USMNT: 10 Areas They Must Improve to Be a Factor at World Cup 2014
World Cup qualifying is underway and the United States are on their way to qualifying for the tournament.
Their next qualifying match will be against Jamaica on September 7th in Kingston, Jamaica. That will be followed by Jamaica coming to Columbus, Ohio on the 11th.
With Klinsmann at the helm and an upset victory over Mexico under their belt, the U.S. have high expectations. Simply reaching the knockout stage can no longer be considered a success. They must be a threat to every nation in 2014.
In spite of their growth under their new leader, the U.S. men have a long way to go to challenge any of the top nations. Luckily, they have two more years to prepare for the task at hand.
Here are 10 things they must improve upon if they hope to make a deep run in Brazil.
Tim Howard is one of the better goalkeepers in the game today, but the World Cup is two years away.
A lot can happen in that time. The wear and tear on a goalkeeper could see Howard go down with an injury. As he ages, his skills could deteriorate at a rapid pace, or perhaps he can continue to elevate his game.
The first two are major concerns, and that is why the continual development of Sean Johnson could be vital in two-years time.
Howard is much lauded, and for good reason, but the U.S. cannot hang their hat on any one player at one position. Johnson needs to improve and see time between the posts in some of these qualifying and friendly matches.
The hope is that Howard will continue his high level of play all the way to Brazil, but two years is a long time to hope nothing goes wrong.
Finishing Scoring Opportunities
Finish, finish, finish.
The USMNT have left a lot of goals on the pitch. High, wide, straight at the keeper, not enough pace, etc. There have been a multitude of times when the build-up is fantastic and then the shot is squandered. It must end.
No one man or team will be perfect, but when a golden opportunity presents itself, they must be able to capitalize. Put the ball in the net. It is that simple.
The U.S. will need to score multiple goals to have a chance to succeed. At this point in time, they cannot rely on their defense to produce a clean sheet on a consistent basis. That puts the pressure on the offense to convert their chances.
There is no question the talent is there to do it.
Finish, finish, finish.
To compete against, and defeat, top level competition, you need to have the ball in your possession.
The U.S. needs to improve in their total possession game. Passing, dribbling, one-on-one match-ups, etc. It is dual purpose.
You work the ball around the pitch and give yourself the best opportunities to score, and you keep the ball away from the opposition. And at the World Cup, there will be a plethora of potent offensive powers that can strike at any given moment.
The U.S. is still a step behind these elite powers, and keeping the ball under their possession will be their best chance at advancing.
Let's be clear: There is a difference between speed and quickness.
The USMNT has added speed, and can match up well against many of the world's best teams in that category alone. However, where they often get beat is the quickness off the ball.
The one and two initial steps are crucial. By watching the top international players, you can see just how important it is. It happens in the blink of an eye.
The U.S. needs to improve on that explosiveness off the ball.
Having that one step advantage makes all the difference in the world and can be the eyelash between winning and losing.
The goal against Mexico on August 15th is a step in the right direction.
The U.S. does not have to get fancy and try to show-off, but they need to mix up their attacks and runs. Being too predictable makes it a lot easier to defend. In years past, it has been a weakness of the USMNT.
Once the team has the defense guessing it opens up a lot more of the pitch to them. Mixing their play up is vital. Terrence Boyd's back-heeled pass was a thing of beauty. Mexico was not expecting that sort of creativity from the U.S.
The USMNT needs to be more unpredictable when they attack.
This has been a bright spot of the so-called Klinsmann era. He has sent out a variety of line-ups and thrown in some new, young talent.
The U.S. cannot bank on Dempsey, Donovan or any other one man to carry the team throughout an entire tournament. They need quality depth.
The match against Mexico was a highlight for the USMNT. They won on the road with a eclectic cast of talent. As qualifying continues and they work towards their goal at the World Cup, more and more players will have to step up.
It is one of the major reasons the U.S. has never been competitive against the top nations. They lacked talent in the starting line-up, but now over recent years they have remedied that issue. Now, the issues has been the bench. Klinsmann continues to work to fix this issue.
While the need for improvement remains, the U.S. fans can be happy with the progress they have seen in this area over the past year.
One thing U.S. fans have seen far too often is stupid turnovers.
Too many poor decisions are being made on the pitch. Mishit balls, awful passes, or just plain stupidity. How many times have we been subjected to a dumb mistake only to see the other team celebrating moments after? Far too many.
If nothing else, limiting dumb turnovers can help lead to extra time or penalties. Ideally, the object is to win in 90 minutes, but we have to be honest with our expectations. Forcing some of the top countries to penalty kicks is not so bad. Especially with Tim Howard in goal.
The U.S. can better their chances by limiting dumb mistakes and not giving up easy goals. Make the right reads and make the right pass. Is that too much to ask?
If this article had been published one week ago, I may have been a bit more pessimistic, but after the U.S. came away with a victory against Mexico, there seems to be hope.
Getting over that hump and picking up the road victory at Azteca will bolster the team's confidence moving forward. They know they can go in to hostile territory and win. That is huge.
With the Gold Cup coming up in 2013, they can use this to help build their confidence in an international tournament. The U.S. will be playing at home, but taking the title will be important.
In the 2011 Gold Cup final, they had their confidence shattered when Mexico roared back. This time they can have redemption on their mind and continue to ride this exciting momentum forward.
Having confidence cannot be overstated. The U.S. can look no further than their female counterparts for what having confidence can do to their chances.
Without question, this is the biggest need for improvement of the U.S. national team.
The U.S. are 6-1-2 in 2012 with big wins over Italy and Mexico, but the loss stands out. Brazil decimated the U.S. defense for four goals on May 30th.
The other offensive powerhouses that the U.S. will have to face when making a run at the World Cup are likely to do the same. The U.S. has to become better defensively or else Tim Howard is a sitting duck in the goal.
The squad did do a much better job against Mexico. They came under constant attack and kept a clean sheet on the road, but they have yet to prove they can consistently perform at that level. Against nations like Guatemala and Scotland, they have shown lapses of judgement in defense, and that puts Howard and the USMNT in danger.
In the coming months, the U.S. will have the opportunity to show more consistency on the defensive side of the ball against Jamaica, Antigua & Barbuda and Guatemala. Those are not the super powers that await them in 2014, and the U.S. has to shut them down to prove they are on their way up the world rankings.
The simple task of being consistent may be the biggest need for the United States.
Although it is simple to suggest, it is much harder to actually do.
Over the years, the USMNT have taken the fans on a roller coaster ride with more valleys than peaks. While it is hard to play at the highest level in every single match, if they are able to become more consistent in their play, the drop-off will not be as dramatic.
Any team can put together one magical game, but truly great teams are able to win tough matches even when they are not at their best. Consistency is why: Minimizing mistakes and making the right plays even when things just are not going your way.
If the U.S. can just be more consistent, they stand a good chance at making run in 2014, and playing the role of spoiler against some of the world's best.