be a fan of U.S. soccer.
Adam Curtis is a rising sophomore at American University. Growing up, he played soccer and tennis and is a die-hard D.C. sports fan. Follow him on Twitter: @actennis96